Lifecycle: Pigs

Lifecycle: Pigs

Pigs are smart, sociable and inquisitive animals. Choosing humanely farmed pork, including smallgoods, can make a real difference to improving pig welfare.

Did you know?
Pigs are highly intelligent – with some experts ranking them 4th on the intelligence scale, after humans, primates, whales and dolphins.

In many learning tests, pigs have been known to outperform dogs.
Breeding Herds
Depending on the type of production system, pigs that are part of the breeding herd can live in very different environments.

The breeding animals in a pig herd include the boars (entire male pigs), gilts (young female pigs that have not yet given birth) and gestating (pregnant) sows. Mating of pigs may occur via natural or artificial insemination. Generally, in indoor systems, boars are housed individually, whereas gestating gilts/sows may be housed in individual stalls or in group pens. In outdoor systems, gilts and sows are kept in paddocks.

Some piggeries operate exclusively as breeder farms, and house only breeding animals, with the progeny (their piglets) being removed from the piggery at, or just after, the weaning phase and sent to farms where they grow out.
Farming RSPCA Approved pigs
Pigs reared on RSPCA Approved farms live in well-managed systems that cater for their behavioural and physical needs.

Pigs may be raised in outdoor systems, within enhanced indoor environments, or a combination of both.

Animal welfare in pig production is determined by a range of factors and can be provided on farm in a variety of ways. The RSPCA Standards focus on providing for pigs behavioural needs by allowing them to do all those things a pig needs to do, like forage, root, play and socialise.

You won’t see sow stalls, farrowing crates or barren concrete pens on an RSPCA Approved pig farm.

The RSPCA supports the use of farrowing systems that provide freedom of movement and meet the sows’ and piglets’ needs; this includes the use of straw to allow nesting behaviour.

Sows and boars range freely on RSPCA Approved farms. Sows have farrowing huts, lined with straw – where piglets are born. Once weaned, piglets are raised in eco-shelters (large open-sided sheds) with straw bedding to forage and play in. Some of these sheds also provide access to the outdoors.

All pigs are reared, handled and transported with consideration and care and slaughtered humanely. As a consumer, supporting humanely farmed RSPCA Approved pork shows you care about the welfare of pigs.
Conventional pig production
The use of conventional indoor systems for housing pigs raises the most serious animal welfare issues.

Pig producers use indoor systems for a number of reasons, including climate control, ease of cleaning, use of labour-saving equipment, protection from predators and managing the animals’ feed. However, close confinement of pigs in indoor systems raises welfare concerns because the lack of freedom and barrenness of the surroundings can lead to stress, injury and abnormal behaviours.

The RSPCA encourages the Australian pork industry to move away from conventional production systems that house animals in barren concrete pens, sow stalls and farrowing crates. We encourage continued research into alternatives to conventional production and we support the Pork Cooperative Research Centre’s research into confinement-free sow and piglet management.
Unfortunately not all pig farms are RSPCA Approved
Most pigs in Australia are born and raised in intensive indoor systems without the ability to express their natural behaviours.

In conventional systems, sows are often housed in sow stalls (also called gestation crates) when pregnant. Two thirds of the 250,000 breeding sows in Australia will spend part of their pregnancies in a sow stall.

A sow stall is a metal-barred crate with a concrete floor. The stalls are about as big as the sow herself and she can only take a small step forwards or backwards. Pigs confined in this way have no opportunity to express normal behaviours, leading to great frustration and unresolved aggression. An inability to exercise causes their muscles and bones to deteriorate and they may have great difficulty in standing up or lying down.

Whilst there’s still a long road ahead to improve these conditions, the RSPCA commends Australian pig farmers for voting to phase out the use of sow stalls by 2017 - with some producers currently removing stalls or reducing the time sows spend in stalls.

The RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme does not allow the use of sow stalls.

Phasing out sow stalls will dramatically improve the welfare of breeding sows and the RSPCA believes that farrowing crates should be next on the industry’s hit list.
Conventional pig production
Towards the end of pregnancy, sows in a conventional farming system will be moved to an even narrower crate (known as a farrowing crate) to give birth.

The farrowing section of a piggery houses sows due to farrow (give birth) as well as sows with piglets up to the point of weaning. The farrowing crate separates the sow from her piglets but does allow the piglets access to the sow’s teats so that they can drink.

The vast majority of farrowing sows in Australia are housed indoors in farrowing crates. The dimensions of the farrowing crate are even narrower than that of a sow stall and welfare issues associated with the use of sow stalls and farrowing crates arise from the fact that pigs are intelligent, social animals, with a complex range of behaviours and needs. Pregnant sows are highly motivated to engage in nesting behaviours, but they are frustrated from carrying out this behaviour in farrowing crates, which do not provide bedding or nesting material. A sow may be confined in a farrowing crate for up to 4 weeks.

The RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme does not allow the use of farrowing crates.
Other welfare issues in conventional systems
The RSPCA has other welfare concerns with conventional pig production.

Young piglets are subjected to a number of invasive procedures that are performed without pain relief, including:

- Tail docking to reduce the risk of tail biting.
- Teeth clipping to reduce the risk of piglets causing injury to littermates and the sow's udder.
- Surgical castration may also be carried out to reduce aggressive behaviour and, depending on the required slaughter weight of the animal, to eliminate the risk of boar taint. Male pigs are left entire or some may be 'immuno-castrated' which involves vaccinating the animal in the weeks prior to slaughter to trigger the pig's own immune system to block the production of male sex hormones.

Once piglets are weaned in a conventional system, they may be transported to a specialised grower/finisher piggery. They may be grown out in sheds or, alternatively, in group pens, which may range from 5 to 200 pigs per pen. Conditions and enrichment in sheds and pens can vary greatly, with concrete floors with no bedding, to straw-based, deep-litter housing (or a combination of these).
When pigs reach market weight they are transported from the farm to an abattoir.

Market weight may vary from 45kg to 110kg (at around 6 months old). Journey times can vary depending on farm location and distance from the abattoir. The RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme includes Standards for handling, transport, loading and unloading pigs to minimise stress.
Slaughter of pigs is carried out following gas or electrical stunning.

Abattoirs processing small numbers of pigs will usually stun the pig using electric tongs. Larger abattoirs (e.g. those processing around 240 pigs per hour) will have gas (CO2) stunning systems. Stunning is important and ensures that the animal is unconscious and insensible to pain prior to bleeding out.

Only abattoirs that have been previously assessed and shown to comply with RSPCA Standards by an RSPCA Approved Farming Assessor may be used to slaughter RSPCA Approved pigs.