Mother pigs deserve better

May 10 2018

With most mother pigs suffering in cruel confinement; a report shows the similarities between post-birth disorders in human moms and mother pigs.

As part of our Raise Pigs Right campaign and in honor of Mother's Day, we encourage you to act for the milllions of mother pigs who are suffering on factory farms in the U.S.

Three out of four of the world’s mother pigs spend much of their lives confined in steel cages no bigger than an average fridge.

In these conditions, they are unable to turn around, forage, explore, move comfortably, or socialize with other pigs. 

Mother pig (sitting as a dog – abnormal behaviour) in a steel cage. Barren environments and lack of stimulation produce boredom and causes abnormal behavior in mother pigs.

A recent scientific article now brings to light the similarities between human mothers and mother pigs, most notably that they can both suffer post-birth disorders such as postnatal depression. 

The cruelty of cages

Following the launch of our Raise Pigs Right campaign, we're is asking consumers to join our call to leading supermarkets; asking them to commit to improving conditions for mother pigs by ending the use of cruel cages and enriching the environment pigs live in, in their supply chains.

Research shows that these changes can substantially improve pig welfare in factory farming.

Mother pigs in enriched group housing, access to straw, so mother pigs can play, root and eat the material.

Among the most intensively farmed animals on the planet, pigs are highly intelligent and sociable.

Naturally, pigs prefer to live in social groups of two to six adult, often related, females, alongside their piglets and other young offspring.

Pigs learn social skills, including mothering ability, from living in these matriarchal groups.

But, the reality on factory farms is starkly different. Mother pigs are socially isolated in cages for pregnancy, giving birth, and nursing their piglets. They are prevented from learning from experienced mother pigs, and have no joy in their lives.

Post birth-disorders await

Further research reveals that restricting the movement of mother pigs, by confining them to cages for pregnancy, giving birth and nursing, could be a risk factor for post-birth disorders.  

Before giving birth, mother pigs have strong instincts to build nests for their piglets.

But, mother pigs kept in cages are deprived of nesting materials and denied these natural instincts.

These mother pigs are found to have higher stress hormones than those given the space and materials to nest.

Barren environments and lack of stimulation produce boredom and generate abnormal behavior.

We're urging producers to provide pens, not cages, for mother pigs to give birth, along with nesting materials, which can reduce stress, allowing mother pigs to nest build, and reach and bond with their piglets.

Mother pigs feel what our mothers do

“Seeing mother pigs in barren cages, attempting to build nests while surrounded by metal with no nesting material, is painful to watch. They have such intent in their eyes to prepare for birth, and their frustration and distress is plain to see. They get cuts and grazes on their faces attempting to nose and root through the steel bars," said Dr. Sarah Ison, our Global Farm Animal Advisor.

"This is no way to begin their birthing process.”

Mother pig in contact with one of her piglets. Straw is available and a good source of enrichment. Both Mother pig and piglets can be more comfortable when enrichment and bedding (straw) is available. The mother pig has an orange ear tag to individually identify and manage her.

Just like in humans, mother pig hormone levels change dramatically around the time of giving birth.

A sudden reduction in pregnancy hormones can induce symptoms of depression in human mothers, which could also happen in mother pigs.

These disorders can be amplified for pigs with the stress of confinement of cages, the pain of birth, lack of previous exposure to piglets, and lack of social support from other pigs.

Human mothers can suffer post-birth disorders if their baby is taken away too early, and mother pigs can also experience distress when their piglets are taken from them.

In nature, mother pigs wean their piglets between 10 and 17 weeks old.

On factory farms, piglets are removed from their mothers as young as three weeks old. This separation is highly distressing for both mother pig and piglets, and they can be heard crying out for each other. Increasing the weaning age of piglets can help reduce stress.

Mother pigs on factory farms are also bred to produce excessive litter sizes, often having more piglets than they can feed. This result in some piglets not surviving.

Allowing mother pigs to give birth to natural litter sizes will improve the lives of both mother pig and piglets.

This Mother’s Day, mother pigs deserve better.

Take the pledge today and help drive change by telling supermarkets they must source pork from producers that have committed to get pigs out of cages and into social groups, with enrichment, so pigs are raised right.

We're urging producers to provide pens, not cages, for mother pigs to give birth, along with nesting materials, which can reduce stress, allowing mother pigs to nest build, and reach and bond with their piglets.