6 Cruel Ways That Pigs Are Abused on Factory Farms

by Amanda Waxman, Animal Rights, Nov 10, 2020

Pigs are subjected to horrific conditions on factory farms, but their suffering is unseen. Learn the truth about what happens behind closed doors.

A group of 5 young pigs standing next to each other behind bars, with their faces and snouts pressed into the bars.
Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Pigs are gentle, intelligent animals with complex personalities. However, when born to a life on a factory farm, they don’t get to exhibit their natural behaviors. Instead, they are subject to countless forms of mutilation, abuse, and neglect. Read on to learn what the millions of pigs raised and killed for food every year experience on factory farms.

Gestation Crates

Andrew Skowron Gestation Crate Photo: Andrew Skowron

The process of breeding animals for food is highly exploitative. Female pigs—known as “sows”—are repeatedly impregnated through artificial insemination, giving birth to litters of up to 12 piglets at a time. Throughout their pregnancies and after giving birth, mother pigs are kept in “gestation crates.” These crates are so small that the pigs can barely move or turn around.

Studies show that mother pigs, like human mothers, care for their babies. They instinctively want to nurture and protect their piglets by attempting to build them a nest, but on factory farms, they lack the materials to do so. They become distressed when separated from their babies, which happens when piglets are taken away from their mothers at just 3 weeks old. (In nature, mother pigs nurse their babies for 10-to-17 weeks.)

This cruel separation is standard in the pork industry, where these pigs are not seen as the mothers and babies that they are. Instead, they are seen as machines built for profit.


Pig in cage Photo: Andrew Skowron

Animals are often subjected to specific cruelties based on whether they are male or female, and pigs are no exception. Male piglets are castrated with a scalpel or knife shortly after being born, usually without any pain relief. This process is understandably traumatic for the piglets, who often will lie alone and trembling for days following the procedure.

Although the cruelty of this castration is undeniable, meat giants like Smithfield Foods claim that castration is necessary to improve the smell and taste of their meat. All of this pain and suffering is inflicted on intelligent animals in order to make a product seem more appealing to consumers, many of whom don’t realize these abuses are taking place.

Tail Docking

tail docking Photo: Konrad Łoziński / Open Cages

When kept in confined, crowded spaces on factory farms, pigs become stressed and may exhibit compulsive behaviors. One of the most harmful of these behaviors is biting their own tails. Instead of giving pigs more room to help relieve their stress, meat producers resort to cutting off each pig’s tail without anesthetic in a process known as “tail-docking.

Can you imagine having a sensitive part of your body amputated without any pain relief? It’s horrifying that factory farms would rather mutilate their animals than address the root causes of these animals’ severe (and understandable) anxiety.

Ear Notching

ear notched pig Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

There are hundreds, sometimes thousands, of pigs crowded into factory farms. In order to identify each pig, workers cut off sensitive parts of their ears to create patterns in a process known as “ear notching.” The notches are cut into a pig’s right ear to represent their litter number, and cut into their left ear to represent the individual pig’s number.

This cruel practice speaks volumes about how companies like Smithfield Foods view animals: not as living, breathing individuals, but as products in an assembly line.


pig transport photo Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Pigs are genetically manipulated to grow so quickly that they reach “market weight” (250 pounds) when they are only 6 months old. Due to their unnaturally large size and lack of space to move around, factory farmed pigs often develop arthritis and become unable to walk or stand on their own. They can become trapped in their own waste in dirty feedlots, fostering the spread of pathogens and rampant disease. Despite these risks, they are still loaded onto crowded trucks and transported to slaughter.

Pigs are shipped to slaughterhouses across the country on trips that can take over 28 hours. They endure these long journeys—sometimes suffering in extreme weather conditions—without any water to drink or food to eat. Due to severe overcrowding, they also have no room to lie down and rest.

By the time they arrive at slaughterhouses, pigs are dehydrated and exhausted from the journey—assuming they survive it. Many will succumb to illness, injury, or even death along the way.


pig slaughter photo- Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

A typical slaughterhouse kills more than 1,000 baby pigs every hour. The pigs are stunned before their throats are slit open. They’re left to bleed out, then dipped into scalding water in order to remove their hair. However, the speed of the slaughter lines makes it nearly impossible to ensure every pig is properly stunned before slaughter. This means many pigs are able to see, hear, and smell the pigs around them being killed, and they will be boiled alive when they reach the scalding tanks.

Gentle, sweet, smart, and curious pigs endure horrible abuses throughout their lives in the meat industry, from the day they’re born to the day they’re violently slaughtered. But it doesn’t have to be this way. By making the switch to compassionate, plant-based alternatives, you can stop contributing to this broken system that ravages thousands of pigs every day.

Get your free plant-based eating starter kit at EatingVeg.org and be the change for animals today.



And receive the latest blog posts from Light Path Resources in your inbox!

Thank you for Subscribing! You will only receive emails when we publish new blog posts.

Share This