Pigs: How much suffering is neccessary?

11 Mar

So I’ve started doing a bit of pig research.

Please note that I have absolutely no experience raising pigs, in fact, I’ve only been around real live pigs a few times in my life.

I’m not about to let a little thing like that stand between me and some good home-grown bacon. Mmmmmm….Bacon!

But I digress.

It seems that of all the domesticated livestock, pigs have it the worst. In “conventional” CAFO-style pig raising, the sows (the mamas) are locked up in tiny crates for their entire lives. Clearly this is tantamount to torture for any animal, much less an animal as intelligent as a pig.

Before a sow gives birth, she is moved to a gestation crate, and these are common even in small-scale “sustainable” and “humane” farms.  Gestation crates are a small crate that allows the sow to lay down, but not enough room for her to move around too much and crush her newborn piglets. While I laud the noble goals of gestation crates (keeping piglets from being killed) I can’t help but think they are the result of we humans not letting pigs act-out their innate behaviors.

It is in the sows best interest (genetically speaking) to have all of her piglets survive.  She doesn’t want to lay down on any of them, as that eliminates her own genetic material from the gene pool.  So as with many of these questions, I ask myself: “What would the pig do without us?”

It would appear that without us, pigs prefer a bit more space to give birth, and they apparently like to nest. Enter the farrowing hut.  Farrowing huts are small structures that are out in the field, in which the pigs give birth.  Farrowing huts are commonly filled with hay, so that the sow can get in there and make a comfortable nest for her piglets.
Farrowing huts are definately the method I will be trying for my first sow.  If I consistently have problems losing piglets, then we’ll think about taking more extreme measures.

Once the piglets are a few days old they are typically vaccinated, castrated and have their needle teeth clipped.

Vaccination is no big deal, a little needle-prick is nothing to sweat.  If I can to do it, the pigs can do it.

Castration, well, there might be no way around that one. Boars allegedly don’t taste good, and you only need so many to do the breeding. Perhaps if they can be turned into bacon before they hit sexual maturity, then the whole concern over “boar taint” would be rendered moot.  Time, and more research, will tell.

Needle teeth. Now here’s where I have no idea what I’m talking about. But it’s time for some good-ol’ wild speculation.  Needle teeth are clipped to prevent the piglets from causing injury to the sow’s teats.  So, “What would the pig do without us?”

Well, it’s not in the piglets best interest to injure their mother, to “bite the (teat) that feeds.” So I wonder if teat injuries are prevalent enough in a more natural, low-stress environment to worry about going through that extra step, and subjecting the piglets to one more intervention and it’s attendant chances for complications.

 

Well, it looks like I’m in for a wild ride here in a year or two when I can finally start raising pigs.  I’m going to shoot for using the fewest interventions possible.  If things start going horribly wrong, we’ll start incorporating interventions as neccessary.

3 Responses to “Pigs: How much suffering is neccessary?”

  1. Big Cathy April 20, 2012 at 11:25 am #

    Back in our pig raising days, we never clipped eye teeth or docked tails. Castrating when a few days old is much easier on the pig, but would be interested in your research on what age the meat runs the risk of tasting “boary”.

  2. Wayne Bontjes November 9, 2012 at 10:54 pm #

    Never clipped the teeth, don’t vaccinate (no need), how can you tell the attitude of the pig if the tail is gone?
    No farrowing crates. The more we stayed out of it the more piglets survived. Not sure about castrating that young beyond handling isssues but we do it before they are weaned, mom’s milk seems to help healing. We did one intact boar, the only thing that tasted off was the smoked meat, the bacon and ham tasted like it was in the freezer too long. Easier to just castrate.
    Pigs know what to do especially the heritage breeds.

    • Andrew November 10, 2012 at 9:08 pm #

      Hi Wayne,
      Thanks for the input! I have no idea what I’m getting into with hogs, but I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough.

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