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Raising and handling pigs in Canada

There are over 14 million pigs produced in Canada each year (source: 2016 census). Pigs are intelligent, social animals – the fourth smartest animal in the world, to be exact. Like their wild relatives, pigs are curious and love to explore and “root” around. They are also very social animals who love to play.

Male breeding pigs are called boars and females are called sows. Immature females who’ve never had a litter of piglets are called gilts. A full grown mature sow can weigh over 300 kg, but boars will grow even larger. The largest boar ever recorded was named ‘Big Bill’, and he weighed 1,158 kg (2,552 lbs)! He was five feet tall and nine feet long (152 cm tall x 254 cm long).

It takes five to six months for a piglet to reach market weight, which is 115-125 kg (255-275 lbs). At that point, the pig is sent to slaughter for pork.

Thinking about getting a pet pig? While “mini” pigs are a smaller breed than the average farm pig, they still grow quite large and have special care needs. Get the down and dirty on pet pig adoption before forking out the funds.

What are the main concerns for pig welfare?

  1. Housing:
    Pregnant pigs and sows that have recently given birth (farrowed) are kept in “gestation stalls” and “farrowing crates”, which are usually about 2 feet wide by 7 feet long (60cm x 213cm). In these stalls/crates, sows can lie down, stand up or sit, and may be able to take a step forward or backward; however, they do not have enough room to turn around. Stalls allow for increased control over each sow’s feed intake, can prevent aggression between sows, and restrict the movement of new moms in order to prevent them from lying on top of their piglets. However, sows are deprived of the ability to express important natural behaviours, leading to stress, frustration, and development of abnormal behaviours. Further, inability to exercise may lead to decreased bone and muscle strength.
  2. Painful practices:
    Tail docking, castration, ear notching and teeth trimming are a few of the painful procedures piglets go through on a Canadian farm. Tails are docked and teeth are trimmed to help prevent pigs from injuring each other out of boredom or frustration in barns that lack space and enrichment. Without use of pain medication, these procedures can cause lasting pain and distress to pigs.
  3. Comfort:
    Pigs are commonly left to live on cold, damp, slatted floors. While these floors keep the barn cleaner by allowing manure and urine to fall through to a collection pit below, they don’t permit use of bedding for pig comfort and warmth. Hard, bare flooring may become slippery, and it increases leg sores and lameness (inability to walk properly) in pigs. Bedding not only allows pigs to be more comfortable, but also permits natural behaviours like rooting, exploration and nesting, and may reduce boredom and aggression in pigs.

Get the full story about how pigs are commonly raised in Canada (PDF).

Support a better life for pigs

SPCA Certified farmers prove that it’s possible to meet the needs of these highly intelligent animals on farms. SPCA Certified standards include stringent requirements, such as:

  • SPCA Certified logoStalls and crates used to house breeding, gestating (pregnant), and farrowing pigs are strictly prohibited
  • Fully-slatted and bare concrete floors are prohibited; bedding is required for all pigs
  • Performing painful practices requires use of pain medication, and some practices are expressly prohibited

Farmers who successfully meet SPCA Certified standards are able to sell their foods with the program’s stamp of approval – the little red barn label.  If you or someone you know eats pork, you can help pigs lead better lives and support the farmers who care for them by finding a SPCA Certified retailer near you.

Understand your food labels

When shopping for humane pork, pay careful attention to the labels. Here are a few quick tips for finding the right pork products:

  1. Green light: best choices for welfare.
    Certifications like SPCA Certified, Certified Organic and Animal Welfare Approved are your best options for supporting high welfare farming practices. These farms have been regularly audited to strict requirements for animal care and welfare.
  2. Yellow light: next best choice.
    Crate free and pasture-raised pork comes from farms that do not allow pregnant sows to be crated or left in stalls. When a pig is pasture-raised, it is free to roam outdoors on pasture with vegetation. But be careful, because some pasture-raised pork facilities may be raising their market pigs outdoors but still keeping their pregnant sows in stalls.
  3. Red light: these labels are misleading!
    Don’t be fooled by claims like ‘hormone-free’ or ‘natural’. Without a certification or a meaningful description of animal care, these labels do not mean better treatment for animals.

Get the full story on ethical food labels.

Take action for all farm animals

We work with the farm industry and government to encourage improvements to the lives of farm animals in B.C. and across Canada, but we need your help. Help us speak for animals by participating in any of our farm animal welfare campaigns.

You can also learn where we stand on some of the key issues and subscribe to our quarterly FarmSense e-newsletter to stay up-to-date on our initiatives.

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