Pigs once lived wild in Britain and are said to be more intelligent than dogs, even capable of playing special computer games. The great forests and wild woods that once covered most of the land were where they roamed free, eating beech nuts, acorns, all kinds of seeds and nuts, even insects, roots and occasionally carrion. Their snouts and strong necks helped them to grub up buried food and their dislike of temperature extremes encouraged them to seek shade beneath the spreading trees in summer or snuggle in warm nests, made from forest floor litter, when winter cold bit.
Peek into any intensive farm in Britain and you are likely to see diseased, dead and dying animals. Neglect and indifference are commonplace...
They posed no threat yet were hunted to extinction for sport in the 17th century. But descendants of these wild rovers do exist and their reward is to be locked in overcrowded concrete prisons. No freedom, no roaming wild – just a factory farm for 90 per cent of all piglets.
What is life like now? Peek into any intensive farm in Britain and you are likely to see diseased, dead and dying animals. Neglect and indifference are commonplace – broken legs, abscesses, ruptured stomachs, animals coughing with pneumonia, others panting from meningitis, cuts and lacerations from the perforated metal on which they are forced to live. Viva! has filmed in dozens of units, even those supplying huge stores such as Tesco(2), and the story is much the same in most of them(3).
Few of those we have visited provided so much as a strand of straw for comfort and bedding – just filthy wet concrete.
One farm in Yorkshire looked almost derelict, with junk and debris distributed everywhere between an array of grimy, windowless sheds. The stench of ammonia and faeces was overwhelming. Sadly, these sickening conditions are commonplace.
There was no light inside the first shed but a cacophony of noise – a scrambling and clattering of animals in fear. The camera lights revealed baby pigs in barren metal pens and utterly devoid of bedding. The noise was their tiny trotters clattering on the bare metal floors as they tried to get away. But there was no place to go, no place to hide.
Near darkness and barren pens is their home for over a month – about one-fifth of their lives. One pig had a broken leg, others were stunted and suffering from ‘scabby pig’ from which they almost certainly died. Some were lame, others had deformed spines. These little ‘weaners’ would have been taken away from their mothers at just three weeks old so she could be made pregnant again immediately – for maximum productivity. Not even able to properly digest the solid food they are given, they are pumped with drugs to try and control the resulting diarrhoea. Their eight most prominent teeth are usually snapped off with plyers and their tails severed – all without anaesthetic – in an attempt to limit the damage they can do to each other as aggression and boredom inevitably overwhelms them in these cruel and unnatural surroundings.
Each stage of their life is marked by a different array of antibiotics and other drugs as a whole variety of different diseases run through the unit. Yet more drugs are given to make them grow faster and fatter so their deaths are more profitable. This wasn’t some rogue outfit we had chosen to film as all these practices are industry standard. The nationwide outbreak of foot and mouth disease began in just such a filthy farm – described by vets as ‘appalling’. It had been inspected by government vets just weeks before the outbreak! Outside at the Yorkshire farm, in a rusting trailer, was a pile of rotting corpses, discoloured and bloated from days of decay – half submerged in putrid rainwater. In a nearby pen, where larger pigs were nearing slaughter weight, some 200 or so milled around in a space of about 10m by 12m. The food hoppers were empty and the desperate animals squealed and screamed, biting in their desperation to be let out.
The pigs are killed at about five months old for sausages, bacon, pepperoni, ham and pork. The ‘breeding stock’ – the pigs kept to produce the piglets which are killed for meat – usually give birth in a small farrowing crate on a concrete or perforated metal floor. Sows have strong maternal feelings and would naturally spend days building a nest of leaves or straw. In a crate they can’t do this and so lapse into stereotyped behaviour where they repeat the same motions over and over again as they build an imaginery nest in their barren cell. It is a sign of mental collapse.
At a farm in Cornwall, Viva! filmed nursing mothers locked into metal cages little bigger than their body. The bars on the crates stop them from moving – they can barely take a step forward or back and can never turn around. This unnatural imprisonment can cause them to ache all over and produce painful back and leg problems.
The bars also stop them from reaching their babies and frustrate their powerful maternal instinct to comfort, nuzzle, reassure and mother. The babies, however, can reach their mother’s teats, turning her into nothing more than a milk machine. On the Cornish farm, one sow was in an appalling state, bleeding profusely from her vagina, the congealed blood having spread down the gangway. She was covered in flies and outside we discovered the source – a bin half-filled with dead piglets seething with a sea of maggots (Viva! reported this and several other farms to Defra).
On nearly all farms, piglets are removed after three weeks, the sow being made pregnant again after five days so the whole misery-go-round can start again. This again is industry standard.
You can view this disturbing footage on our website: www.viva.org.uk/video/index.htm
Or contact Viva! for Pig in Hell, Piggles and The Mother Cage on video or DVD or for a copy of our Pig in Hell report.