Pigs are sensitive 1social2 and intelligent3 animals, who naturally live in family groups4 and are arguably smarter than dogs5. Yet on factory farms, these sentient beings are treated like machines on a production line.
In Australia, pregnant pigs are permitted by law to spend a significant portion of their lives confined to ‘sow stalls’.6 These are small metal and concrete cages barely larger than the mother pig’s body, restricting her so she cannot even turn around.7
Sow stalls are commonly used on factory farms and can cause serious physical and psychological harm to pregnant pigs.8 They can:
- frustrate a pig’s natural behaviours like exploring and socialising with other pigs.10
- inflict skin abrasions when sows press up against the metal bars.11
- lead to serious health problems, including reduced bone strength and muscle weight,12 impaired locomotion and severe lameness.13
Birth and the welfare of piglets
After giving birth, sows are confined in a ‘farrowing crate’ that barely allows them to move.
Piglets are taken away from their mothers prematurely; a stressful experience that causes piglets a high incidence of clinical disease and diarrhoea.14 The confinement which sows experience in farrowing crates also frustrates the natural nesting behaviours they experience before giving birth.15
After giving birth, sows are repeatedly impregnated until they can no longer produce enough piglets and then they are slaughtered. Termed ‘reproductive failure’ by industry, this is the largest single reason for sows to be killed. On average, Australian sows carry four pregnancies over the course of two years before they are killed for their lack of productivity.16
The role of industry
A wealth of scientific evidence suggests sow stalls are bad for pig welfare, yet up until only recently, Australian Pork Limited (APL), the peak pork industry body, claimed that “stalls are good for newly pregnant pigs, and that pigs prefer them”.17
In 2010, APL announced it would “commit to pursuing the voluntary phasing out of the use of sow stalls by 2017”.18
While seemingly positive, this ‘ban’ on the use of stalls is inadequate for two reasons.
- It is in no way binding on individual pork producers, and there would be no legal ramifications for individuals who continue to confine sows in this way. As has been the case with other animal industries that have sought to phase out practices that result in poor welfare outcomes,19 voluntary industry self-regulation is unlikely to be successful.
- It will not result in sows being free from confinement. According to APL, the industry will be moving to a “loose housing system”, whereby sows will be “kept in loose housing from five days after mating, until one week before they are ready to give birth”.20 “Loose housing” is defined broadly to include any system that permits the sow “to turn around and extend her limbs”, and may involve solitary confinement.21 Producers will also be able to confine sows in “mating stalls” (for five days after mating) and farrowing crates (for the week prior to giving birth) under the APL’s proposal.22
The APL’s previous claims that its voluntary phase out would result in Australian pork products becoming “sow stall free” caught the attention of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission who has encouraged APL to correct its marketing claims on the grounds that it could be misleading and deceptive.23
Australia in context
As other countries take steps to legislate a complete ban on sow stalls, Australia is not.
82% of Australians agree that sow stalls should be banned,24 yet the use of these devices is still legally permitted. To date, the ACT34 and Tasmania35 are the only jurisdictions to have taken action to prohibit or restrict the use of sow stalls through law reforms.
Lack of clear industry data prevents the public from knowing the exact number of sows confined in stalls or the period of their confinement.
Sow stalls have been partially banned in the United Kingdom25 and Sweden26 with New Zealand to follow from 2015.27 Similar bans have also been implemented in Switzerland,28 The Netherlands,29 Finland30 and nine US States.31
Here in Australia, major retailer Coles’ own brand pork products have been sow stall free since 2013,32 while Woolworths has also committed to sourcing all of its fresh pork meat from farms that only use stalls for less than 10% of the sows’ gestation period.33
Piglets and porkers
Not long after birth, male piglets are routinely castrated without pain relief, a practise so painful that it can provoke trembling and vomiting.36 Piglets’ teeth are often clipped without anaesthetic and this can cause up to 15 days of extreme pain.37
The pigs who are raised for their meat on factory farms, known as ‘porkers’, generally spend their whole lives indoors. Porkers are housed in crowded, concrete-floored pens with no natural materials. Research shows that some factory farmed pigs suffer prolonged depression because they are denied natural light, space and the opportunity to forage for food in natural surroundings.38
For many of these pigs, the trip to the slaughterhouse is their only chance to see outdoors.
It’s time for action
The Australian Government could act and introduce better legal protections for pigs raised for food by revising the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Pigs (Third edition) to prohibit the use of sow stalls and farrowing crates and the permanent confinement of porkers. These moves must then be reflected by the introduction or amendment of legislation by state governments.
- Read the Voiceless Briefing on sow stalls
- Read about Brian Sherman’s experience visiting a factory farming for pigs – an edited extract from The Lives of Brian
- Download our 2013 report Science and Sense: the case for abolishing sow stalls
- Download our Fact Sheet on the factory farming of pigs
- Download our 2005 report From Paddocks to Prisons
Last updated September 2018
- 1. Marek Spinka, ‘Pigs’ in Mark Bekoff, Encyclopaedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare (Greenwood Press, 2nd edition, 2010), p 409.
- 2. Jeremy N Marchant-Forde, ‘Chapter 4: Welfare of dry sows’ cited in Jeremy N Marchant-Forde (ed), The Welfare of Pigs, Animal Welfare 7 (Springer Science+Business Media, Dordrecht, 2009); Council of Europe: The Standing Committee of the European Convention for the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes, ‘Recommendation concerning pigs’ (2004) <http://www.coe.int/t/e/legal_affairs/legal_co-operation/biological_safety_and_use_of_animals/farming/Rec%20pigs%20rev%20E%202004.asp#TopOfPage>; European Commission: Report of the Scientific Veterinary Committee, ‘The welfare of intensively kept pigs’ (1997) <www.ec.europa.eu/food/animal/welfare/farm/out17_en.pdf>.
- 3. Suzanne Held et al, ‘Social tactics of pigs in a competitive foraging task: the ‘uniformed forager’ paradigm’ (2000) 59 Animal Behaviour 569-576.
- 4. Michael Mendl, Suzanne Held and Richard W. Byrne, ‘Pig Cognition’ (2010) 20(18) Current Biology 796-798; European Commission: Report of the Scientific Veterinary Committee, ibid n 1.
- 5. The Humane Society of the United States, ‘More about pigs: the underestimated animal’ (2009); Donald M Broom et al, ‘Pigs learn what a mirror image represents and use it to obtain information’ (2009) (78) 5 Animal Behaviour, pp 1037-1041.
- 6. With the exception of the ACT, all Australian jurisdictions permit sows to be confined in sow stalls and farrowing crates.
- 7. The current permitted dimensions of sow stalls are 2.2 metres by 0.6 metres for new installations: See Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals – Pigs, Third Edition, 23.
- 8. For a detailed review of the literature on the welfare implications of sow stalls, see Voiceless, Science and Sense: the case for abolishing sow stalls (2013), 21 <https://voiceless.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Science_and_Sense.pdf>.
- 10. RB D’Eath and SP Turner, ‘The natural behaviour of the pig’ in Marchant Forde (ed), ibid; Compassion in World Farming, ‘Welfare issues for pigs’ (2013) <http://www.ciwf.org.uk/farm-animals/pigs/welfare-issues/>, accessed on 28 May 2014.
- 11. Leena Anil et al, ‘Comparison of injuries in sows housed in gestation stalls versus group pens with electronic sow feeders’ (2003) 223 (9) Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 1334-1338; Guillermo A M Karlen et al, ‘The welfare of gestating sows in conventional stalls and large groups on deep litter’ (2007) 105 Applied Animal Behaviour Science 87-101; Compassion in World Farming, ibid.
- 12. Jeremy N Marchant- and D M Broom, ‘Effects of dry sow housing conditions on muscle weight and bone strength’ (1996) 62 Animal Science 105-113; Compassion in Word Farming, ibid.
- 13. Karlen et al, above n 11; Marchant and Broom, ibid; Compassion in World Farming, ibid.
- 14. P Baynes and M Varley, ‘Gut health: practical considerations’ in Mike A Varley and Julian Wiseman, The Weaner Pig: Nutrition and Management (CABI Publishing, 2001) 249.
- 15. G Taylor, G Roese and I Kruger, ‘PrimeFact 61: Alternative farrowing accommodation in the pork industry’ NSW DPI PrimeFact (April 2006) <http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/63840/Alternative-farrowing-accommodation-in-the-pork-industry—Primefact-61-final.pdf>.
- 16. P E Hughes et al, ‘Relationships among gilt and sow live weight, P2 backfat depth, and culling rates’ (2010) 18 Journal of Swine Health Production 301-305. Hughes et al (2010) noted, based on APL figures, that the average sow replacement rate in Australia is 61% each year, while sows were culled after 4.1 parities (that is, at just under 2 years of age), on average. These authors also remark that reproductive failure is the largest single cause for culling sows. The situation appears similar in the US, where a sow’s average lifespan is about 3.5 pregnancies: Marchant-Forde (2009), ibid n 2, 130.
- 17. Andrew Spencer, ‘Crisis management for pig welfare’, Australian Pork Newspaper 13(12) (12 December 2009). Australian Pork Limited described sow stalls as ‘highly confining’ and reaffirms their commitment to phasing out sow stalls: Australian Pork Limited, Housing (2014) <http://australianpork.com.au/industry-focus/animal-welfare/housing/>.
- 18. Australian Pork Limited, ‘Annual Report 2010-2011’ (2011), 5 <http://australianpork.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Annual-Report-2010-2011.pdf>.
- 19. For example, the Australian wool industry pledged to voluntarily phase out the mulesing of sheep by 2010. Mulesing continues to be practised on a number of Australian sheep farms, often without pain relief: Jared Owens, “Sheep farmers flocking back to mulesing” The Australian (21 January 2013) <http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/health-science/sheep-farmers-flocking-back-to-mulesing/story-e6frg8y6-1226557807686>.
- 20. Australian Pork Limited, “Housing” (2015) <http://australianpork.com.au/industry-focus/animal-welfare/housing/>.
- 21. Ibid.
- 22. Ibid. As discussed above, farrowing crates are enclosures that are so confining that sows are barely able to stand up or move. A mating stall is an enclosure in which a sow is kept for the purposes of mating. They are similar in many respects to sow stalls, although they are located in a different part of the farm and allow for boar access for mating.
- 23. Australian Pork Limited, Corrective Statement (2013), <http://staging.australianpork.com.au/latest-news/corrective-statement/> (webpage has subsequently been removed).
- 24. Survey of 1,000 randomly selected Australians commissioned by Voiceless and conducted by PureProfile in September 2011. In a 2014 survey commissioned by Voiceless, 57% of people surveyed indicated they would support a ban on the use of sow stalls: Humane Research Council, ‘Animal Tracker Australia’ (June 2014) <https://voiceless.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Animal-Tracker-Australia-Baseline-Report-June-2014-FINAL.pdf>.
- 34. Animal Welfare Act 1992 (ACT), section 9B.
- 35. Animal Welfare (Pigs) Regulations 2013 (S.R. 2013, NO. 35), Part 4 – Accommodation.
- 25. The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007, paragraph 5(e) and Schedule 8, paragraphs 5 and 6 (partial ban); Welfare of Farmed Animals (Wales) Regulations 2007, paragraph 5(e) and Schedule 8, paragraphs 5 and 6 (partial ban); Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2010, paragraph 6(e) and Schedule 6, paragraphs 5 and 6 (partial ban); Welfare of Farmed Animals Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000, paragraph 8 and Schedule 6, paragraphs 6 and 7 (partial ban).
- 26. Animal Welfare Ordinance 1988:539 (Sweden), 1 January 2009, section 14.
- 27. Carter D, ‘New Pig Welfare Code To Phase Out Sow Stalls’, Beehive (1 December 2010) <www.beehive.govt.nz/release/new-pig-welfare-code-phase-out-sow-stalls>.
- 28. Animal Welfare Ordinance 2008 (Switzerland) Section 3.
- 29. Health and Welfare of Animals Act – Pig Decision 1994 (The Netherlands), Article 2.
- 30. Animal Welfare Decree 1996 (Finland), Section 17(2).
- 31. As at January 2015, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon and Rhode Island have all have passed laws to prohibit the use of gestation crates: The Humane Society of the United States, ‘Crammed into Gestation Crates: Life for America’s breeding pigs’ (2015), <http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/confinement_farm/facts/gestation_crates.html>.
- 32. Richard Willingham, ‘Coles tackles factory farming’, The Age (23 October 2012) <http://www.theage.com.au/national/coles-tackles-factory-farming-20121022-281gt.html>.
- 33. Woolworths Limited, ‘Animal Welfare’ (2014) <http://www.woolworthslimited.com.au/page/A_Trusted_Company/Responsibile_Sourcing/Animal_Welfare/>.
- 36. F Wemelsfelder and G van Putten, ‘Behaviour as a possible indicator for pain in piglets’ IVO Report B-260 Research Institute for Animal Production Schoonoord, Schiest, Netherlands quoted in A F Fraser and D M Broom, Farm Animal Behaviour and Welfare (CABI Publishing, 1997), 266.
- 37. M Hay et al, ‘Long-term detrimental effects of tooth clipping or grinding in piglets: a histological approach’ (2004) 13 Animal Welfare Journal 27-32.
- 38. European Commission Scientific Veterinary Committee (Animal Welfare Section), ‘Report on the welfare of intensively kept pigs’ (1997) Report No XXIV/B3/ScVC/0005/1997 <http://ec.europa.eu/food/fs/sc/oldcomm4/out17_en.pdf>.