In an attempt to be more transparent, the pig industry in the Netherlands started a project to make several pig farms “open” for public viewing. Instead of sealed walls and no access, these farms would have several windows where people would be encouraged to peek in.
Today an inspector from Eyes on Animals dropped by one of these pig farms, Beemsterlant. There were several posters about pig intelligence and behaviour hanging up beside the viewing windows, where you could look into the different pens of the farm. One poster was about how smart pigs are – they communicate with each other about how they feel (hungry, in pain, stressed out, satisfied and happy) using 25 different sounds. It also explained that pigs are not dirty but intelligent when they lie in the mud; lying in the mud protects them from sunburns and insect bites. Another poster was about how pigs have a very strong sense of smell – they recognize each other by their odour, and even smell a person from 300 metres away. In some countries, pigs are even used by humans to sniff out truffels because they can smell the truffels deep underneath the earth.
It is very good that this pig farmer was trying to teach visitors about pigs, but it made it all the more sad to realize that, despite obviously knowing these incredible facts about pig intelligence and behaviour, he kept his pigs in deprived conditions going against all the principles of the posters. The piglets and fattening pigs inside were kept solely on barren slatted floors, with no mental stimulation at all (no adequate rooting opportunity, no wallowing opportunities, no space to run and play, no access to the outdoors). They were lying directly above their own excrement, with the stench of strong ammonia rising into their sensitive noses all day. There were no open windows to feel or smell fresh air. This cannot be good for an animal with such a strong sense of smell and such high intelligence. If we know that pigs have a strong sense of smell and are incredibly smart, what are we doing keeping them in such barren, dark, sealed and stinky indoor pens ? If we know they like to lie in the mud and root in the earth, why does this farm keep them on slatted concrete floors only ?
The pigs had all been tail docked too, something that never needs to be done on pigs raised outdoors where their environment is mentally stimulating. They know pigs are smart and will tail bite when bored and/or frustrated, why not give them more stimulation instead of cutting parts of their bodies off ?
As well, the public is mislead at the viewing window onto the farrowing units (where sows are kept with their new-born piglets for a few weeks). Right in front of the window they placed a farrowing crate that was different than all the other ones beyond easy view. The crate directly at the window was much larger than all the others, and had adjustable bars so the sow could eventually turn around. They claimed this was how sows are kept after giving birth. But behind and beside this large farrowing crate, just beyond “ easy visibility”, there were farrowing crates lined up all of the standard old-fashioned tiny size, where the sow and piglets could barely move. In fact, the sows inside these tiny crates could literally just stand up and lie down, and nothing else.
There was fortunately something good about this farm. When the young piglets are removed from the sows, the sow can spend a couple of weeks in a group pen with other sows, which is partly outdoors and had straw on the floor. Here the sows could finally stretch their legs, breathe fresher air, root in straw, and lie down comfortably.
It is good that the pig industry wants to be more transparent, but that is just one first step in the right direction and is by far not enough. They now need to apply their knowledge about pig intelligence and behaviour and put it into practice. A drastic change is required to the way we house pigs on factory farms.