Breeding sows

Sow stalls are so narrow that a sow cannot turn around
Gilts (young female pigs) start breeding at approximately seven months old. It is common that for the whole of her 16 week pregnancy she will be kept in a sow stall.* A sow stall is a metal crate or cage, usually with a bare partly slatted floor, which is so narrow that the sow cannot turn around and can only stand up and lie down with difficulty.

Shortly before giving birth, sows are typically moved to a farrowing crate, which is similar to a sow stall except that there is space for the piglets. Bars prevent the sow from crushing them. Farrowing crates subject sows to the same poor welfare conditions as stalls, severely restrict the sow’s movement and frustrate her strong motivation to build a nest before giving birth

Farrowing crates prevent the sow from being able to get away from her piglets, for example if they bite her teats. It is common for piglets to have their teeth clipped, without anaesthetic, to minimise biting injuries.

After suckling for around 3 to 4 weeks typically, but in some countries even earlier, the piglets are removed from the sow and weaned. The sow is then inseminated again (usually by artificial insemination) within a couple of weeks and starts her next pregnancy in the gestation crate.

*Following years of effort from Compassion in World Farming and our supporters, sow stalls have been banned in the UK since 1999 and are due to be phased out across EU Member States in 2013 (except during the first four weeks of pregnancy). We are now focused on ensuring that sow stalls become a thing of the past from 2013.

10 welfare issues for sows in stalls:

Have no access to outdoors

Are deprived of basic normal movement

Cannot carry out their normal activities of foraging and rooting for food

Cannot urinate and defecate in a separate area to their lying space

Have very little interaction with the environment or with other pigs

Have little opportunity to regulate body temperature by their behaviour

Usually have their feed restricted to prevent them getting fat

Suffer physically including lameness due to weaker bones and muscles, abrasion injuries, cardiovascular problems, digestive problems and urinary tract problems

Suffer psychologically and exhibit abnormal chewing and bar-biting behaviours, indicating frustration, stress and reduced welfare

Can show behaviour likened to clinical depression

Growing pigs (fattening pigs)

Before weaning piglets may be at risk of crushing and of savaging by their mother. Sows have been bred to be bigger and heavier and so there is a very large size difference between the sow and her piglets. Although the farrowing crate is designed to prevent piglets getting crushed there is evidence that the stress and frustration of confinement can make the mothers more likely to savage their young.

Piglets in farrowing crates become bored, restless and aggressive

Piglets in farrowing crates become bored as they have nothing to do and the lack of bedding means they cannot develop their foraging behaviours. This leads to increased restlessness, aggression and injuries amongst piglets as well as biting or chewing at the sow.

Piglets are removed from their mothers at just three to four weeks old and then kept in groups for fattening. If allowed to take place naturally weaning would occur at 13 – 17 weeks of age. Stress, illness and conflict often result when piglets are abruptly weaned and mixed with unfamiliar piglets. At weaning the piglets suddenly lose the security of having their mother to feed, nurture and protect them.

Typically, growing pigs are kept indoors in barren, crowded and sometimes dimly lit conditions on slatted floors without straw for bedding or rooting. They have no access to outdoors and often do not have either fresh air or daylight. Pigs growing in these conditions are unable to carry out most of their natural behaviour and are likely to be bored and frustrated. They tend to fight and to bite each other’s tails, sometimes causing severe injury.

Growing pigs have no access to outdoors and are unable to carry out natural behaviours
To prevent causing injury young piglets in intensive production are typically subjected to painful mutilations without pain relief. In addition to tooth clipping, most piglets have their tails cut off to discourage them from biting each other’s tails. Routine tail docking is illegal in the EU, but still happens to over 90% of piglets. The risk of tail-biting can be substantially reduced without tail-docking if pigs are provided with more space and more stimulating living conditions.

Most male piglets in Europe (except in the UK, where this is not normally done) are castrated as it is believed that consumers find the taste of meat from sexually mature males unpleasant. Castration causes considerable pain and distress. This can be reduced by the use of anaesthetics but unfortunately castration is usually carried out without.

The age at which piglets are slaughtered varies but typically they will live for six months.

The crowded conditions and continuous production methods of intensive systems are associated with new infectious viral pig diseases such as Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS or ‘blue ear’) which causes sows to become ill and can lead to 30% of piglets being born dead and Post Weaning Multisystemic Wasting Syndrome (PMWS) which causes high mortality among growing pigs.

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Farrowing crates prevent the sow from being able to get away from her piglets











All Images and article by Compassion in World Farming.















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