The smell that often blows through Monmouth comes from the local pork slaughterhouse, Farmland Foods. Pigs live a secret life that most of us in society are not aware of. According to Food and Water Watch’s interactive “Factory Farm Map,” there are 63,928 hogs in Warren County, where Monmouth College is located (n.p.), and there are three people for every one factory farmed pig (“Factory Farm Map: Illinois”). From bullets, bacon, and beer, to instruments and chemical weapons, these are just some examples of how society uses a pig once it’s slaughtered. But what is a pig's life like up until the time for slaughter?
In the breeding area, sows and gilts are housed in groups or in individual stalls, with sexually mature boars in close proximity. A sow is a female that has reproduced and a gilt is a female that has not reproduced (“Glossary”). When the females are in estrus, the period of maximum sexual receptivity of the female, the boar is released into the pen for breeding (“Estrus”). Most farms keep one boar for every twenty females. Increasingly, large farms are practicing artificial insemination—impregnating females manually with semen collected from a boar. Most farms in the U.S. are large factory farms that use this method.
According to the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BC SPCA) the gestation period of a sow is 115 days (“Pig Production”). During this time, sows are typically housed in individual stalls with metal side bars and slatted concrete or metal floors for most of their lives. The slatted flooring allows manure and urine to fall through into a collection pit. Sows movement is very limited due to the small space in the stalls. Since sows have very little control over the environment around them, they tend to go through intensive stress due to a number of different elements. For example, inability to move in cold areas, being next to an aggressive neighbor, not being able to avoid bugs and pests. Sows may also become stressed because they are deprived of the ability to express important natural behaviors, like socialization and nest building (“Pig Production”).
Sows are moved into the farrowing, or birthing, facility a few days before farrowing is expected. The size of the farrowing crate is similar to the gestation stall but has separate areas along the sides of the crate for piglets only. Farrowing crates also typically have adjustable guardrails to protect piglets from being crushed by the sow. According to BC SPCA, the average litter size is 10-12 piglets (“Pig Production”). Sows usually have 2-3 litters of piglets per year. Piglets nurse from the sow for 14-28 days before being abruptly weaned off milk. At weaning, piglets are typically moved directly into the nursery while the sows are moved back into the breeding area (“Pig Production”).
Another fact that BC SPCA states is that weaned piglets are sorted by weight and housed in nursery pens until they are 8-10 weeks of age (“Pig Production”). Feed and water are provided at all times while these piglets complete the transition from milk to solid foods. The temperature is kept warm because young piglets are prone to chilling (“Pig Production”).
Grow-finish pigs, meaning pigs in the 50 to 250 lb body weight class being grown and fattened for slaughter, are housed in groups (“Growing”). Some producers may provide straw, rope, chain or other items in attempt to prevent problem behaviors due to pigs’ inability to express their natural habits in confinement (“Pig Production”). Pens are usually fitted with slatted floors to prevent manure buildup. The grow-finish stage begins after the piglets’ stay in the nursery. These 8-10 week-old piglets are separated into similar-sized groups and are given a high energy feed until they reach market weight. It takes approximately 5-6 months to raise a pig from birth to market weight. Once the pigs have reached market weight they are transported to a slaughterhouse, such as Farmland Foods here in Monmouth, to be killed. There, their carcasses are processed and packaged for distribution to food retailers where the meat is sold to the public.
There are many factors during transport that cause stress for pigs. According to the U.S. pork industry’s own Transport Quality Assurance Handbook, pigs may be transported for up to 28 hours without food, water or rest (“Laws”). The mixing of unfamiliar pigs and the act of loading onto the truck are considered to be the most stressful part of transportation. According to BC SPCA pigs are also sensitive to changes in temperature, vibration, acceleration and deceleration during transport. Use of low-stress handling techniques, limited mixing of unfamiliar pigs, and keeping journeys short are ways of mitigating stress at transport (“Pig Production”).
Overall, there is the secret life of pigs from birth up until slaughter. This is something that most of society is not aware of. Pigs endure considerable difficulties from birth and struggle to live their life to their fullest, just to make it to their death at around 6 months of age to become products for people to eat or use. This is something we should think about next time we are eating something that is made from a pig.