How to support higher welfare this year of the pig

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2019 is the Year of the Pig, and we‚Äôre looking forward to celebrating these intelligent, inquisitive animals over the next 12 months. 

Did you know though that many pork products, including bacon and salami, are made using pork from pigs farmed in conditions that don‚Äôt meet their behavioural needs? Most pigs (in Australia and overseas) are kept indoors in barren pens, often without bedding and in crowded conditions. Even sow-stall free, while it‚Äôs a very positive first step, isn‚Äôt always a guarantee of good welfare. In sow-stall free systems, pigs can still be kept in barren environments and sows (mother pigs) can still be confined to farrowing crates (similar to sow stalls) for a couple of weeks at a time to give birth to their piglets.

If pork is one of your favourites, fear not. There are farmers committed to raising their pigs to higher animal welfare standards. As consumers we have an important role to play in supporting these farmers and shouldn’t underestimate the power we have to improve welfare by voting with our wallets.

Here are three things you might not know about our curly-tailed friends that we think make supporting higher welfare farming worthwhile:

Pigs are clever, curious animals who like to explore, forage and play
Pigs are very curious and enjoy exploring their surroundings, using their incredibly sensitive snout to dig and forage. For good welfare, it’s important that pigs have the space to do this, whether it’s roaming the paddock or playing with others in a deep straw-filled shelter. They also need a dry place to lay comfortably and rest properly.

Without the right environment that encourages pigs to express their natural behaviours, pigs can become bored and aggressive towards each other. Pig farmers routinely perform painful procedures on piglets, such as teeth clipping and tail docking, as a means to limit injuries.

There’s a clever reason why pigs like rolling in mud!
That saying, ‘happy as a pig in mud’ is based on fact – pigs really do like to wallow in mud. They do this for a few different reasons.

A wallow is a shallow depression containing muddy water in which a pig will often dig and root before entering to cover themselves in mud.

Wallowing ‚Äì and applying a protective coating of mud ‚Äì serves to protect pigs from sunburn, flies and external parasites. It is also a social activity, and most pigs will wallow in a group if they are able to.

Pigs love company
Pigs are able to lead rich social lives, and form close bonds with each other when provided with the right environment.

Of course, it‚Äôs important that group make-up includes consideration of pig familiarity, their physical sizes, the number of pigs as well as ensuring the environment provides space and opportunity to both play and rest so that they don‚Äôt become aggressive towards each other.

What to look for to support higher welfare
There’s always a focus on providing for the pig’s wellbeing on RSPCA Approved farms. RSPCA Approved pork comes from pigs raised with space to roam and move freely so pigs can exercise, socialise, forage and play. Good quality bedding is provided so that all pigs have a comfortable area to rest and allows sows to build nests for their piglets. Painful procedures such as teeth clipping, tail docking and castration are not allowed on RSPCA Approved farms.

The RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme standards for pigs take into account the natural behaviours of pigs, and ensure that housing and husbandry practices on farm enhance pig welfare. Being RSPCA Approved also means regular on-farm assessments by specialised assessors who visit farms at least twice a year (with additional unscheduled visits) to verify compliance.