top of page

Pig Farming

"Pigs may not be as cuddly as kittens or puppies, but they suffer just as much."

|| James Cromwell ||


Worldwide, around 1.5 billion pigs are bred, raised and slaughtered every year, and the numbers are rising. Much of the growth is in China, which rears around half of the world’s pigs. The other big players are the EU, North America, Vietnam and Brazil.

The vast majority of pigs are factory-farmed. All live truly miserable lives. If we did to our dogs what pig producers are legally allowed to do to pigs, we would be prosecuted for cruelty. We would receive hefty fines. We might go to prison.


Pigs are intelligent and naturally affectionate. Their physical resilience (like most animals) allow them to survive in the terrible conditions forced upon them in a typical factory farm, however emotionally they cope poorly. It is common to see sows behaving in a stereotypical manner, licking the bars of their iron stalls, moving their head from side to side for hours on end. 


Pigs are sociable animals. They thrive in stable social groups which typically would consist of a few sows with their young. In natural conditions, they will range over hundreds of kilometres and spend much of their day foraging and rooting for food.

They will make nests to sleep in and they will dig out wallows in the mud when they need to cool down. They will eat small animals if they can catch them, but mostly they will forage for leaves, grass, roots, fruits and flowers.



Almost all the pork sold in Ireland comes from production units in which breeding sows are confined in stalls for up to half of their productive lives, between the time they spend in service crates and farrowing crates. These iron cages are barely larger than a pig’s body, preventing her from turning around, or taking more than a step forward or backward. Sow stalls deprive pregnant sows of almost all their natural behaviours in that they cannot exercise, explore, forage or socialise.


Before she gives birth, during a time that she is highly motivated to separate from other sows and form a nest, she is moved to a barren iron cage known as a farrowing crate. Here she will give birth to up to fifteen piglets (in fact many sows now have over 20 piglets but they do not have enough teats to properly feed her piglets) and will remain confined in this cage for twenty-eight days. Five days after weaning, she will be moved to the service crates and impregnated again, and can remain there for 28 days, the conveyor-belt production system moving along relentlessly. About 6 litters later, if she survives that long, she will be sent for slaughter at about three or four years of age; still a relatively young animal, but utterly exhausted and completely spent.  


A factory-farmed sow will never feel the rain on her skin, or feel the warmth of the sun on her back. Indeed, she will never see daylight, apart from her last day, when she is transported to the slaughterhouse. Sow stalls are illegal in Sweden and in the UK and are being phased out in a number of countries, but there is a long way to go before this cruel confinement is banned completely.

Farrowing crates are illegal in Sweden, Norway and Switzerland.

They are widely used everywhere else.


On a factory farm, the pigs to be fattened for slaughter are raised in large groups in overcrowded pens, on concrete floors without bedding.

They are often mutilated, having their tails docked and their teeth clipped or crushed. The latter procedure is to prevent the piglets from damaging their mother’s teats, while the former procedure is to eliminate the biting of other pigs’ tails. Both procedures are painful and are usually carried out without the use of anaesthetic.

Because pigs are mixed with unfamiliar pigs, there is much conflict and stress. Most male piglets in Europe (not in the UK or in Ireland) are castrated shortly after birth. The scrotum is cut with a scalpel and the testes are pulled out and cut off. This is often carried out without the use of an anaesthetic.


Transport &

Approximately 500,000 pigs are exported live every year from the Republic. The vast majority of these go to Northern Ireland for slaughter. Female pigs are exported live to Spain and to Italy for use as breeding sows. Pigs are notoriously bad travellers, and

they are especially vulnerable in hot and humid conditions, as they do not have sweat glands.

The number of pigs slaughtered


in 2018 was 




406,710 every day

16,946 every hour

282 every minute

4.7 every second


Pigs are typically slaughtered using CO2 gas. The method involves lowering pigs into a gas chamber containing C02, causing them to gasp for breath and hyperventilate, resulting in pain and panic. This can last for between 30 and 60 seconds.

Despite numerous scientific reports showing that CO 2 is an inhumane method for stunning and slaughtering pigs, no serious efforts have been made to bring about reform.


About 99% of Ireland’s pigs are bred and reared in indoor,

non-straw bedded, slatted or solid floor systems, often in units of over 1,000 pigs.

Roughly 40% of the pig population live in units of over 10,000 animals.

According to a recent pig survey completed by the Department of Agriculture,

45% of total pig production in Ireland is accounted for by just 47 farms.

The Landrace and the Large White are the dominant breed of pig in commercial production in Ireland.


The total number of pigs in Ireland in June 2021 was estimated at 1,694,300

with 1,472,700 non-breeding pigs and 143,300 breeding pigs.

The estimates are based on returns from the June 2019 Pig Survey which collects data on pig numbers held by specialised producers. Specialised pig farms, totalling 289, were included in the survey for June 2019, accounting for 88% of the estimated total pig population.

[CSO statistical release, 10 September 2019]


Outbreaks of African Swine Fever (ASF)

are common on pig farms across the globe.

In 2019, an estimated 200 million pigs were culled in an effort to wipe out the disease,

which is fatal to any pig who catches it.


Swine Flu , as opposed to African Swine Fever, occurs in people that are in contact

with infected pigs. Symptoms are similar to that of regular human influenza and can

include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite, coughing, runny nose, sore throat, nausea,

vomiting and diarrhoea.

bottom of page