The Truth about Sow Stalls

412Sow.jpgIf you shop at Coles you may have seen this label stamped onto the more expensive bacon, but have you ever wondered what sow stalls actually are?

Sow stalls, also known as gestation crates, are metal cages that sows are held in during pregnancy. The stalls, normally measuring 200cm x 60cm are just long enough for the pigs to take a single step forward or backward, and they are so narrow that it is impossible for the pig to turn around. Sows can be forced to remain in these stalls for up to sixteen weeks!

Forced to lay in the same space as they urinate and defecate for weeks at a time

Rather than individual feeding troughs, sows in stalls are often fed from one communal trough where the food gets mixed with the bodily fluids and waste from all the other sows.

Not only do they suffer psychological trauma, swollen limbs and lameness, the sows are sometimes starved in order to induce early births.

The argument that pork producers make for sow stalls is that without them sows that are housed together in pens will fight, injuring or killing each other. However a more ethical alternative is just to provide them with larger pens that allow freedom of movement. Sow stalls are nothing more than a cruel cost-saving measure of factory farms.

Fortunately the Australian pork industry has committed to phasing out sow stalls starting in 2017, but this isn’t actually a ban. Instead they will just reduce the amount of time that sows can be kept in the stalls. Still a positive step forward, but it is not enough. Sow stalls are already banned in the European Union and Canada, as well as several US states. Let’s hope Australia will be next to follow suit.


– Robin


Sow Stall Image By Humane Society of the United States [CC BY 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Demand is Up, but Pig Farming is Down?

In the 1960s there were over 50,000 pig farmers in Australia. Now there are fewer than 1,000. What happened to all these farms?

The average herd size used to be fewer than 20 sows. This made it easy for the pigs to be given enough space to move about. Essentially all the pigs were what we would class as free range.

Nowadays the average herd size is 170 sows and up to 97% of all Australian pork comes from factory farms.

Andrew Spencer, CEO of Australian Pork Limited says that modern pig farmers needed to “get big or get specialised to survive.”

Pig farming and dairy farming used to be under the same roof. A lot of the waste products from dairy farming, such as whey, could go to feeding pigs. Since then whey has been found to have other, more profitable uses, and so the practice of raising pigs alongside cows slowly disappeared.

Feeding pigs also became more expensive with the banning of swill. Any food waste that could have come into contact with meat is illegal to feed to pigs. Meat and mammalian material can contain viruses such as Foot and Mouth Disease or African Swine Fever. It is believed that an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in the UK in 2001 was caused by feeding swill to pigs.

Another problem for farmers is the enormous costs involved in starting and running a pig farm. According to Mr Spencer, it costs about $6000 per sow to start a piggery, not including the costs of council approvals, meeting environmental laws, and labour.

Competition with imports also presents a challenge. A whopping 70 percent of the ham and bacon eaten in Australia is imported. This is due to a number of factors such as agricultural subsides in other countries, trading laws, as well as Australians’ insatiable hunger for pork.

70% of ham and bacon consumed in Australia is imported

The average Australian consumes about 25 kg of pork products every year and demand is steadily growing at a rate of 182 grams per person, per year.

Look for my article on feral pig consumption if you want to see a possible solution to these problems.


– Robin

Smart Enough to Suffer

smart_pigPictured: A pig of superior intelligence, but inferior eye-sight

Pigs are social and intelligent animals. They play together, they have long-term memories and they can remember which people were nice to them and which people weren’t. It’s such a pity that many domestic pigs will go their whole lives without meeting any people in the former category. Shouldn’t it be the right of all animals to have a good life? Even if they’re just going to get eaten in the end. Factory farmed pigs suffer in cramped, unnatural conditions, and “bred free range” pigs suffer the same. Only free range pigs experience a life close to what they evolved to enjoy: open pastures, warm sun, and fresh air.

Pigs have been taught how to play video games. They have been taught to navigate mazes and solve puzzles. There are plenty of articles saying how pigs are more intelligent than dogs, or just as smart as chimpanzees. Some even go as far as to say they’re smarter than 3 year olds. We wouldn’t eat any of these would we? Well some people might but I’m sure we’d put them in prison or at least not want to be friends with them. The point is, most of us would agree that we shouldn’t eat smart things, and yet we’re still killing and eating thousands of highly intelligent animals every single day.

This isn’t going to suddenly change, and though it may seem unconventional for a blog of this type, I am of the opinion that we should not just stop eating pigs. It’s unquestionable that they’re delicious. Many people also rely on pig farming for their livelihood. However, I also think that pigs deserve to have good lives. We can change the way that they’re treated without having to forgo our lovely bacon. Just switch to free range. Coles and Woolworths are making this hard by not offering free range choices any more, but local butchers and smaller supermarkets may still have free range bacon or pork available.

Free range pork is more expensive than factory farmed, but not drastically so. Isn’t it worth a few extra dollars so you can have the peace of mind that you didn’t contribute to animal suffering? The meat will even taste better because it won’t be toughened from years of stress. You’ll be able to rest easy with a belly full of bacon, knowing that the pig you ate had a happy life. And you can bask in the warm glow of self-satisfaction, knowing that you’re also contributing to better treatment for pigs in the future.


– Robin


Image sourced from

Change is Needed in the Australian Pork Industry

Pigs behind bars.png

Australians simply don’t care enough about farm animal welfare. When we see tiny kittens and puppies being mistreated we get all up in arms about it. Social media explodes, GoFundMe’s are flooded with donations, the national news runs stories. And yet millions of pigs suffer every year in cramped, unnatural conditions. Where are the headlines about that?

I want to make a change. Though I’m not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, I’ve stopped buying factory farmed pork and bacon. I’m paying the premium for free range. It’s worth it.

Pigs are suffering needlessly. There is plenty of room in Australia for large farms with space for pigs to move about, and yet we keep them locked inside, stuffed together like sardines.

What’s worse is that consumers who are trying to make a difference by buying ethical products are being misled by corporations that market “outdoor bred” pork. This is not the same as free range. In fact it’s the opposite. These pigs were kept inside from the age of four weeks. Only their mothers get to move about.

Stop buying sow stall free, outdoor bred and any other pork products that masquerade as ethical choices. It’s free range or nothing.

Follow this campaign on Facebook and Twitter through the links at the side

And let’s make a change! Buy free range!


– Robin