Animal Welfare Issues

The Code provides a guide for pig farmers on the welfare of pigs raised for food. The practices outlined in the guide are standard in the Australian pork industry. The Code was developed with cost efficiency in mind, so animal welfare concerns are secondary to making money. The practices outlined in the guide have a devastating impact on the physical and emotional wellbeing of the pigs.

Common practices inflicted on pigs in factory farms

Surgical procedures

Surgical procedures like castration on dogs and cats can only be performed by veterinary practitioners under anaesthesia. Yet, it is legal for painful surgical procedures to be performed on pigs, normally by farm workers without veterinary training, and without anaesthetic or pain relief.

This video is a good summary of the procedures inflicted on piglets. Warning: graphic images.

Ear cutting:

For identification, parts of the ear are cut or notched. This is a painful procedure where part(s) of the ear is cut away without anaesthetic or pain relief.

Ear cutting. “A V-shaped notch can be cut out of the edge of the ear using a pair of clean scissors. Make the notch a few centimetres deep so in future you will be able to read it from a distance.” Source: FAO

Teeth clipping:

Teeth of piglets are cut at the gum line without anaesthetic or pain relief. This is to prevent piglets from biting and injuring their mother’s teats and udders while nursing. In nature, sows (female pigs) move away if they are uncomfortable from biting. In farrowing crates, there is nowhere for sows to move.

Piglet teeth clipping. Photo: Shell Ethics

Tail cutting:

Due to constant confinement at high density with no stimulation, pigs commonly bite each others’ tails out of frustration and boredom. To limit aggression and reduce the chance of bites becoming infected, piglets’ tails are cut off without anaesthetic or pain relief.

Piglet tail cutting


To control the number of boars in a piggery, and to improve the taste of their meat, male piglets have their testicles removed without anaesthetic or pain relief within days of birth.

Piglet castration. Photo: Animals Australia

Sow stalls

To maximise the number of animals in the smallest space possible, sows are confined day and night in stalls so small and narrow that it is impossible for them to turn around. The Code recommends that each sow stall measures 0.6 m in width and 2.2 m in length. Sows can be kept in stalls for the duration of their pregnancy (normally 16 weeks). Physical stress from confinement in sow stalls includes muscle and bone density loss causing lameness, and skin abrasions and sores from pressing on metal bars. Emotional stress from confinement and isolation from other pigs can cause them to chew compulsively on the bars that confine them.

Sow stalls are already banned in the United Kingdom and Sweden; New Zealand will ban sow stalls from 2015.

Sow stalls in a factory farm, NSW, Australia. Photo: Aussie Farms


sow stalls
Sows in stalls, NSW, Australia. Note the cut ears of the sow on the left. Photo: Aussie Farms

Farrowing crates

When sows are ready to give birth (or shortly after giving birth), they are moved to farrowing crates, which are even smaller than sow stalls. The Code recommends that each farrowing crate measures 0.5 m in width and 2.1 m length. The pork industry claims that farrowing crates prevent sows from crushing their babies because the restricted space forces sows to lie down slowly and carefully. In nature, pigs build nests from sticks, straw and leaf litter for their babies. Channels in the nesting material provide escape routes for piglets if the sow lies on them. Farrowing crates trap sows and piglets in spaces and situations they would never ordinarily encounter. Due to lack of movement in a restricted space, sows often suffer from weakened muscles and joints making it hard for them to lie down with care and near impossible for them to get up if they do accidentally lie on their babies. In a farrowing crate with concrete floors, there is nowhere for piglets to escape. Numerous piglets are killed or injured in farrowing crates.

sow piglets in farrowing
Sow and piglets in a farrowing crate, NSW, Australia. Photo: Aussie Farms