Pigs - key welfare issues

Key concerns for the welfare of pigs:

Sow in farrowing crate © Ron Kirkby/RSPCA Photolibrary
  • Tail docking - removal of part of the pigs' tail in order to reduce the risk of tail biting in older pigs. Tail biting is painful and can lead to serious injury. It can be a symptom of physical or mental stress.
  • Teeth reduction - the sharp ends of the needle teeth are removed on some piglets to reduce damage to the sows' teats during suckling and to other piglets.
  • Castration (male piglets) - is carried out mainly to reduce the risk of 'boar taint' in the meat. Castration is uncommon in the UK, although the majority of male piglets in Europe are still castrated, many without anaesthetic/pain relief.
  • Sow stalls - cause severe welfare problems as the sow is unable to turn around, take more than one or two steps forward or backward, and most have no access to bedding throughout the majority of their pregnancy. Sow stalls have been banned in the EU since January 2013, although their use is allowed for up to four weeks after mating. They have been completely banned in the UK since 1999.
  • Farrowing crates - prevent the sow from turning around for up to five weeks around the time of farrowing. Due to confinement and a lack of bedding material the sow can't build a nest, further frustrating her.
  • Nose ringing - carried out in outdoor sows to try to reduce rooting of the ground, which can lead to an increase in the death rates of piglets due to chilling. As well as pain when the ring is inserted and the stress of handling, nose rings work by causing discomfort and pain as the sow goes to root with her snout, causing her to stop.

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