The most pressing animal welfare issue in pig farming is the close confinement of pigs in barren indoor environments, where there’s no opportunity for these intelligent animals to explore, forage and engage in natural behaviours.
Most sows (mother pigs), boars (male pigs) and growers (meat pigs) are housed indoors on slatted concrete floors with no bedding, litter, or enrichment. Sows are moved in farrowing crates to give birth and remain confined in them for weeks until their piglets are weaned. These crates are used to protect piglets from being crushed accidentally, but their design means that the sow cannot turn around, perform her natural nesting behaviours or bond properly with her young.
Crate systems severely limit the ability to express natural behaviours and means that these highly intelligent and inquisitive animals become bored, frustrated, and distressed and will often resort to abnormal behaviours like grinding their teeth on the metal bars that surround them.
And it’s not just the mother pigs that suffer; shortly after birth piglets are often subjected to painful tail docking (intended to mitigate tail biting). Piglets may also have their sharp needle teeth clipped to prevent injury to sows and other piglets.
Sow-stall-free farming is a positive first step, but since the industry committed to phasing out sow stalls, there’s been little in the way of further improvements for pig welfare. And, sow stall free isn’t a guarantee of good welfare. Pigs reared in conventional farming systems can still be kept in barren pens without bedding, sows can still be confined to farrowing crates, boars can still be subjected to boar stalls and piglets can still endure painful procedures.
The RSPCA believes pigs should be kept in an environment that allows freedom of movement, the ability to express important highly motivated behaviours and that includes provisions that meet their physical and mental needs.
Farrowing crates should be urgently phased out in favour of farrowing systems that allow sows to move freely and that meet the sows’ and piglets’ behavioural and physiological needs equally. This includes the use of environmental enrichment and bedding to keep their active minds stimulated and 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 husbandry management should also eliminate the need for tail docking and teeth clipping. An environment that offers appropriate enrichment and satisfies pigs motivation to explore and chew reduces the risk of tail biting.
The RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme is one way the RSPCA helps to improve pig welfare, by working closely with farmers committed to raising their pigs to higher animal welfare standards which includes good stockpersonship, no cages of any kind and an enriched environment which all pigs need for better welfare.
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