Pigs are natural foragers – they enjoy rooting and exploring. They are highly inquisitive, social animals and have a language which contains some forty different expressions for passing on information.
The contrast between the natural life of a wild pig and an intensively farmed pig could not be greater. Worldwide, around 1.3 billion pigs are produced and killed each year. Compassion in World Farming (CiWF) estimates that around half of them are reared in intensive systems that give scant regard to their welfare.
An estimated 60% of breeding sows and 93% of pigs reared for meat spend most, or all of their life indoors. This means that they cannot display many of their natural tendencies and instead display much unnatural behaviour such as tail and bar biting and head shaking. To prevent them rooting up the earth, intensively reared pigs are also subject to mutilations such as nose ringing.
In the UK, around 60% of sows give birth in farrowing crates (a small metal cage only inches wider than the animal), in which they remain until their litter is weaned. The sows are unable to turn around and can only stand up, lie down or suckle their piglets once they are born. They remain in the crate until their piglets are weaned at around three weeks. The largest ever litter recorded was 37 piglets – and intensive systems encourage large litters. Close confinement can cause muscle weakness, lameness and inflammatory swellings of the joints. The crates are designed to maximise productivity as sows are less likely to lie on their piglets. Ultimately the crates drive down the cost of meat. The use of farrowing crates in pig production is prohibited under Soil Association standards.
Intensive rearing conditions can also promote the spread of diseases such as pneumonia, so antibiotics are widely used in non-organic pig production.
Organic standards ensure that pigs have a life which is as near as possible to their wild boar ancestors' and which enables them to exhibit their naturally social behaviour. Soil Association organic standards require pigs to have direct access to vegetation and soil. Piglets remain with their mothers for longer, and they are protected from cruel practices like having their tails cut off or their teeth ground down.