The true nature of farmed pigs
Pigs have poor eyesight but acute senses of touch, taste and smell. They hear in the ultrasound range and can smell a human up to a quarter of a mile away.
A pig’s snout is also highly sensitive – developed for smelling, carrying, pushing, rooting and social interactions – and can smell underground roots and tubers – a skill exploited since the ancient Babylonians to find truffles.
The desire to root is so strong that farmed pigs persist in nosing their concrete floors. Because of concentrated feed, they spend little time eating and the frustration leads to chronic boredom. Imagine the assault on a pig’s senses of the filthy, stinking factory farms where Viva! has repeatedly filmed.
Like a pig in...
Having no thick hair cover, pigs are extremely sensitive to climatic extremes and rely on fat for insulation When it’s cold, they huddle together and as they have no sweat glands, except on the tip of their snouts, they roll in mud, like elephants, to keep cool. This also stops sun burn and protects from flies and parasites. Contrary to the myth, pigs do not like to roll in dung – something they can’t avoid in factory farms.
Pigs are extremely sensitive, emotional and bright animals, with long memories, which makes their routine abuse in factory farms even worse. Highly co-operative in social groups, they show affection by grooming each other and research has shown they can be trained to carry out more tasks than dogs. They can sit, pirouette, shake hands, complete obstacle courses, play bugle horns and, by gripping a joystick with their snouts, can even play complex video games.
Stanley Curtis, Professor of Animal Sciences at Pennsylvania State University, says: “Pigs are amongst the most intelligent animals on Earth”.
They are certainly on a par with dolphins and sea lions in understanding symbols and identifying objects. They can show an emotional response in anticipation of different events and have some understanding of time.
As scientists state, in a recent review of pig behaviour: “When deprived of play, as they are in factory farms in the crowded slatted pens, piglets do not grow into normal pigs”. Play is essential to many species and appears to be a marker of cognitive complexity. Piglets are extremely fond of play and scamper, jump, hop and play tag in a similar way to puppies. Unsurprisingly, piglets born in farrowing crates do not develop social or cognitive skills as well as those born into freedom – they are emotionally depressed.
I know who you are
Pigs can distinguish between other pigs by their urine samples while mothers recognise their litter from sound alone. Like dogs, pigs can differentiate between humans and understand our emotional state! They can also knowingly manipulate other pigs. For example, when one discovers a food source it will try to shake off other pigs with various tactics.
I will always remember my friend’s rescued pig who was having his leg treated by a vet. When the vet’s car drove up, Benji rolled himself up in a rug so the vet couldn’t treat him!
Another, predictably named Babe, was kept with a puppy by a colleague who took them both to dog training classes. Babe learned all the commands much quicker than the pup – but she also learned how to open the fridge and snaffle its contents! Pigs are very bright animals! Anyone who has been privileged enough to live with pigs knows that each one is an individual with his or her own emotions. It may be uncomfortable for meat eaters to acknowledge this but it’s true.
Aggression amongst wild pigs who have ample space is based on a dominance hierarchy related to age and size, characterised by threatening and submissive postures and signals. On factory farms, every aspect of a pig’s life is managed, including companions, stocking rate, reproduction and feed. They’re often housed together in groups of the same age in overcrowded conditions, resulting in fights to establish a hierarchy. We’ve filmed bullying on many farms, unlike wild pigs who sleep in communal nests, live sociable lives and even help with the ‘housework’.
To house these intelligent, fun-loving, social, complex, tactile little creatures in dirty, wooden-slatted pens with only a ball or chain for stimulation is insulting, immoral and cruel. It is the mighty oak forests and shrub lands where they belong.