Pigs and Sow Stalls


More than 30 million pigs are produced every year in Canada for slaughter. Most are born to sows that are kept in two-feet-wide metal gestation crates, where they are unable to even turn around during their four-month pregnancy. Sows experience crippling leg disorders and a deprived environment in crates.

Just before the sow gives birth, she is moved to a metal farrowing crate where she can barely stand and lie down, on concrete floors without access to straw. There her piglets are born. The farrowing crate confines the sow so she cannot accidentally step or roll on the piglets.

The young piglets stay with their mothers until weaning at two to three weeks. When removed from their mothers, the young piglets’ teeth are clipped, their tails cut and the males are castrated – all without anaesthesia. The piglets are taken away to be fattened in nursery pens on concrete floors, then to “grower” pens, and finally to “finisher” pens until they reach slaughter weight of 250 pounds at six months old.

Pigs may legally be transported 36 hours in Canada without water, food or rest, in addition to a 5-hour food withdrawal prior to loading. The stressful conditions of pig factories cause extreme boredom, aggression and physical and mental deterioration in pigs.

Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec are the largest pig-producing and pig-slaughtering provinces in Canada. Approximately one-quarter of all Canadian pigs are exported to the U.S. for fattening and slaughter.

Sow Stalls

Sow stalls are metal barred cages about 2 feet wide by 7 feet long. Female breeding pigs (called “sows”) are confined to these tiny stalls for their entire life. The stalls are so small the sow cannot turn around. Instead, her movement is limited to one step forward or one step back. She must eat, sleep, urinate and defecate in this tiny space. The waste falls through slatted concrete floors to a pool of raw sewage underneath her.

Over 1,440,000 sows are raised in Canada – the vast majority in stalls. Almost 320,000 sows are kept in Manitoba, which has Canada’s fastest growing hog industry. The problem is getting worse. Canada’s hog industry continues to expand and most new sow barns are equipped with sow stalls.

The 1997 Report of the European Union’s Scientific Veterinary Committee, The Welfare of Intensively Kept Pigs, pulled no punches in its condemnation of sow stalls. It stated that sow stalls presented “serious welfare problems” and “Sows prefer not to be confined in a small space.” Furthermore, the report added that “(the committee) find(s) the confinement offensive.”

Just before the sow is due to give birth, she is moved to another restraining device – the farrowing crate – where she gives birth and nurses her young through metal bars. After anywhere from 10 to 21 days of nursing, her piglets are removed and the process is repeated all over again, pregnancy after pregnancy.

An alternative to sow stalls is group housing. Group housing, where groups of pregnant sows can roam around barns with suitable bedding material, such as straw, is a good alternative. The agriculture industry argues that keeping pigs together results in problems, such as fighting and aggression, and mother pigs crushing their piglets, but these problems only result when animals are overcrowded. With proper management and animal care, group housing is easily possible. This type of housing is being used successfully by hog producers in Canada and elsewhere around the world.

Typically, a sow has about 2.2 pregnancies a year, producing 19 to 22 pigs annually. A sow has an average of only three litters before her productivity wanes and she is sent to slaughter at an age of 24 to 30 months. Sows that are no longer productive are termed “cull sows.” Due to prolonged confinement, lack of exercise and the fact that pigs have been bred for large size, culls sows often experience lameness, foot injuries, weakened bones and painful abrasions. When sent to slaughter, pigs that have difficulty walking or navigating the transport ramps are too often roughly handled and outright abused. Electric prods, despite being discouraged by animal welfare scientists, are over-used, causing pigs to go down (“downers” are animals that are unable to stand or walk).

For more information on sow stalls, download this fact sheet.

Source: Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals






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