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Pigs Behind Bars:
Viva! Pig Farming Facts

Pigs once lived wild in Britain and are said to be more intelligent than dogs. They are extremely sensitive, highly social, emotional and bright animals.

Wild pigs live in small family groups and spend much of their lives rooting in the soil, yet the vast majority of British pigs raised for meat are denied even that. Most sows are routinely caged and their offspring mutilated without anaesthetic and kept indoors on intensive units – from the ramshackle to the gigantic – with almost all of their natural instincts thwarted.

Viva! has filmed inside dozens of Britain’s pig slums...

The British Pig Industry

There are around 4.9 million pigs alive in Britain at any one time. Of those, most are factory farmed – in other words, crammed together in the smallest space possible.  The average large-scale pig factory farm houses around 900 sows. Organic pig farming is in decline in Britain, with a population of 35,000 at any one time in 2013 compared to 71,000 in 2008 (1).

Only a quarter of sows give birth outside, yet the vast majority of piglets born outside will be reared intensively inside anyway. In fact, only 1 per cent of piglets born outdoors who go on to be killed for meat spend their entire lives outside as most are moved into indoor units after weaning (2). Although some farms allow straw or other manipulable materials for pigs, many are condemned to barren hovels with just footballs or chains hanging from the ceiling as a pitiful form of ‘environmental enrichment’. This can lead to extreme frustration and boredom for pigs.

Pig meat is the most commonly consumed meat in the world, with around 250 million pigs being reared annually for meat in the European Union alone (3). The British pig industry is an insatiable consumer of soya. Around three-quarters of total soya grown goes into producing protein-rich animal feed for livestock (4). Soya is also used to bulk out processed meat products.

Mothers in crates

In the wild, sows build nests from twigs and leaves, and can walk many kilometres to find a suitable site. Yet these important nesting and rooting instincts are denied on factory farms. Every aspect of a sow’s life is managed. She will be made pregnant either by being put with a boar or via artificial insemination. For this, a ‘rape rack’ is often used - a crude restraining device that sows are trapped into so that they can be forcibly impregnated.

During most of her pregnancy, an average of 114 days, she will be loose housed with other sows before being caged in the farrowing crate. The farrowing crate is used for around 60 per cent of all 350,000 (5) to 400,000 (6) British sows. It is a small metal cage in which pregnant sows can be imprisoned for up to five weeks.

She will be subjected to this roughly twice a year. The metal frame of the crate is just centimetres bigger than the sow’s body and severely restricts her movements. She is completely unable to turn around, can scarcely take a step forward or backward, and she frequently rubs against the bars when standing up and lying down.

The farrowing crate is sometimes confused with the sow stall or gestation crate (a similar contraption where a sow is confined in during pregnancy). The sow stall has been banned in Britain since 1999, but the farrowing crate is still very much in use. Despite the British pig industry routinely suggesting that British welfare standards are the best in the world, other comparable countries have already banned or limited the use of farrowing crates including Norway, Sweden, New Zealand and Switzerland.

This highly unnatural environment can lead to abnormal and stereotypic behaviours such as bar biting, which indicates prolonged stress and even madness. The industry defends the crate by saying that it protects piglets from being crushed (a rare occurrence in the wild). However, overall piglet mortality is roughly the same on outdoor units (7). This is more about protecting profits than piglets.

A sow’s life will be cut short at a relatively young age, around four years old. On average, between 40-50 per cent of sows are replaced each year after producing around six litters (8). They are sent to the slaughterhouse for low grade meat products. Boars used for breeding are normally killed at around two or three years because of their large size and because of the industry’s constant pursuit of “genetic improvement”.

Torn away

A sow will give birth typically to between eight and 16 piglets. The natural weaning age for pigs is between 12 and 15 weeks, but on British farms piglets are weaned artificially early at just three to four weeks old. This abrupt weaning is often more than piglets’ immature digestive systems can cope with and can lead to scours  diarrhoea  and a failure to thrive.

As a result, piglets require medication and, in intensive conditions, end up on a daily regime of drugs. Weaning in this abrupt manner is also, clearly, a psychological trauma to both mother and piglets. On modern farms, around 18 per cent of piglets do not survive until weaning.

UK farm - local farming method of piglet mutilation

Mutilating babies

Paradoxically, as with most types of factory farming, mutilations are used to try and control abnormal behaviours directly caused by the intensive farming methods themselves. British piglets suffer two major types of mutilations: teeth clipping and tail docking. Viva! has filmed both undercover. Despite the Government saying that these mutilations should not be carried out routinely, the industry itself admits that around 80 per cent of British piglets are mutilated each year (9) (10).

Teeth clipping is carried out to prevent damage to the teats of sows who cannot avoid the attention of their piglets because they are incarcerated in farrowing crates. The mutilation can lead to teeth and gum damage, with chronic pain and risk of infection. Tail docking (cutting off part of the tail) is carried out to try and prevent pigs savaging each other, and it causes stress and intense transient or even long-lasting pain. This behaviour is directly linked to boredom, frustration and a lack of environmental enrichment. This type of aggression is rare amongst wild pigs.  As long as mutilations are carried out before seven weeks of age (as almost all are) no anaesthetic is used. Other countries in Europe have already banned piglet mutilations (Sweden, for instance, already prevents tail docking)  or have made a commitment to do so in the future.


In 2014, 9,955,000 pigs were slaughtered in British abattoirs (11), which is around 833,333 pigs per month, or 27,397 per week. Although pigs can live to around 15 years of age, most pigs slaughtered for meat will be killed as soon as they hit adult weight  at just five or six months old.

Long term drop in pig meat consumption in Britain

Comparing figures from 2007 and 2014, pig consumption is down by nearly eight per cent (114,000 tonnes) (12). The average consumption per person has dropped from 23.9 to 20.9 kg (12).

The average British meat-eater consumes around 18 pigs in a lifetime (12). Worldwide pig meat makes up around 40 per cent of all meat consumed (in Britain it is about 29 per cent). From June 1 2014, it was reported in the media that a relaxing in the monitoring of diseased meat will mean that tens of thousands of abscesses and lesions previously cut out will enter the human food chain (13). The consumption of red meat is linked to a whole range of chronic ailments – from heart disease to cancer and there has also been a growing concern about antibiotic use on factory farms. The high stocking density, the stress of factory farming on animals and the low level of genetic diversity all increase the potential for the spread of diseases amongst animals. To stop the spread of diseases, factory farms usually use high levels of antibiotics. There is a concern that agricultural antibiotic use is driving up levels of antibiotic resistance, leading to new ‘superbugs’.  

Viva! Goes Undercover!

During 2015, Viva! went undercover in two standard pig factory farms to find out and reveal to the public the reality of British pig farming today. Shockingly, at one of the farms visited, piglets were seen in what can only be described as ‘battery cages’. This same farm supplies the supermarket Morrison’s, and is approved by Red Tractor (14). At another farm, a pig was filmed literally eating another alive.

Poplar Pig Farm, Hull

Viva! were horrified to find piglets crammed in narrow wire cages – three tiers deep – within windowless rooms. Despite the fact that battery cages for chickens have long been banned in Britain because they are so obviously cruel (though they have been replaced by the so-called ‘enriched cage’ in which chickens fare little better), piglets on this farm were crammed in battery-style cages. As Viva! predicted, the public were horrified to learn of pigs being treated this way when it was exposed in the media (15).

Piglets, who are naturally inquisitive and highly-intelligent animals, were provided with only a chain in these cages, and there was no reprieve from bored and frustrated cage-mates. Distressingly, Viva! filmed piglets who had apparently fallen through the bars of some of the more decrepit cages and were sitting hunched and shivering uncontrollably on the concrete floor below. Elsewhere on the farm, older pigs were housed in dismal conditions. Mother sows were incarcerated in metal crates so small they were unable to turn around. Dead and apparently dying piglets littered the floor alongside the crates. These horrendous scenes are sadly not uncommon on pig farms, yet it is depressing for Viva! investigators each time they bear witness to it.

Watch Viva!’s shocking undercover footage and find out what you can do at

Necton Hall Pig Farm, Norfolk

Viva!’s Founder and Director, Juliet Gellatley went undercover to film at a pig farm in the Norfolk countryside at night-time following a tip-off about appalling conditions there. Moved to tears, she spoke on camera of the suffering endured by the caged, desperate pigs around her. She filmed animals with numbers crudely painted on their backs, dead piglets, and mothers incarcerated inside crates – unable to be the good mothers they naturally are. On a previous visit, one pig was filmed gnawing on the leg of another who was unable to get up. The animal was literally eating another alive.

The appalling conditions observed at both Poplar Pig Farm and Necton Hall Pig Farm were reported to the authorities by Viva!


Pigs are highly intelligent animals who would roam several kilometres each night, rooting and exploring their surroundings. They are fun-loving, social and full of joie de vivre. To house them in dirty, wooden-slated pens with only a ball for stimulation, if that, is unacceptable, insulting and cruel.

If you want to improve your health and save animals the answer is easy. Go vegan – or at least take steps in that direction. Try Viva!’s 30 Day Vegan for FREE:

For a referenced version of this fact sheet and for information on how you can get involved in the campaign to help end the suffering of Britain’s pigs visit or phone 0117 944 1000.


(1) DEFRA. 2013. Agriculture in the United Kingdom. Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs [online] Available from: [Accessed 26 January 2016]

(2) BPEX. 2008. Structure of the UK Pig Industry. A survey of loose housed systems by Analysis Group

(3) CIWF. 2013. Strategic Plan 2013-2017. Compassion in World Farming [online] Available from: [Accessed 26 January 2016]

(4) WWF. 2014. Soy Report Card. World Wide Fund for Nature [online] Available from: [Accessed 26 January 2016]

(5) Calculations based on Agriculture in the United Kingdom 2007 and 2014 (Defra)

(6) FAWC. 2015. Opinion on Free Farrowing Systems. Farm Animal Welfare Council [online] Available from: [Accessed 26 January 2016]

(7) AHDB. 2015. BPEX Pig Yearbook 2013/2014. Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board [online] Available from: [Accessed 24 February 2016]

(8) BPEX. 2011. Pig Yearbook

(9) FAWC. 2011. Opinion on mutilations and environmental enrichment in piglets and growing pigs. Farm Animal Welfare Council [online] Available from: [Accessed 26 January 2016]

(10) Poulter S. 2011. Pain of pigs: Undercover filming shows animals having their teeth clipped off with metal pliers without anaesthetic. 16 December 2011. Mail Online. [online] Available from: [Accessed 26 January 2016]

(11) DEFRA. 2014. Agriculture in the United Kingdom. Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs [online] Available from: [Accessed 26 January 2016]

(12) Calculations based on Agriculture in the United Kingdom 2014 (DEFRA)

(13) Urry. 2014. ‘Diseased meat could go undetected’ due to rule change. 17 June 2014. BBC News. [online] Available from: 17 June 2014 [Accessed 26 January 2016]

(14) Red Tractor website. 2016. [online] Available from: [Accessed 26 January 2016]

(15) Mullin G. 2015. EXCLUSIVE: Shocking footage reveals pigs crammed into tiny cages next to abandoned carcasses at farm that supplies Morrisons. 24 October 2015. Mail Online. [online] Available from: [Accessed 26 January 2016]

10 million pigs killed

in the UK each year equates to:

833,333 per month
192,308 per week
27,397 per day
1,142 per hour
19 per minute 

Farming facts