Most pig farms today are either hog CAFOs or hog breeding facilities.
In reality they are vertically integrated into farrowing operations where sows are impregnated and continually give birth all their lives, and the true CAFO where the piglets are confined and fed until they reach market weight. The slaughter house is the end of the line.
Modern pig farms have to be the most horrendous of all the animal factories. While conditions inside the hog CAFO are unspeakable, the real tragedy goes to the nature of the pig itself which causes many of them to be driven mad by the treatment they receive.
Instead of trying to describe these efficient, technology driven pig farms in words, several videos are embedded below that are hard to watch but document what a hog goes through in our corporate pig farms.
An Alternative to Factory Pig Farms
Before getting into the horrors of industrial pig farms, it may be instructive to show the right way to raise pigs. Ideally, pigs should be allowed to roam in large fenced pastures with adequate trees for shade and good water for drinking and lolling around in. The problem is that this takes land, lots of land, and the economic reality tends to clash with the ideal.
Tendergrass Farms, shown in the banner to the left is doing it right. They have a cadre of affilate farms, such as Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm which is covered in several places on this website.
Tendergrass and it's group of participating farms supply real pastured, free range pork (and beef and poultry), humanely raised without antibiotics or hormones, without confinement and humanely slaughtered.
I know, that sounds like a contradiction in terms but there are right ways and wrong ways to slaughter an animal. The CAFOs are the epitome of the wrong way to do everything. Click on the banner link above to check out Tendergrass Farms.
Then we have Mark Cunliffe. It turns out that Mark Cunliffe, an Englishman living in Thailand, has provided us with a sustainable model for raising pigs in a smaller area while maintaining space, cleanliness and the environment to allow his pigs to be pigs.
In this sustainable approach, growth hormones, antibiotics, and unnatural feed become unnecessary and environmental degradation such as odors and water pollution typical of hog CAFOs are totally avoided.
What the industrial pig CAFO operators don't seem to understand is that confinement creates extreme stress which affects not only the health of the animal but also degrades the quality of the pork they are trying to market. All you have to do is give it the taste test; the difference is remarkable.
To see how Mark Cunliffe is doing it, visit his wonderful website at, http://www.naturalpigfarming.com/, and browse to your heart's content. Be sure to check out his pig humor page during your visit.
In order to fully appreciate the horror and cruelty of modern industrial pig farms, it is important to understand the nature of the pig itself. Please read on.
Pigs Get a Bad Rap...Getting to Know the Pig
Pigs by nature are very intelligent animals and well aware of their surroundings. It is the innate intelligence and personality of pigs that makes life for them in CAFO pig farms so troubling.
From the Humane Society (HSUS), in a well documented November 9, 2008 article on their website, we learn that pigs are very "inquisitive with considerable learning and problem solving abilities."
After learning to use a joystick with their snouts, "pigs could learn to play simple matching games by moving the cursor around a computer screen." Here is a recent very short animated video created by our friends at Farm Sanctuary that really puts it in perspective. Watch it and share it, it will make you smile.
Studies "suggest that pigs might possess a degree of theory of mind, which is the ability to presume the intentions of others' behavior." "The late Lyall Watson, a famed ethologist and anthropologist, believed that pigs consistently demonstrate the ability to think and reason."
They are also very social animals and form close knit groups. They have a language of sorts and piglets and their mothers have incredibly strong bonds. From HSUS, "When separated from their mother, piglets call her with distinctive vocalizations, and the sow responds urgently by vocalizing in return.
Piglets with greater needs than their littermates can communicate their heightened distress to the sow, who will show a much stronger response to their calls."
From Marc Bekoff, author of The Emotional Lives of Animals, their vocabulary includes all sorts of distinctive sounds such as jaw chomping, teeth clacking, grunts, roars, squeals, snarls and snorts; all of which communicate meaning to another pig (and to us as well if we will listen and learn).
Marc Bekoff is not to be taken lightly; he is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado and a Fellow of the Animal Behavior Society.
Also from that same Humane Society source above, we read that, "piglets begin to play, an important and natural activity, within the second week of life and engage in such group activities as chasing and frolicking, as well as individual play like rooting and using their mouths to examine novel objects—activities that continue into adulthood."
No discussion about animal emotions is complete without including Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson. His groundbreaking bestseller, When Elephants Weep, was the first book since Darwin’s time to explore emotions in the animal kingdom, particularly from animals in the wild.
Now, he focuses exclusively on the contained world of the farm animal, revealing startling, irrefutable evidence that barnyard creatures have feelings too, even consciousness. Look over "The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals".
Temple Grandin, Doctor of Animal Science at Colorado State University and consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior, reports that pigs enjoy playing with toys and even have favorites.
Marc Bekoff says that pigs invite each other to play by using body language such as "bouncy running and head twisting".
As Close to Hell as it Gets
Of particular relevance to pig farms is that these intelligent animals recognize distress, pain and suffering in others and have been documented as running to help an unrelated pig crying in distress.
Imagine how it must feel to an intelligent, aware, feeling animal confined in quarters so small it cannot turn around, stand up or do anything that pigs are supposed to do, and it sees and hears the cries of suffering going on all around it.
Then imagine what that highly intelligent animal feels when it is being led to slaughter and sees its mates in the line ahead of it being killed, hung up, bled and skinned. There are many people in various fields of animal husbandry working to change pig farms as they exist today; let's wish them success.
Yes, it knows what is coming.
Given the maternal, familial and societal nature of pigs, the gestation crate has to be the most barbaric implement of torture ever imposed on an animal.
Thankfully, many states have outlawed this practice and hopefully it will soon be a thing of the past nationwide. Unfortunately, in the animal factory business, having a law is one thing but enforcing it is often quite another. We shall see.
Gestation crates have been outlawed throughout the European Union, New Zealand and several states including California, Florida, Arizona and New York.
When will North Carolina and Iowa wake up? It will only happen when Congressmen like Representative Steve King (R-IA) and Senator Roy Blount (R-MO)decide to get out of the pockets of Monsanto, Smithfield, Tyson's, et all, and start putting the welfare and health of their constituents ahead of their personal careers in government graft. It seems that King and Blount never met an animal they didn't want to torture.
The following video documents a pigs life in a large industrial hog factory. Please watch it and then take a stand.
This is video footage taken undercover by "Mercy for Animals" at Country View Family Farms, one of Pennsylvania's largest pork producers and a Hatfield Quality Meat supplier. If this is a "quality meat supplier", what would the not-so-quality supplier be like?
Below is another highly disturbing undercover video, also from PETA, inside an Iowa hog factory farm. This one is a supplier to Hormel. The good news on this one is that the facility is under new management and it appears that changes are being made and the workers in the film being prosecuted.
The link below details the changes that the PETA undercover film brought about. This is a battle that was apparently won but the war is far from over. Investigations into these type of operations must continue and be made public. The link is the response to the PETA Iowa video.