Last week’s release of “A Pig’s Tale” by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has drawn significant attention. The four-minute animated video is directed at children, parents and educators. The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) offers some perspective on the realities of pork production today.

Beyond attributing human qualities to pigs, NPPC says what is most disturbing about the video is that its approach toward people is de-humanizing, “especially toward the people who spend their lives caring for the animals every day.”

NPPC goes on to say, “the truth is that farmers and ranchers of all sizes are committed to the humane treatment of their animals. They care deeply about their animals and take pride in them. Well cared for animals, under the guidance of veterinarians, are paramount to a safe and healthy food supply, and farmers and ranchers use a variety of animal husbandry practices, housing strategies and health care to decrease disease risk and promote animal health. The bottom line is that today’s farm animals live healthier lives than ever before.”

National Pork Board (NPB) Director of Swine Welfare Sherrie Niekamp and Tom Burkgren, DVM, executive director for the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV) offer the following perspectives about on-farm practices illustrated in the film.

Animal Behavior Indoors vs. Outdoors – “Where a pig can be a pig”: The argument that pigs can only express their natural behaviors outdoors is not true. It is limited indoors based on what elements are provided in the pig’s environment. There also are some aspects of “a pig being a pig” that are prevented with indoor housing such as predation, exposure to weather extremes, and exposure to diseases and parasites.

Tail docking-Tail biting: The video oversimplifies the cause of tail biting and the need for tail docking. Tail biting behavior is undesirable because it causes pain and fear to the recipient and creates an open wound that can lead to severe infections in the tail and spine. Occurrences of tail biting behavior are complex and have been associated with numerous factors, including but not limited to nutrition, space, air quality, ventilation type, flooring type or sudden changes in the environment. Tail biting also has been documented in outdoor housing systems.

When in a group, pigs will often nibble on each other’s tails as a way to explore their environment. By docking the tails of piglets when they are just a few days old, farmers can prevent potential infections that could spread throughout the herd and even result in death. Keep in mind tail docking is done early in a pig’s life, quickly and according to veterinarian guidelines.

Gestations Stalls and Weaning: The video leaves the impression that all female pigs stay in metal crates throughout their lives to become breeding sows. In fact, when pigs are weaned – regardless of sex – they live in group pens until they reach market weight, at which time they are sent to market. A small percentage of gilts are selected to return to the breeding herd. These gilts remain in group pens until they reach puberty and begin showing estrus, which they then enter the breeding herd and may be housed individually or in groups.

Weaning is a stressful time for sows and piglets, regardless of the housing system. After they are weaned, piglets are transported to a new location, grouped with other pigs and transitioned to a different type of diet. These changes create stress, but piglets quickly adapt and overcome.

Sows are returned to the breeding barn and undergo rapid hormonal changes that result in the end of lactation and the onset of the next estrus. Sows are weaned into individual stalls because sows become extremely aggressive as they undergo these hormonal changes especially if housed in groups.

Use of Electric Prod: Electric prods are not used on piglets and are rarely used on any pigs, possibly only when moving pigs in or out of a barn. Prods should never be used as the primary tool for moving pigs and should only be used as a last resort. If it is necessary to use a prod, the duration of the shock should not exceed one second. These are battery operated prods that would not have enough power to cause the reaction shown in the video.

NPPC offers these other resources that illustrate the realities of modern pork production:

  • Watch how farmers are using new technology to positively change how pigs are raised on farms today via this mini-documentary.
  • Hear Chef Jon Shook, talks about lessons learned during the Food Dialogues in Los