Farming pigs

There are three main stages in pig production.

1. Breeding - pregnant (dry) sows  

Sows in sow stalls (system is illegal in the UK) © RSPCA Photolibrary

Sow stalls

Individual stalls prevent sows from turning around, allowing only limited movement forwards and backwards. They were banned in the EU in January 2013 although their use is permitted for up to four weeks after mating.

They were completely banned in the UK in 1999.

Group housing

Group housing gives sows more freedom to move and socialise. However, without suitable management and facilities problems with aggression can occur.

Outdoor systems

Sows are kept in groups with access to large bedded huts for shelter. They have more space and can explore and forage in their environment. Weather and the type of land can make ensuring sow welfare a challenge. 

2. Breeding - giving birth (farrowing)

Farrowing crates 

Sow and piglets an a farrowing crate on a European farm © Andrew Forsyth/RSPCA Photolibrary

Prevent the sow from turning around and aim to reduce the risk of the sow crushing her newborn piglets. They have a heated 'creep' area to attract the piglets away from the sow when not suckling. Whilst most sows in the UK farrow in crates some producers use indoor pen systems which do not confine the sow, although numbers are limited. 

Outdoor systems

Sow in an outdoor farrowing arc © Andrew Forsyth/RSPCA Photolibrary

Sows are provided with individual shelters ('arcs') and straw to build a nest. Movement of the piglets is restricted for the first one to two weeks by a barrier around the entrance, in order to keep them in the warm arc. Approximately 40 per cent of sows in the UK give birth outdoors.

Sows are placed into farrowing accommodation up to a week before they are expected to give birth and remain there until the piglets are weaned at around 28 days of age. 

3. Growing / finishing

Most pigs, including those born outdoors, are put into indoor accommodation for growing/finishing after weaning.

Only three percent of pigs will spend their entire lives outdoors. 

Number of pigs

Over ten million pigs were slaughtered in the UK in 2017¹.

¹FAOSTATS. (2019) Production: Livestock primary [online]. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: Statistics Division.

Find out about some of the key welfare issues for pigs.

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