Pork Industry Moves Slowly Away from Gestation Crates for Pregnant Sows

Pregnant pigs housed in gestation crates spend their days living in the equivalent of an airline seat for humans, as animal welfare expert Temple Grandin of Colorado State University has described it.

“It would be like living in an airline seat and never being allowed to walk in the aisle,” she said.

Sows rest inside the 5,600-sow facility at Country View Family Farms in Dry Run, Penn. (Courtesy Caroline Abels)

Courtesty of Caroline Abels

Sows rest inside the 5,600-sow facility at Country View Family Farms in Dry Run, Penn. (Courtesy Caroline Abels)

They spend their back-to-back three-month pregnancies in a metal stall no wider than their bodies, unable to walk, turn around, or have physical contact with other pigs.

Most consumers know these gestation crates (called “gestation stalls” inside the industry) from grainy undercover videos taken by animal welfare activists. And we hear about them when large restaurant chains and retailers – most recently Walmart – make pledges to phase them out of their supply chains.

But what is replacing the crates? According to the National Pork Board, between 15 and 20 percent of the 5.9 million sows in the U.S. are already spending the majority of their pregnancies in some form of “sow group housing.” In these systems, life for pigs is spent in the equivalent of an enclosed airplane, without the seats. There’s more space, and pigs can socialize with one another.

However, there’s still no straw bedding, no sunshine, and nothing to chew or play with. And the new systems don’t address issues of manure management, odor impacts on neighbors, or conditions in pig slaughterhouses.

Animal rights activists warn that the public should not believe that the move to “group housing” makes the process “hunky-dory.”

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To read Caroline Abels’ full report please click here.

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