The Size and Type of Pig Industry in Britain
About half of all the meat eaten in the world comes from pigs.
In Europe about one-third of the meat is eaten fresh as pork,
one-third as cured bacon or ham and the remainder is processed
into pies, sausages and other manufactured products.
In the UK some 16 million pigs are killed each year for these
products (1998 MAFF figures) (27)
95 per cent of all pigs reared for meat and 70% of breeding
pigs are factory farmed. (44, 45, 46, 47, 48.)
In fact several sources state that less than 30% of breeding
sows are outdoors - therefore Viva! has used the most generous
estimate as this was cited by the governments agriculture
committee in a review of the UK pig industry in 1999 (44).
Ben Gill, President of the National Farmers Union, gave misinformation
(one presumes deliberately) on BBC1 TV on 2 March 2001 when
he implied that most pigs are outdoors. To be clear:
The UK pig herd is divided into the breeding herd and the
fattening stock (those killed for meat). 30% of the breeding
sows are kept outdoors, 70% indoors. However, almost all the
piglets from the outdoor sows are then reared intensively
At least 95% of all fattening stock are reared in factory
The Meat and Livestock Commission (Tony Fowler, Economist,
MLC) stated to Viva! that:
there are 8 million pigs in the UK alive at any one
time and of these, the maximum number of breeding sows in
outdoor systems is 20% - but that is unusual and a maximum.
The number of truly free range piglets is so small there isn't
a figure - almost all piglets are reared intensively.
Jane Jordan of Pig Farming magazine told Viva!:
25% of the national sow herd are free range, however
their piglets are reared indoors. Less than 5% of pigs are
free range totally - where the piglets reared for meat are
And finally, the UK Pig Industry, House of Commons Agriculture
Committee, 26 January 1999 states that the majority of British
pigs are still finished indoors in buildings designed
for intensive systems and the number of UK outdoor herd
accounts for about 30 per cent of breeding sows.
There are 287 abattoirs that slaughter pigs in Britain - however
only 28 of these are specialist pig abattoirs and these kill
an average of 354,875 pigs per year (the rest kill an average
of 49,404 pigs per year). (28)
There are about 14,000 pig holdings in Britain and there are
in the region of 8 million pigs alive at any one time, of
which 778,000 are breeding sows (figures for June 1998) (27).
187,000 pigs were exported live in 1998 to Germany, Ireland,
Spain, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and France (28). In addition,
220,000 tonnes of pig meat was exported in the same year -
to Germany, France, Italy, Netherlands, Japan, Hong Kong,
Poland, Hungary and the USA. (Countries listed in order of
amounts exported to them - largest first.)
The value of production of pig meat in the UK in 1998 was
£873 million, 27% below that of 1997 (27). There was
an increase in the size of the breeding herd in 1997, which
led to an increase in the number of pigs sold for meat. This,
along with the availability of cheap imported meat due to
the value of the high pound, is the reason MAFF give for the
downward turn in UK pig meat sales (27). (See Pig Industry
Pigs are sold for slaughter between 55 and 125kg live weight.
Consumer demand is for lean meat and this is the excuse the
industry give for genetic engineering along with feed and
environmental manipulation, to produce in the quickest time
'a carcass with a low quantity of subcutaneous fat'. (1) The
industry says: 'The efficient producer has to manipulate these
factors continuously if his animals are going to be slaughtered
in the most financially attractive markets'. (1) The industry
aims to produce large pigs with low fat in the shortest possible
time. This philosophy means that the welfare of the animals
is not considered.
Traditionally, pigs were allowed to grow at a natural pace.
They were turned out into the forests daily where they foraged
and walked for long distances. The fattening stock
was killed at about one year old. Today, pigs are killed at
5 to 6 months old - and yet the animals are larger. The breeding
sows also lived more naturally; however today they are forced
to have a succession of pregnancies and then are killed at
3 to 4 years old for poor quality meat products. Pigs naturally
live to about 12 years.
In Britain, pigs killed for meat are placed in four categories:
- the pork pig (55-62kg) for small joints on the bone, sold
as fresh meat
- the cutter pig (64-82kg) trimmed of fat and skin, used
for supermarkets and large retailers, with some of the carcass
used for processed products
- the bacon pig (90-100kg) cured
- heavy hog (100-125kg) often trimmed of skin and fat and
most often used for sausages, pies and processed meats.
Killed breeding stock - both sows and boars - are also used
for low grade meat in eg sausages, salami, pies, soup, baby
food, school dinners etc.
Pigs are fun loving, sociable animals full of joie de vivre.
They belong to the non-ruminant section of the Artiodactyls
(along with hippopotamuses). The wild pig lives in the forest
and eats a wide variety of plants and occasionally small animals
and insects - and of course once lived wild in Britains
woodlands until hunted to extinction in the seventeenth century.
Sus scrofa, the Eurasian wild pig, is the ancestor of most
domesticated and feral pigs. It is found on all continents
except Antarctica and on many islands.
Wild and feral (domestic pigs gone wild) pigs have a social
structure comprising of a sow and her young. Wild pigs give
birth (farrow) once a year and have a litter of about four
piglets. At weaning, which naturally occurs at three months,
two or three sows and their piglets will join together. There
is often a matriarchal hierarchy which lasts until the breeding
season. Old boars, who often live alone, then join the group,
driving away the young boars and mating with the sows. Young
boars live together during this time. Breeding females and
adolescents usually reform a group after breeding.
Piglets are very fond of play. They chase one another, play-fight,
play-love, tumble around and generally enjoy themselves. They
do not grow into normal pigs when deprived of play.
In factory farms piglets cannot play - they live in crowded
concrete or gridded pens with nothing to do.
Radio telemetry studies have shown that pigs can travel 2
to 15 km in a night and over six months cover 10,000 hectares.
(68) In a major study pigs kept in a semi-natural environment
spent over half their daylight time foraging for food and
a quarter exploring. Stolba and Wood-Gush (4) state:
"Pigs are generally exploratory animals with an appreciable
proportion of their time devoted to...examining the distant
and immediate environment and in collecting, carrying, manipulating
food items...They used their rooting pads to flatten and push
items; the snout for grubbing out thick roots. Morsels on
the bark and wood were licked, while old tussocks of grass
were overturned so that their roots could be eaten. Young
grass on the other hand was carefully grazed. In boggy areas
they dug more deeply to get at the roots of sedge grasses
and these together with the roots of trees appeared to be
The adults pigs in this study had been kept in factory farms
and still they displayed a wide repertoire of behaviour when
given the opportunity. In fact, given half a chance pigs will
live ferally as wild boar.
Pigs have poor eyesight but acute senses of touch, taste and
smell - being able to smell a human up to a quarter of a mile
away. Their snout is very sensitive and tactile and is vital
for rooting. So strong is the need to root that intensively
farmed pigs persist in nosing their concrete floors. Factory
farmed pigs are given concentrated feed and spend a short
time eating. They have no opportunity to root around and this
is a serious cause of frustration and acute boredom in these
Dr IJ Lean (Animal Production Dept, Wye College, University
of London) acknowledges that:
"weaned, growing and finishing pigs live in a barren environment."
It is hard for us to imagine the effects of the imprisonment
on young mammals who, in the wild, spend so much time playing,
socialising, rooting, running, eating, investigating, wandering
and engaging in the natural world.
Like a pig in.....
Pigs avoid extreme temperatures. As they only have sweat glands
on their noses, it is important they do not overheat. This
is where mud comes in. Pigs, like elephants, roll in mud to
keep cool - as mud provides evaporative cooling over a much
longer time than water. Mud also stops sun burn, dangerous
to a pig, and it protects from flies and parasites. Contrary
to the popular myth, pigs do not like to roll in dung, or
urine for that matter - something they are forced to do in
Britains factory farms. Urine burns the skin and faeces
attracts flies, both spread disease.
In the wild, piglets choose their playmates and friends, in
an intensive unit pigs have no such normality. Instead humans
choose their companions, stocking rate and feed. They are
often put together in groups of the same age, gender and weight.
Newly mixed pigs fight to establish a hierarchy which is based
on weight - the heaviest being more dominant. Unfortunately
Viva! has witnessed many pens where smaller piglets are being
bullied by larger animals in overstocked conditions. The industry
admits that this is 'bad management'.
For some, the factory farming of pigs is made even worse in
the knowledge that pigs are very sensitive, emotional and
bright creatures with long memories. Stanley Curtis, Professor
of Animal Sciences at Pennsylvania State University, says:
"Pigs are amongst the most intelligent animals on Earth".
They can be taught to sit, pirouette, shake hands, complete
complex obstacle courses, play bugle horns, sing Christmas
carols and by gripping a joystick with their snouts are even
capable of playing complex video games.
"Things we used to think were totally human, we find these
animals are capable of doing as well." (51)
American scientists have proved that pigs can recall events
that happened to them several years ago. Dr Sarah Boysden,
a zoologist at Ohio Sate University says:
"Pigs have tremendous memory for training and events that
She taught a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig to differentiate between
several objects such as balls and Frisbees and to obey commands
such as fetch, jump and sit.
After a gap of four years, the pig remembered all the objects
British Pig Farm
There are 14,000 pig farms in the UK. 20% of these units have
100 to 1000 pigs; 79% have more than 1000 (48). These may
be looked after by only one or two workers. New intensification
techniques from the USA now boast that one person can look
after 7,000 pigs - so the industry may try to develop similar
systems in the UK.
Viva! has investigated pig farms throughout Britain. We also
filmed in 18 units across 11 English counties (see Pig In
Hell video; 50). For an example of how Viva! believes one
of the farms is breaking the law, see Appendix 1. Also see
the Animals Prevention of Cruelty, The Welfare of Farmed Animals
Regulations 2000 and accompanying Pig Space Requirements.
Different farms use different systems but to give a picture
of how pigs are kept, a typical UK farm is described below.
A typical pig farm looks very like a scrap yard at first sight
- piles of junk and discarded agricultural equipment surrounding
rows of grey, windowless sheds. It is a production line which
takes animals from birth to death. The starting point is the
MAFF code of practice calls for three square meters of space
for each sow, but you are unlikely to see this. What you will
see are several large animals in small, barren, concrete pens
with no bedding. There is a slatted area for dung to fall
through and a what is supposed to be a dry lying area. It
usually isnt dry and there is nothing for the sows to
lie on but filthy wet concrete.
They wait here for the 16 and a half weeks of their pregnancy
and, just before their due date, they are moved to the farrowing
shed. Rows of metal-barred crates hold the sows captive -
barely able to move and never able to turn around. They can
stand up and lie down only with difficulty. They will remain
like this for 28 days while they deliver and feed their young.
Often the shed is in near total darkness. Their bed is solid
concrete, frequently with no straw or other soft materials
- it isnt required by law! At their rear end, slatted
metal is supposed to ensure dung and urine falls through to
the slurry pit beneath. (See Pigs Kept for Breeding below.)
At three weeks old, the mothers piglets are removed,
even though their immune and digestive systems are not fully
formed. They are forcibly weaned on to solid food which they
cannot digest properly. Medication is administered to prevent
diarrhoea and they are likely to remain on drugs - to curb
disease and increase growth - until close to slaughter age.
Their environment is usually a flat deck, almost
certainly in another windowless shed. Many piglets will share
a pen about three metres square. Beneath their feet is expanded
metal or plastic for their faeces to fall through. The pen
contains nothing else - no bedding, no environmental enrichment
and nothing to do. The result is aggression and to prevent
biting, these little piglets have their main teeth and the
ends of their tail cut off without anaesthetic.
If the slurry is not cleaned out often enough the smell of
ammonia in these units can become all pervading - in humans
causing headaches and difficulty breathing within minutes.
Their mothers are sent back to the dry sow pens
where, after a few days, they are forcibly re-impregnated.
And so begins another 16 week wait for them before returning
to the crate.
When these little weaners become big enough to
become growers or rearing pigs, they are often moved to concrete
pens. Typically, they are filthy, faeces-covered hovels with
an area for dunging and a covered pen for sleeping. Frequently,
there is little difference between the two - just a continuation
of wet, faeces-smeared concrete. The urine burns the skin
of pigs and attracts disease.
Pigs naturally have separate dunging and urinating areas.
Animal production expert, I Lean, says:
"It is common to take advantage of the pigs' demarcation of
dunging and urinating places. Pigs mark out these areas
and then the rest of the pen is kept clean. Overcrowding
or inadequate control of temperature leads to a breakdown
in this system of demarcation and soiling of both pigs and
pen then becomes general." (1)
Second stage growers may be moved to open shed accommodation,
where as many as 200 animals weighing up to 70 Kg will be
packed together - pigs of this weight need only be provided
with 0.55 square metres each by law.
The final stage is finishing and pigs may be moved again to
concrete pens. In almost no instance can you see anything
which resembles a natural environment nor one which enables
pigs to fulfil any of their natural instincts. Food is the
same dry, pelleted mix throughout their lives, which ends
at five or six months old.
Breeding sows are likely to be killed at about four years
old - if they survive that long. Adult boars are kept singly
in cells that allow them to turn around only - they can never
exercise properly. By law they have to be at least 6 square
metres. They should have clean lying areas but often dont.
The law does not force farmers to provide bedding. They are
killed at 3 to 4 years old.
An inevitable accompaniment to every farm is the dump where
dead animals are disposed of. They are supposed to be buried
to prevent scavenging and the spread of disease but you rarely
have to look far on many farms to see dead and decaying animals
either left in their pens with living pigs or abandoned around
the yard or in fields - like so much trash.
The Death of Pigs
For details of how pigs are slaughtered see Sentenced to Death,
A Viva! report on the slaughter of farmed animals in the UK,
Viva!, 2000. For video footage of how pigs are killed and
the major welfare problems see the Sentenced to Death video
(available from Viva!.)
Pigs Kept for Breeding
Data on Pig Farming
Age at puberty (av.)28 weeks (7 mths)
Age when first bred 31.5 weeks (7.9 mths)
In oestrus for 3 weeks
Ovulates for 53 hours
Ovulates after giving birth 5 days after weaning
Type of cycle Polyoestrus all year
Gestation length 16.3 weeks
Fecundity Gilts av. 9 live born and sows av. 11 live born
Breeding life 2 litter/sow/yr BUT 2.5 in modern systems with
longer day lengths. Sows killed at 3-5 years.
Age at puberty (av.) 28 weeks (7 mths)
Age when first bred 35 weeks (8.7 mths)
Breeding life Usually killed at 3-4 years
Sow/boar ratio 25 sows per boar is a 'practical ratio during
Table from Lean (1)
The Farrowing Crate
Farmers boast that they no longer use metal-barred sow stalls,
where pregnant sows spent their lives in almost total immobility,
often chained to the floor. They dont use them - because
animal welfare groups forced the change through years of campaigning.
Many farmers were against the ban. For example, a prominent
Scottish pig producer, Keith Chalmers-Watson of Fenton Barns,
N Berwick, had an intensive breeding unit and was in the pig
industry for 70 years was extremely angry when sow stalls
were banned and said: "Stalls are an extremely welfare friendly
method of production and should still be available to us as
a long term farming option."
The European Commissions Scientific Veterinary Committee
did not agree. It condemned sow stalls in a 1997 report because
of the serious health and welfare problems. It stated sows
in stalls have weaker bones and muscles, heart problems and
more urinary tract infections.
Sow stalls were phased out over some years and became illegal
in the UK from January 1999. This is not the case, however,
in the rest of the EU where tethers (that chain sows to the
floor of the stall) only will be banned from 2006.
Unfortunately the farrowing crate, a close cousin of the sow
stall, is still in common use in Britain.
Exeter University, Survey of UK Pig Farming, 1998 states that
95% of Britains indoor pig units use farrowing crates.
This means that there is no joy of motherhood for todays
breeding sow. She is caged and immobilised for 28 days at
a time while she delivers and feeds her piglets.
The crate is fixed to a cold, bare concrete or metal floor.
Bars little wider than her body make it a struggle for the
sow to stand up or lie down. It is impossible to turn around.
There is a creep area to the side of the crate where piglets
huddle in what should be a warm, dry place.
Pregnancy should be a time of restless activity, of collecting
sticks and leaves, of nest building. With not a strand of
straw as comfort, her natural instincts are utterly frustrated.
Sows may repeat the same futile gestures over and over again.
Building an imaginary nest with imaginary materials for piglets
she will never be allowed to mother properly.
Dr I Lean, Animal Production Dept., Wye College says:
Under intensive conditions, the sow has little opportunity
to exhibit the behaviour patterns which occur in more natural
situations before and during parturition. The extreme restlessness
commented on by many workers has led to a reevaluation of
the type of accommodation provided for this time but has not
so far led any changes in common commercial practice."
The bars prevent her from fulfilling any of her maternal instincts.
At three weeks old her piglets are suddenly removed. The sow
is given no treatment for drying her milk supply - except
for reduced feed! She is made pregnant again, removed to a
pen to wait until it is time to repeat the exercise. And it
happens over and over again until her production levels drop
or until she is killed through disease or lameness.
In 1999 and 2000, at Newham Farm in Cornwall, Viva! investigators
saw caged pregnant and nursing sows smothered in faeces and
flies, in a pitiable state. Alongside their living piglets
were dead and decaying siblings, blackened and advanced in
putrefaction. We registered complaints against the farmer
but the authorities found nothing wrong with the place. Why?
It could be because if they acted in this instance, they would
have to take action against many other units in Britain.
It isnt just individual farms who still use the farrowing
crate. The biggest pig producer in the world, the Pig Improvement
Company (PIC - formerly Dalgety), also subjects sows to this
cruelty and we have filmed them, too. Their priorities are
set out in the first heading of their booklet, Practical Farrowing
Care & Sow Management. Profit foremost!
MAFF argue that the farrowing crate protects piglets from
being flattened by their mother. Yet MAFF is fully aware that
research shows that piglet death rates are almost exactly
the same in non-crate systems. Industry publications report
of alternatives that are successful in working farms. Furthermore,
producers in many countries are already using alternative
systems to the farrowing crate (52). Recent research shows
that Solari pens, that release sows into a larger pen area
a few days after giving birth, can be successful in protecting
Three quarters of crushing happens during the first 48 hours
after birth, so - even if you were an advocate of crating
sows - confinement cannot be argued for after that time.
Ben Bradshaw of MAFF states that: piglet mortality in
farrowing crates are approximately 8% to 14%; good alternative
farrowing systems will need to have similar mortality rates.
(53) A survey of 77 outdoor herds revealed the mortality rate
to be between 11.7% to 12.3% (54). In fact the Meat and Livestock
Commissions own research consistently shows that a more
natural system is equal or better than indoor crate systems.
The MLC state that the mortality of pigs born outdoors is
11.2% against 11.7% for indoor pigs. Further, the death rate
of the mother sows is much lower in outdoor systems - 3% against
5% indoors (54). In other words, it has been known for some
years that piglet deaths are less in outdoor herds. (This
is contrary to what the meat industry have maintained on media
interviews with Viva!.)
Many would argue that this is yet another reason why factory
farming should be banned. MAFF, predictably, state that they
will not legislate to force all pig producers to breed in
outdoor, free range systems. However, as already stated many
countries use non-crate systems indoors. For example, the
Volkenroder pen in Germany reduced piglet mortality to 11%
from 17% in their crated farrowing systems (55). Some farmers
in the UK have reduced mortality rates in non-crate systems
to 5% by being present at every birth; other trials reported
in Pig Farming magazine show eg that death rates in certain
free-farrowing pens are no higher than crates on the same
farms. Pig Farming (which supports intensive farming and the
farrowing crate) states that one alternative indoor system
is as commercially viable as traditional crates.
(56) It does state that more research is needed - of course.
Its vital to recognise that the crushing of piglets
by their mothers is an unnatural phenomenon - created by modern
farming techniques. MAFF have allowed modern pigs to be selectively
bred to give birth to 10 to 12 piglets instead of 4 which
Wild boar do not kill their own piglets. This is partly because
they give birth to fewer piglets and because of the way they
build nests. If a mother rolls on her piglet, the baby would
simply fall through the twigs and climb back in the nest.
The crushing of piglets is a direct result of the way pigs
Also, MAFF state that the piglets welfare is as important
as the mothers. These words seem rather hollow when you consider
that piglets fare better in outdoor systems and that
MAFF permit early weaning which causes severe stress for mother
Viva! is actively campaigning to ban the farrowing crate.
Piglets are born naked, with little hair, no fat, little liver
glycogen reserves and poor disease immunity. It is essential
that they are born into a warm, dry, clean environment so
that they escape chilling and quickly find their mother's
teats for colostrum. Certainly units filmed by Viva! were
far from clean and in some the piglets were shivering as the
heaters in the creep area were not on. Colostrum provides
immune globulins which are directly absorbed prior to gut
closure as well as being a rich energy source and gut stimulant.
Piglets find their way to a teat straight after being born.
Indoor sow's milk is low in iron (because they cant
obtain it from soil) so piglets are injected with iron to
stop anaemia. (57)
Weaning naturally occurs at 12 weeks but "such a lengthy lactation
is inefficient because the lactating sow seldom comes on heat"
(1), i.e. intensive production means sows must be made pregnant
again as soon as possible - and by taking her piglets away,
a sow comes on heat and can be made pregnant again.
Piglets can be weaned at one day and this has been practised
but such animals need clean, warm surroundings and a feed
similar to sow's milk. The costs have deterred producers from
taking piglets this young (1). (Not the welfare implications!)
Most piglets are weaned at 21-24 days (22). (See Early Weaning
in Mutilations section and Farrowing Crate and Disease sections).
Breeding boars are usually supplied by a breeding company
who analyses the feed conversion, growth rate and carcass
quality of siblings. They are usually selected at 6-8 months
old and will start with 4-6 sows and as libido and fertility
increases the ratio increases to about one boar per 25 sows.
Young boars are often group housed in straw yards but incarcerated
individually when older.
Gilts are selected for breeding on growth rate, feed conversion
and reproductive history of their dams and sires and on their
own anatomy. They used not to be bred at first oestrus but
intensive production has changed this and now they are mated
as early as possible. Contact with a male by sight, sound
or smell triggers first oestrus. Gilts which fail to come
in heat by 8 months are killed as are those 'unable to cope
with housing conditions in an intensive unit.' (1)
Some farms synchronise oestrus in batches of sows by giving
hormones. Gonadatropins stimulate oestrus and progestagens
may also be used - synchronisation is adopted to avoid costs
of staff being paid at night or weekends and to balance up
litters - sows are injected with prostaglandin on the 111th
day of gestation and farrowing occurs within 30 hours.
Artificial insemination was reported as 5% in 1994 (Pig Farming