Every year there are approximately 6 million breeding sows (female pigs) kept inside warehouses on factory farms. Approximately 80% of these are kept in metal gestation crates for the duration of their 4 month long pregnancies. The crates have metal sides and concrete floors, measuring approximately 2 feet wide by less than 7 feet long. This is approximately the same size as the sows’ body, so sows are unable to turn around or take more than one step forward or backwards. Crates prevent most natural behaviors like rooting, foraging, nest building, wallowing, grazing and walking. Given a choice, pigs naturally choose separate areas for sleeping, eating and eliminating, but this isn’t an option on a factory farm.
Housing sows in this manner causes multiple health and emotional problems. The unnatural flooring, lack of straw for nesting, and lack of exercise cause sores, weak bones, overgrown hooves and crippling lameness. The air quality in the warehouses is so poor from the urine, feces and dust that 50% of the pigs that die before slaughter succumb to respiratory disease. The crowded conditions, poor hygiene and air quality makes the spread of disease rampant despite the regular addition of antibiotics into their feed. Pigs are highly intelligent and social, and the boredom from severe confinement also causes emotional distress, depression and neurotic behaviors.
When it’s time to give birth, sows are moved to a similar sized farrowing crate. Piglets naturally wean themselves around 15 weeks, but on factory farms piglets are weaned by 2-3 weeks. The sows are then given a hormone injection to prepare them to be immediately re-impregnated by artificial insemination. They then return to the gestation crates for the duration of their pregnancy. Sows usually have 2 litters per year, starting at 7 months of age and continuing until she is no longer productive. She is then sent to slaughter. Within the first 10 days, piglets have their tails and needle teeth cut off, nickel-sized holes notched in their ears and are castrated all without anesthesia. Newly weaned piglets are kept in crates stacked on top of one another with feces falling onto the crates below. Runts are viewed as a waste of resources and are “thumped”- swung by their legs and smashed headfirst into the ground. Piglets are eventually moved to crowded pens and kept on a diet of antibiotics, hormones and other drugs until they are slaughtered around 6 months of age.
Currently: Gestation crates are banned in the entire European Union (effective 2013). Florida was the first state to ban gestation crates in 2002, and Arizona followed in 2006 (effective 12/31/12). Bans will also go into effect in Oregon (by 1/1/12) and Colorado (by 2018). California banned them in 2008 (effective 1/1/15). In 2009 Maine banned gestation crates (effective 1/1/11) and Michigan will phase them out within the next 10 years. There are anti-confinement bills currently pending in New York and Massachusetts.
Note - This video contains footage of living conditions on several pig factory farms located in Georgia, California and North Carolina. Teens under 18 years of age need parental permission before viewing. It should not be watched by young children.