Separation of mothers and babies
Piglets are usually weaned between three and four weeks of age, yet under natural conditions, weaning is a gradual process whereby the frequency of suckling gradually reduces and the intake of solid food increases until final completion at 12 to 15 weeks of age. The earlier the weaning age of piglets, the greater the chance of them suffering from health and welfare problems later. Weaning in this abrupt manner is also a psychological trauma to both mother and piglets. At around three weeks of age, the piglets still do not have fully formed immune and digestive systems. They are forcibly weaned onto solid food which they cannot digest properly and this can lead to scours - diarrhoea - and a failure to thrive. Medication is administered to prevent diarrhoea and the animals are likely to remain on drugs to curb disease and increase growth until close to slaughter age.
Their environment is normally a ‘flat deck’ almost certainly in another windowless shed. Many piglets will share a small pen and beneath their feet is expanded metal or plastic for their faeces to fall through. The pen often contains no bedding, minimal environmental enrichment (perhaps one hanging chain or a ball), and very little to do.
Inquisitive piglets have little to do at this farm in 2015. This can lead to them biting each other © Viva!
This results in aggression and abnormal behaviours. Paradoxically, as with most types of factory farming, mutilations are carried out in an attempt to control abnormal behaviours which are direct consequences of the intensive farming methods themselves. British piglets are mainly subjected to two types of mutilations:
teeth clipping and tail docking. Though they may also suffer ear notching and, rarely, castration. Viva! has
filmed mutilations undercover (29).
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 (29, 30). Tail docking involves the removal of the distal part of the piglet’s tail using a scalpel, clippers or cauterising iron. The teeth of new-born pigs are either clipped or grinded down by the stockperson. Both are obviously painful mutilations, yet neither are carried out with the use of anaesthetic.