The heartbreaking story behind intensive pig breeding

Posted on 22 January 2018 by

Jonty Whittleton

in the Animals in farming blog

The story of mother pigs in factory farming is a sad one. Tens of millions of pigs spend their entire adult lives in a space no larger than a fridge. Find out how you can help

Cogs in a machine

Selectively bred to produce as many piglets as possible, a mother pig’s adult life begins when she is first impregnated. This is sometimes done when the pig is as young as eight months.  

Far from natural breeding, she is forced into a small cage for this process. She will be moved from cage to cage for the rest of her life. At a factory farm, she is just a breeding ‘machine’.

factory-farmed Mother pigs trapped in sow stalls

Mother pigs in breeding cages on a factory farm

Alone in a sea of cages

Unable to turn around, she is caged, and lined up with hundreds of sows in an enormous shed. Bars separate her from other pigs so she can’t form friends, or seek comfort or security in groups. She can’t escape; she can’t retreat, ever.

Each cage is no more than two metres long and less than a metre wide. It’s only slightly bigger than her own body, and no bigger than a household fridge.

Uncomfortable and in pain

This is a far cry from the comfortable grass bed she would seek in nature. Pigs like to be clean, but intensive pig breeding forces a mother pig on a factory farm to lie in her own excrement all day. She is cramped and develops shoulder sores from rubbing against the steel bars.

A row of female pigs kept in breeding cages on a factory farm

Pigs stand in their cages, or sow stalls, in a huge shed

The concrete floor is hard, and she is confined there day in, day out. In frustration, she bites the bars of the steel cage that surrounds her.

In these cages, mother pigs live their whole lives unable to express natural pig behaviours, like foraging or socialising with other pigs. They are kept alone in cages, or sow stalls. They experience lameness, intense stress, self-inflicted injury and depression.

This is no life for a pig.

Giving birth in a cage

Finally, after she has endured this pregnancy in a prison, she is moved to yet another cage in preparation for giving birth. Her natural instinct is to build a nest, but she is unable to.

She’s moved to a ‘birthing’ cage, where there’s nothing but bars and concrete again.

She’s highly stressed at the very moment she needs to relax. This adds even more pain and suffering to the birth. When her piglets arrive, the steel bars can block her from reaching them.  She is unable to form a normal mother-piglet bond.

Babies snatched too soon

When her babies are just three weeks old, they are forcibly weaned and taken away from her. She is returned to another cage to be made pregnant again, and the painful cycle repeats once more.

She’ll endure multiple pregnancies throughout her miserable life. This is until her body starts to break down and she is no longer of any use to the factory farming industry.

Help end this horror

This is the life of one caged mother pig. But there are hundreds in just one shed; thousands on a farm; tens of millions globally.

But this suffering is avoidable. Keeping mother pigs in groups, rather than in cages, is good for animals and business. There is no excuse for factory farming.

You can help end pigs’ suffering by eating less pork, and by choosing higher-welfare pork when you do eat it. The less demand there is for pork from factory-farmed pigs, the less pigs will suffer.

Healthier, happier pigs can provide you and your family with better quality pork.

But to create real, lasting change, we need you to join us to demand good lives for pigs.

Join us

By signing up for World Animal Protection emails, you’ll be among the first to receive updates on pig welfare and find out how you can make a promise for pigs around the world in 2018.

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