By Farm Sanctuary, January 2014
|A ham sandwich|
The life of a breeding sow in the U.S. pork industry is one of extreme confinement, stress, and suffering. There were more than 5.8 million pigs used for breeding in the United States in 2011, most of whom were confined to gestation crates, typically lined up row after row in large sheds. These naturally curious and intelligent animals are first impregnated at 7 months of age and live out their lives in a cycle of pregnancy, birth, and nursing until they are eventually sent to slaughter.
• The majority of breeding sows spend nearly the entirety of each pregnancy confined to a gestation crate, which is only slightly larger than their body, making it impossible for them to lie down comfortably or even turn around.
• Gestation crate floors are usually made of slats, which allow manure to fall through, meaning that sows live directly above their own waste. This design exposes sows to high levels of ammonia, and respiratory disease is common in confined sows.
• Standing on the hard, unnatural slatted flooring of a gestation crate takes a toll on pigs’ feet, causing excessive foot injuries, damage to joints, and even lameness.
• The intense boredom and frustration pigs suffer in gestation crates have been blamed by researchers for abnormal, neurotic behaviors confined pigs sometimes exhibit, like repetitively biting at the bars of the gestation crate or chewing with an empty mouth. These behaviors can lead to additional suffering by causing sores and mouth damage.
• Shortly before piglets are born, sows are moved to “farrowing crates” where the piglets will be nursed. The crates, meant to separate the mother from the piglets to avoid crushing, are restrictive to the point that the mother pig can only stand and lie down — she cannot even turn around to see her piglets.
• At only 17–20 days old, the piglets are taken away from their mothers and undergo a series of mutilations, including being castrated and having a portion of their tails removed without any sort of pain relief. The piglets spend the next 6 months of their lives confined to pens until they reach “market weight”; they are then trucked to slaughter.
• Once piglets are weaned, their mothers are put back into the restrictive gestation crates and re-impregnated, and the cycle continues at an average of 2.1–2.5 litters per year until the sow is considered spent and is sent to slaughter herself.