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Farrowing Crates: A Cruel Abomination That Needs To Go

The farming of animals using industrialized factory methods is a pressing moral issue of the modern era. Pig farming is a good illustration of this. I would argue that when factory methods are used it is one of the biggest abominations of humanity.

Recently I was sent footage from Farmwatch of mother pigs in farrowing crates in a NZ piggery. It was deeply upsetting to witness the suffering sows and piglets endure.

Farrowing crates are rectangular metal enclosures in which a sow gives birth and nurses her young. The crate is so small that the sow can only stand up and sit down and take one step forward and back. She stays in here for up to five days before she gives birth and until her piglets are weaned about five weeks later. She is confined in this way two to three times a year after being routinely impregnated.

Watching Farmwatch’s footage of the piggery demonstrated the hidden suffering of the mother pigs and piglets. It was like looking into a prison: the sounds of squealing and grunting; the banging of bars; the utter hopelessness.

For the mother pigs and piglets, there is no reprieve from this ongoing nightmare. In the footage I saw piglets shivering on the floor, trying to maintain their body temperature. Other piglets lay dead, sprawled on the ground, no life left. Newborn piglets struggled to stand without the help of their mother. Piglets had stumpy docked tails still red and raw –this painful act is routinely carried out on New Zealand farms. .

Hard as that footage was, looking at the eyes of the sows was even more chilling. Pigs have incredibly expressive eyes that convey emotions beautifully. The pigs looked stressed, worried, sad, depressed and frustrated. They have only the very basic necessities to keep their bodies alive and nothing else. For anyone with a shred of empathy for animals, this footage is difficult to watch.

No animal deserves to be placed in a tight pen with no room for movement for weeks on end. No animal should be denied the right to mother her young; to build a nest for them; to help them and protect them. Yet these pigs are confined to a hard floor, encased in metal, unable to express even the most basic of their instincts.

Domesticated pigs are known to be highly sensitive beings, capable of a range of emotions. They build nests for their young and are highly maternal. They are also very clever and have been said to possess the puzzle-solving abilities of a three-year-old human child. They also bond well with humans.

So what are we doing treating them as nothing more than fodder for the assembly line production of pig meat?

One of the most jarring moments in the footage is of a pig with “CULL” written in paint on her back. Her date for being killed was set for the very next day. Her piglets will be taken into a fattening pen awaiting their own deaths at around six months of age.

None will ever feel the earth beneath their trotters or the sunshine on their backs. Their entire lives are nothingness. Nothingness and dragging boredom and frustration punctuated by feeding. They have no stimulation except each other, and they live on concrete or rubber slatted floors. They cannot root around in the earth or express natural behaviours.

What we do to pigs is criminal.

When it comes to the law, it seems that this is more than just a figure of speech. There are transgressions in our treatment of pigs. And these transgressions means that the pig industry in New Zealand is routinely breaking the law. In February 2019, SAFE and the New Zealand Animal Law Association (NZALA) filed legal proceedings against the Government for allowing the continued use of farrowing crates in violation of the Animal Welfare Act 1999.

The Animal Welfare Act 1999 guarantees animals their five freedoms including freedom to behave naturally through exercising and expressing their instincts. For pigs this means being able to move around and build nests, root in the dirt, care for their young, search for food and so forth. Yet mother pigs are confined in a tight space for at least three months of the year unable to move at all.

Simply put, this makes a joke of the Animal Welfare Act 1999. If we cannot guarantee animals freedoms of the Act, we should not be farming them. Full stop.

It would seem that the lives of these pigs are currently inconsequential to the law, except insofar as it allows them to stay alive as potential packages of meat and incubation and nursing units. It is a contradiction that the law frames their welfare in very minimal terms, despite supposedly upholding the five freedoms.

I think it is important to get our heads around the nature of the beast. Factory farming of any animal is a morally repugnant practice. It makes it very difficult to guarantee the animals the five freedoms that are the very least they deserve.

Pigs are living, breathing, sentient beings capable of so much. Only when we start seeing animals though this lens and treat them as such can we consider ourselves as progressive members of humanity.

Additional photos can be found here: 


And the link to the Farmwatch video is here:  

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