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The issues

The key animal welfare issue in pig farming is the close confinement of pigs in barren indoor environments where there is no opportunity for them to explore, forage and carry out other natural behaviours.

Most sows (mother pigs), boars (male pigs) and growers (meat pigs) are housed indoors on slatted concrete floors with no bedding. Sows are moved to farrowing crates to give birth – these crates are protect piglets but their design means the sow cannot turn around or perform her natural nest-seeking and nest-building behaviours.

These systems severely limit the ability to express natural behaviours and means these highly intelligent and inquisitive animals often become bored, frustrated and distressed. This, in turn, can result in abnormal behaviour like tail biting.

Shortly after birth, piglets are often subjected to painful tail docking which is intended to manage tail biting. Piglets may also have their sharp needle teeth clipped to prevent injury to the sow and other piglets.

Sow-stall-free farming is a positive first step, but sow-stall-free doesn’t always mean good welfare. Pigs in these systems can still be kept in barren pens without bedding, sows can still be confined to farrowing crates, and piglets can still be subjected to painful procedures.

What needs to change

The RSPCA believes pigs should be keep in an environment that allows freedom of movement, the ability to meet natural behavioural needs and provide opportunity for enhanced welfare.

Farrowing crates should be phased out in favour of farrowing systems that allow sows to move freely and meet the sows’ and piglets’ behavioural and physiological needs. This includes the use of environmental enrichment and bedding to encourage nesting behaviour. Sow stalls and individual stalls for boars should also be phased out in favour of group housing for sows and large pens for boars.

Good housing and good management should also eliminate the need for tail docking. An environment that offers appropriate stimulation and satisfies the pig’s motivation to explore and chew, e.g. the provision of straw or other enrichment, should reduce the incidence of tail biting.