Society for the Advancement of Animal Wellbeing

- Protecting Animals and Conserving the Environment

Pig farming - Here's your bacon!

Much scientific research has been done in to the inner life of these interesting animals which shows just how complex and social pigs are. Professor Donald Broom of Cambridge University Veterinary School in the UK has stated that pigs “have the cognitive ability to be quite sophisticated. Even more so than dogs and certainly three year olds.”

Professor Stanley Curtis of Penn State University has noticed that pigs are capable of abstract representation and commented “there is much more going on in terms of thinking and observing by pigs than we would ever have guessed.” Co-researcher Dr. Sarah Boysen concluded that pigs are able to focus with a greater intensity than a chimp.

In fact pigs are also very sociable and are always communicating using body language and oinks or squeals. More than 20 verbal ques have been discovered so far including the vocalization for “I’m hungry” as well as a call to attract a mate. Pigs often form elaborate extended family units and learn from one another, this represents a sort of culture that is passed on. Pigs are also clean, loyal and affectionate animals that have good memories and learn from trial and error.

The horrors of pig factory farming

On the factory farms, the cruelty begins with sows or mothering pigs, who are merely considered machines used to produce piglets. Their babies are taken away from them to be fattened for the sole purpose of being killed for human consumption.

Mother sows are made pregnant by a painful and invasive form of artificial insemination. The sows are then confined to metal cages, called gestation crates, for their entire four month pregnancy.

Pigs have a strong biological urge to prepare a nest before giving birth and go insane from their inability to act in a natural way on these factory farms. Their need to nest is so intense that the expectant mothers rub their snouts on the floor until they go bloody and raw. This frustration-induced insanity is often exhibited by the sows repetitively chewing the metal bars of their cages till their mouths bleed or by sham chewing, in which the sow chews the air.

Being in continuous discomfort, the mother pigs urinate and defecate where they lie and spend day and night in their own waste. Unable to move they must live in these unhygienic conditions and quickly develop large, painful “bed sores.” These become infected and go untreated. Moreover, their lack of exercise causes obesity and leg problems, making it very hard for the sows to walk.

The farrowing crate

At the end of their pregnancy the sows are transferred to an even more confining “farrowing crate,” which has an additional concrete platform so that that the piglets can nurse on the mother’s milk.

To get the sows to the farrowing crates the mothers are beaten and prodded. Once in the farrowing crate, the sows also have her legs tied apart so that they do not push away their nursing piglets in order to get a brief rest.

After ten days to three weeks, the baby piglets are wrenched away from their mothers.

The mother pigs are then re-impregnated and returned to the gestation crates where the whole process is repeated again and again. Pushed to the limits of their reproductive capacity, the average sow gives birth to 20 piglets a year for up to three or four years. Once a sow has been drained physically and mentally, she is no longer considered useful and is sent for slaughter.

The piglets

What is the fate of a sow’s young, innocent offspring? Ten percent of the piglets die even before their separation from their mothers. Runts or under-developed piglets are considered unprofitable and are killed on site by a method called “thumping.” This is when the baby is slammed head first with as much force as possible into a concrete floor.

At less than a month old, these poor creatures have their tails cut off, their teeth are snapped off using pliers and their testicles are cut out of their scrotums. These excruciating procedures are forced on the animals without anesthetics or painkillers by non-medical staff. They also have their ears cut so as to make them easily identifiable.

The terrified infants are then imprisoned in small metal battery cages and piled on top of each other. The urine and waste from the higher cages naturally falls onto the lower piglets, creating extremely unhygienic conditions which provide a breeding ground for a host of diseases that afflict the piglets and subsequently the humans who consume pig products.

Poor ventilation in their quarters means that respiratory problems and disease are rampant. They are forced to live among their own excrement and the dead, decaying bodies of other pigs. In these conditions, seventy-percent of pigs develop pneumonia and more than a quarter develop mange, a parasitic infection of the skin.

Illness, lack of exercise and genetic manipulation that causes them to grow faster than normal leads to lameness, arthritis and other limb conditions that may incapacitate the animals and cause death. To keep the pigs alive they are fed massive amounts of antibiotics.  

The average pig in the wild can live for approximately nine to fifteen years but factory farmed pigs are slaughtered at just six months of age. Many of the sickly and distraught animals do not survive the drive to the slaughterhouse.


To get the terrified pigs on to the vehicles for transport the animals may be hit on their highly sensitive noses or prodded with electric rods. There is no law regulating the maximum voltage usable.

The animals are then packed so tightly into the vehicles that as one former transporter observed, their intestines are actually forced out of their anus'.

Millions of pigs die in transport each year. The pigs may be moved over long distances for three days or more. During transport, the pigs usually are not provided with food or water.

Traveling through extreme climatic conditions from burning hot to freezing cold, pigs have been found frozen to the sides of the vehicle. These animals are then just left to die as they can not be sold for meat. Workers then drag and kick the remaining pigs to remove them from the truck.

The cruelty of slaughter

The first step in the slaughtering process is stunning the animals, the three main methods used are (1) poisoning with carbon dioxide, which slowly chokes them to a torturing death; (2) the use of a captive bolt gun shot into the pigs’ head, which often needs to be repeated as the brain lies deep in the pig’s head and so it is hard to induce unconsciousness; (3) electric shock using shock paddles placed on the head, which is also not effective.

These methods are limited in their efficiency and as the average slaughterhouse processes approximately 1,000 animals per hour this often means that the animals are fully conscious when they are hung up by their feet and cut open with a knife to drain away their blood.

Some pigs are still conscious when they are submerged in scalding hot water to loosen their skin and remove their hair. They are essentially boiled alive!

 Every year 1.3 billion pigs around the world face this fate.



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