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UK pig farmer says farrowing crates can no longer be justified and calls for a ban

Humane Society International UK

Humane Society International UK | Humane Society International UK

5 min read Partner content

A British farmer shares their insights on confining mother pigs in farrowing crates, which make the animals ‘stressed, scared, emotionally broken and depressed’, and calls for governments to support their phase out

A British pig farmer has broken ranks with industry counterparts to give an upsetting and powerful account of the suffering experienced by mother pigs who spend a quarter of their adult lives kept confined in farrowing crates.        
The farmer, who wishes to remain anonymous, describes farrowing crates – metal cages only slightly larger than the sow herself, preventing her from turning around – as barbaric. They agreed to relinquish two sows who were at the end of their breeding lives to be rehomed by animal charity Humane Society International/UK to a sanctuary, and provided harrowing images and footage of the sows’ lives during their time confined to crates. By working with HSI/UK, they hope the pigs’ story will help persuade politicians to ban the practice.  

The farm has used farrowing crates for over 35 years, but the farmer now believes that farmers should be supported financially to end their use because of the suffering endured by pigs. 
Photos and video footage of the two pigs before and after their rescue, can be downloaded here
Photos of pigs in farrowing crates on the farm, including a range of health problems, can be downloaded here.

In an interview the farmer told HSI/UK’s campaigners: “When they first go into a farrowing crate, it's very, very stressful and scary for them. Our first-time mothers sometimes try to escape the crates, to literally climb out […] it’s hard watching them so upset. It bothers me every day. By the time they get to their sixth or seventh litter […] they get emotionally broken, it's sad. Seeing them sitting there depressed day after day after day with their heads hung low, it just screams depression to me.”                                                                                                                                          
They went on to reflect that while selective breeding has increased pigs’ height and length over the last 20 years, the size of farrowing crates hasn’t changed. “We have a few sows that are too big for the crates, so they're essentially touching the bars all the time. For some of the longer sows there's no room for their head, so when they lie down, their head is on top of their feed trough. That must be so uncomfortable for them stuck in that position for four weeks, it actually makes me wince.”             

The farmer explained that the larger sows are at higher risk of abrasions from pressing against the bars, as well as pressure sores from remaining lying down for long periods because it is so difficult for them to change position inside the crate. They also shared their perspective that although the crates are supposed to protect piglets from being crushed by the mother, crushing injuries can actually be caused by crates because changing position is so difficult and uncomfortable for the sows, they’re unwilling or unable to get up if they are laying on a piglet. 
The farmer concluded: “I really hope that we move on from this sort of barbaric cage. It doesn't have to be this way, there are loads of different kinds of free farrowing systems but why aren’t retailers and consumers asking for them? It feels like they don’t know the reality of what’s going on behind farm gates. We've got to have support from governments – both the money and the right policies. I don't think putting sows through weeks of crate confinement six, seven or eight times in their lives can be justified anymore.”          
Claire Bass, senior director of campaigns and public affairs at Humane Society International/UK, said: “Across the UK right now some 200,000 mother pigs are hidden away suffering behind bars. Such big numbers can mask the fact that each one is an intelligent, sensitive individual, which is why it is so important that we are able to rescue and tell the stories of these two mums.  

The farmer’s account of the suffering caused by crates is heartbreaking and describes animals who have been pushed to biological extremes and now literally don’t even fit in these crates, which were designed decades ago. Their comments also reflect that dealing with distressed and depressed animals of course takes its toll on farmers’ mental health. We’re urging all governments in the UK, as well as retailers, to commit to supporting farmers financially to get rid of these cruel and unnecessary cages for mother pigs.” 
The pigs – who will soon be named by HSI/UK’s supporters – have been rehomed at Hopefield Animal Sanctuary in Brentwood, Essex. At the sanctuary they will be free to stretch their legs on grass, root around in the mud, and carry out all the other natural behaviours that were denied to them during their time in farrowing crates.           

HSI/UK is calling on all political parties to commit to banning farrowing crates and providing support to farmers to help them move away from using these archaic and cruel confinement devices. Take action for mother pigs by signing the petition here.


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