There are 14,000 pig farms in the UK. 20% of these units have 100 to 1000 pigs; 79% have more than 1000 (48). These may be looked after by only one or two workers. New intensification techniques from the USA now boast that one person can look after 7,000 pigs - so the industry may try to develop similar systems in the UK.
Viva! has investigated pig farms throughout Britain. We also filmed in 18 units across 11 English counties (see Pig In Hell video; 50). For an example of how Viva! believes one of the farms is breaking the law, see Appendix 1. Also see the Animals Prevention of Cruelty, The Welfare of Farmed Animals Regulations 2000 and accompanying Pig Space Requirements.
Different farms use different systems but to give a picture of how pigs are kept, a typical UK farm is described below.
A typical pig farm looks very like a scrap yard at first sight - piles of junk and discarded agricultural equipment surrounding rows of grey, windowless sheds. It is a production line which takes animals from birth to death. The starting point is the breeding sows.
MAFF code of practice calls for three square meters of space for each sow, but you are unlikely to see this. What you will see are several large animals in small, barren, concrete pens with no bedding. There is a slatted area for dung to fall through and a what is supposed to be a dry lying area. It usually isn’t dry and there is nothing for the sows to lie on but filthy wet concrete.
They wait here for the 16 and a half weeks of their pregnancy and, just before their due date, they are moved to the farrowing shed. Rows of metal-barred crates hold the sows captive - barely able to move and never able to turn around. They can stand up and lie down only with difficulty. They will remain like this for 28 days while they deliver and feed their young. Often the shed is in near total darkness. Their bed is solid concrete, frequently with no straw or other soft materials - it isn’t required by law! At their rear end, slatted metal is supposed to ensure dung and urine falls through to the slurry pit beneath. (See Pigs Kept for Breeding below.)
At three weeks old, the mothers’ piglets are removed, even though their immune and digestive systems are not fully formed. They are forcibly weaned on to solid food which they cannot digest properly. Medication is administered to prevent diarrhoea and they are likely to remain on drugs - to curb disease and increase growth - until close to slaughter age.
Their environment is usually a ‘flat deck’, almost certainly in another windowless shed. Many piglets will share a pen about three metres square. Beneath their feet is expanded metal or plastic for their faeces to fall through. The pen contains nothing else - no bedding, no environmental enrichment and nothing to do. The result is aggression and to prevent biting, these little piglets have their main teeth and the ends of their tail cut off without anaesthetic.
If the slurry is not cleaned out often enough the smell of ammonia in these units can become all pervading - in humans causing headaches and difficulty breathing within minutes.
Their mothers are sent back to the ‘dry sow’ pens where, after a few days, they are forcibly re-impregnated. And so begins another 16 week wait for them before returning to the crate.
When these little ‘weaners’ become big enough to become growers or rearing pigs, they are often moved to concrete pens. Typically, they are filthy, faeces-covered hovels with an area for dunging and a covered pen for sleeping. Frequently, there is little difference between the two - just a continuation of wet, faeces-smeared concrete. The urine burns the skin of pigs and attracts disease.
Pigs naturally have separate dunging and urinating areas. Animal production expert, I Lean, says:
"It is common to take advantage of the pigs' demarcation of dunging and urinating places”. Pigs mark out these areas and then “the rest of the pen is kept clean. Overcrowding or inadequate control of temperature leads to a breakdown in this system of demarcation and soiling of both pigs and pen then becomes general." (1)
Second stage growers may be moved to open shed accommodation, where as many as 200 animals weighing up to 70 Kg will be packed together - pigs of this weight need only be provided with 0.55 square metres each by law.
The final stage is finishing and pigs may be moved again to concrete pens. In almost no instance can you see anything which resembles a natural environment nor one which enables pigs to fulfil any of their natural instincts. Food is the same dry, pelleted mix throughout their lives, which ends at five or six months old.
Breeding sows are likely to be killed at about four years old - if they survive that long. Adult boars are kept singly in cells that allow them to turn around only - they can never exercise properly. By law they have to be at least 6 square metres. They should have clean lying areas but often don’t. The law does not force farmers to provide bedding. They are killed at 3 to 4 years old.
An inevitable accompaniment to every farm is the dump where dead animals are disposed of. They are supposed to be buried to prevent scavenging and the spread of disease but you rarely have to look far on many farms to see dead and decaying animals either left in their pens with living pigs or abandoned around the yard or in fields - like so much trash.
The Death of Pigs
For details of how pigs are slaughtered see Sentenced to Death, A Viva! report on the slaughter of farmed animals in the UK, Viva!, 2000. For video footage of how pigs are killed and the major welfare problems see the Sentenced to Death video (available from Viva!.)