At just five days old, piglets in UK factory farms endure painful mutilations. This blog takes us through a piglet's day step by step, showing us the harrowing life industrial-scale farming gives them.
Piglet 83739 wakes up to harsh light filling the air. He is huddled close to his brothers and sisters for warmth and can see his mother lying in the same position as she did when he fell asleep, locked in by a metal cage, unable to move or turn around.
Harsh red lights above are warm, but the concrete floor below him is hard and uncomfortable. The slats in the floor let his faeces fall through, but make it hard for him and his siblings to move around.
He is hungry and has to fight his brothers and sisters for milk, but there are more piglets than teats on his mother. He scrambles to get to his favourite teat, to get enough milk and avoid the bites from his siblings. They are hungry too. He feeds as quickly as he can feeling his siblings moving around and underneath him for a better position. He can hear his mother grunting; he grunts back and wants to reach up and touch her nose, but she can’t move around to face him because she’s locked in by the metal bars.
All of a sudden, the mechanical noises get louder and his mother struggles to stand in the small space within the cage. He can hear the hungry squeals of other mother pigs echoing all around. Food fills his mother’s trough and she hungrily eats, finishing in just a few seconds. He runs to get out of the way of her feet but there isn’t much room and his brothers and sisters are running too, scared and confused. They huddle together to stay warm and safe away from all the noise.
The big blue hand reaches in and grabs his brother, he can hear his screams, they get louder and louder. All he can do is move in closer to his siblings, listening to his brother scream. Then his brother returns, he is quiet now, he doesn’t run towards them, he just stays in the corner shaking, staring into the distance.
He is then grabbed, pulled away from the safety of his family and held up high in the cold air. He begins to scream, he wants his mother, but she doesn’t come to him. She can’t move inside the metal cage; she can’t even turn to see him.
The hand holds him tightly as he kicks to get away, he struggles, but he is held upside down. Searing heat and intense pain hit his tail. He screams louder now in intense pain, but it doesn’t stop. His tail is cut off. He feels the sharp sting of a needle, an injection of iron and antibiotics. A loud whirring noise shocks him as he is held upright, his mouth is forced open, and his canine teeth are ground down. Despite the pain and deafening noise, he can’t scream now so he kicks out again.
Then it’s over and he is dropped back in the cage with his siblings. He is terrified and in pain. He hugs the cold wall of the cage and shakes as one by one his brothers and sisters are grabbed screaming and then returned quiet and trembling.
Why is this happening?
Piglet 83739 is one piglet among millions suffering this same day in factory farms around the world. At just a few days old, piglets endure painful mutilations. Tail docking, done in the belief it will avoid pigs biting each other’s tails out of boredom and frustration in barren environments with no enrichment. Teeth clipping or grinding, done so piglets don’t bite their mothers’ teats while fighting for milk, because most mother pigs in factory farming have been bred to produce more piglets than they can feed at once. Castration of male piglets, done to prevent pork from male pigs developing an unpleasant smell and taste - even though this occurs in only a very small proportion of pigs after puberty. This trio of mutilations creates ongoing pain for at least a week and future fear of the humans responsible for their daily care.
The stress from these ordeals means Piglet 83739 will have a lower immune system, and his wounds put him at a greater risk of infection. Antibiotics will be given to him and his siblings to make sure they don’t get sick. This is his first day of suffering, but it won’t be his last.
At just three weeks old, he will be ripped from his mother and put into a barren pen with other pigs destined for slaughter.
As he grows bigger in a cramped, barren warehouse, there’s nothing for him to do and he redirects his frustration onto other pigs, biting their tails. Forcible removal from his mother at such a young age compounded by stress and injury make him vulnerable to sickness and infection, so he is given even more antibiotics, each dose increasing the risk of superbugs developing.
This piglet’s life could be different. It could be a good life, a life where he can bond with his mother and siblings, a life where he is spared painful mutilations and is able to express his behavioural needs to explore and forage as he grows up.
A good life for this piglet, and for millions of piglets around the world, is better for them, for people and for our planet.
Factory farming uses antibiotics as a band-aid solution to prevent stressed animals getting sick.
Around three-quarters of all the antibiotics used in the world are used in farm animals - rampant overuse is contributing to the rise of superbugs, which is bad news for us all. Superbugs mean antibiotics critical to treating humans and keeping us alive are no longer effective putting us all at risk.
By creating better welfare conditions producers can reduce antibiotic use and help tackle the global superbug crisis.
Higher welfare practices allow for responsible antibiotic use to treat farm animals. Higher welfare meat is not only better for animals, but for the health of people too.