Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Plight of Pregnant Pigs

From Farm Sanctuary's website (

The Truth Behind Gestation Crates
The Life of a Sow
Sow in Gestation CrateMore than 6 million pigs in the U.S. are kept as breeding sows on factory farms. Eighty percent of these pigs are kept in gestation crates-tiny, 2 x 7 foot enclosures barely larger than the sows' own bodies. For a 400-pound sow, it's such a tight fit that she can't turn around, lie down comfortably or take more than a step forward and back for most of her life.

A Lifetime of Misery
Breeding sows are confined in gestation crates throughout their nearly four-month pregnancies, before being herded into similarly confining farrowing crates to give birth. The piglets are taken away after just two to three weeks and the process is begun again; the sow is re-impregnated and forced into a gestation crate for yet another pregnancy. This cycle is repeated until the sow is considered "reproductively spent," often after just two or three years in production. When her body becomes too broken down for efficient pig production, she is prodded onto a truck bound for slaughter.

In the wild, a pig will travel many miles a day, foraging for food, exploring and rooting through the earth. In a gestation crate, a sow's every natural behavior and movement is thwarted. Renowned farm animal welfare expert Temple Grandin has likened a pig's life inside a gestation crate to that of a person being strapped into an airline seat for his or her entire life.

Physical and Psychological Scars
The obvious cruelty of encasing an animal in a crate barely larger than her body precipitates a laundry list of maladies, both physical and psychological. Crated pigs develop joint problems from continuously standing on the slatted concrete floors , and they develop pressure sores from lying on hard floors for months on end.
Farrowing CrateDriven to madness by their intensive confinement, pigs-who are considered to be more intelligent than dogs-develop neurotic coping behaviors like incessant head waving, bar biting and sham chewing (chewing nothing). They are in a state of constant hunger, boredom and frustration, with no relief for their entire lives-save for a brief walk to the farrowing barn, where they are enclosed inside similarly tiny farrowing crates to give birth.

Expert Opinions
The Scientific Veterinary Committee of the European Commission has stated, "Since the extent of the inactivity and unresponsiveness indicates abnormal behaviour, the sows may well be depressed in the clinical sense and poor welfare is indicated. Some sows show this abnormal behaviour as an alternative to stereotypies and there are brain correlates of both of these types of abnormal behaviour."
Likewise, the "American Veterinary Medical Association Task Force on the Housing of Pregnant Sows has stated, "Sows housed in stalls cannot exercise...control over their environment. They can use only minimal behavior to thermoregulate, cannot avoid sows that are aggressive or approach those with whom grooming relationships might be established, cannot flee a fear-producing stimulus, and cannot easily choose a place to lie down that is separate from where they defecate….In general…lack of control over stressful components of the environment suggests a reduction in welfare."

Factory Farming Follies
Walking into a gestation crate facility, one hears the roars and screams of hundreds of confined, frustrated sows and the clatter of hundreds of bodies banging against metal cage bars. Treated like piglet-making machines, gestating sows are lined up in row after row of metal crates inside huge, windowless warehouses.
There are significant problems with keeping pigs in such intensive confinement. The heat generated by so many animals inside a building is stifling, and the ammonia fumes from their waste are toxic. Enormous fans are needed to keep the animals from suffocating, and a power outage for even a few hours quickly creates life-threatening conditions for animals trapped inside.

Ending Intensive Confinement
Because of their inherent cruelty, there is a growing legislative and social trend to discontinue the use of gestation crates. They have been banned throughout the entire European Union (effective in 2013), as well as in California, Colorado, Florida, Oregon and Arizona.

In early 2007, Maple Leaf Farms, Canada's largest hog producer, announced that they will phase out the use of gestation crates over the next decade. And many of the nation's top chefs and grocers, including Wolfgang Puck and Whole Foods, have announced they will not purchase from facilities that use gestation crates. Other grocery stores have made formal pledges to give purchasing preference to producers who do not use gestation crates.

Much remains to be done to stop the egregious long-term abuse of confinement in a gestation crate.

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