Mia pig in the mud at Farm Sanctuary
The Species

Pigs

Mia pig in the mud at Farm Sanctuary

Intelligent, Emotional Pigs

Wyatt pig at Farm Sanctuary

At Farm Sanctuary, pigs (Sus scrofa domesticus) are lively and social; they run, play, relax, snuggle, and loll about in the mud. Their reputation for intelligence—boosted by popular books, movies, and robust social media presence—is well earned. Two decades have passed since Wired magazine reported that domestic pigs had been taught to play video games, with a Penn State animal-sciences professor noting that the pigs in his experiment learned to play games as quickly as chimpanzees, while also demonstrating greater attention spans for the task.

Though human awareness of their sentience is both undeniable and increasing, humans continue to breed, imprison, and butcher pigs in exorbitant numbers, with nearly a quarter-billion pigs sold in the US each year. Particularly ruthless is the confinement of perpetually impregnated sows, utilized as pig factories and essential to large commercial pork production.

Visitors who spend time with the pigs at Farm Sanctuary often leave with the impression that they are not so different from the dogs so many of us share our homes with—emotionally sensitive, playful and inquisitive, and always eager for a snack or a belly rub.

A Brief History of Pigs

~50 million to ~23 million years ago

Even-Toed Ungulates Arrive on the Scene

Artiodactyls, or even-toed ungulates, are an order of hoofed mammals that bear weight on two toes—fossil evidence places their common ancestry in the early Eocene epoch, about 50 million years ago. Pigs and boars, hippos, llamas, sheep, goats, and camels all fall into the category. Whales and dolphins also evolved from two-toed ungulates. Fossil evidence of “Suidae” family members resembling pigs and boars dates to about 23 million years ago.

~2 million years ago to ~20,000 BCE

Adaptability Makes for Good Genes

Roughly 2 million years ago, while other Suidae family members were disappearing, members of the genus Sus, the modern pig’s genus, were scattered across the northern hemisphere. By 20,000 years ago “Sus scrofa”—the species of today’s wild boar and the closest genetic ancestor to domestic pigs—had spread across the world from the tropical forests of Southeast Asia, adapting to survive on Himalayan hillsides and in the grasslands of North Africa.

~10,000 BCE

Continuous, Widespread Domestication

While many theories exist about how wild pigs were domesticated—because they approached human settlements, for example, or were hunted ever more systematically—zooarchaeologists tend to agree that domestication occurred at both ends of Asia (and perhaps elsewhere), starting about 10,000 years ago. Since then, continuous mixing of wild boar populations with kept pigs has created a genetic melange as varied as that of any domesticated animal.

~2,000 BCE

Ancient Avatars, Origin Tales, & Taboos

The shunning of pig’s meat as taboo may stem from concurrently held views of the animal as both dangerous and divine. In the Rigveda, a Hindu scripture compiled 3,000 years ago, a boar is said to have raised the earth from the primordial waters—an incarnation of the god Prajapati. In the ancient Greek city of Hieropolis, having been figuratively linked to Egyptian Osiris and Greek Adonis, pigs were not to be touched, sacrificed, or eaten.

~1450 CE

The Gastronomer’s Strong-Sniffing Ally

With a keen sense of smell and a natural inclination to root in the earth, pigs living amongst humans have been used to ferret out delicate underground truffles since the era of the Roman Empire, though the earliest substantive documentation of the practice came out of the Italian Renaissance. Historically, female pigs have been deployed more often, as truffles emit a scent similar to that of male pigs’ mating pheromones.

1945

Old Major

In George Orwell’s book, Animal Farm, a boar named Old Major reveals his dream of a better future with his fellow barnyard animals, sharing his realization that humans only extract from the farm while animals work and suffer. His dream foments a farmed-animal revolution that seeks equality through “animalism.” Orwell’s extended metaphor gives parallel voice to domestic pigs and human laborers in an unprecedented way.

1953

Radiant, Terrific, Humble—That’ll Do, Pig

In 1953, E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web was published—the story of Wilbur the pig, his friend Charlotte the spider, and how her web-spun praise saves him from slaughter. The book was the world’s best-selling children’s paperback for decades. Thirty years later, Dick King-Smith’s Babe, the Gallant Pig, told of a young pig’s efforts to be seen as more than food. Both stories prompted millions of people to consider otherwise overlooked animal perspectives.

1968

Intensive Confinement, Production, Stress

A photo from 1968 may be the oldest visual evidence of pigs living in gestation crates—indoor cages in which most farmed, pregnant sows in the US and worldwide endure their four-month pregnancies, without room to rest comfortably or turn around. While a few states have banned the practice, farm owners have built ever larger, more cramped pig-production facilities. Also in 1968, agricultural researchers coined the term “Porcine Stress Syndrome.”

1976

Miss Piggy’s Muppet Show Feminism

The preeminent TV pig of the era, Miss Piggy brandished charm and karate chops as one of most thoroughly developed Muppets. She brought an anti-pork feminism to a 1978 duet of “I’m a Woman” with Raquel Welch. On “Pigs in Space,” the show’s long-running Star Trek spoof, she battled the sexism and incompetence of her boss, Captain Link Hogthrob. Gloria Steinem presented Piggy with a Sackler Center Award in 2015, given to honor extraordinary women.

2005

Patenting Pig-Breeding Methods … and Pigs

Over recent decades, the public has grown more aware of, and often chafed against, attempts by chemical and pharmaceutical companies’ to control the food supply by engineering and marketing crop seeds as intellectual property. One milestone that saw little public scrutiny was Monsanto’s 2005 attempt to patent not only pig-breeding methods, but the pigs that resulted from those methods as well as their genetic information.

2016

Hurricane Hits Pig-Manure Lagoons

As pig farming has industrialized, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (“CAFOs”)—also called “factory farms”—now raise and slaughter over 100 million pigs annually. One consequence is the production of bewildering amounts of waste, as each pig will produce more than its weight in feces each year. Much of this waste is pumped into open-air storage lagoons, at least 14 of which were submerged and dispersed by rains from 2016’s Hurricane Matthew.

2019

A Vast Magnitude of Death for Pork

In 2019 in the U.S., commercial “farmers” slaughtered nearly 130 million pigs—a number greater than the combined human populations of California, Texas, Florida, New York,  and Pennsylvania. That’s an average of more than 2 million—the population of Houston—every week. Moreover, millions of female pigs endured cycles of confined pregnancy, including a herd of more than 900,000 at the nation’s largest “farm.”

Andrewsarchus, an extinct creature of the Eocene period, was possibly the largest carnivorous land mammal ever, known only from a single fossil skull found in Mongolia. 3D Rendering.

Image: Daniel Eskridge/shutterstock.com

~50 million to ~23 million years ago

Even-Toed Ungulates Arrive on the Scene

Artiodactyls, or even-toed ungulates, are an order of hoofed mammals that bear weight on two toes—fossil evidence places their common ancestry in the early Eocene epoch, about 50 million years ago. Pigs and boars, hippos, llamas, sheep, goats, and camels all fall into the category. Whales and dolphins also evolved from two-toed ungulates. Fossil evidence of “Suidae” family members resembling pigs and boars dates to about 23 million years ago.

The Someone Project: Pigs

Pig laying in the water at Farm Sanctuary

The Someone Project is a Farm Sanctuary-sponsored research-based initiative documenting farm animal sentience through science. Read our white paper on pigs titled Thinking Pigs: Cognition, Emotion and Personality in the Domestic Pig.

Download
Pig laying in the water at Farm Sanctuary

Pig Facts

  • Rory pig at Farm Sanctuary
  • Pigs

    can distinguish between other pigs simply through touch.

  • Pigs are able to understand the perspectives of other pigs and anticipate their behaviors.

  • Play behavior in pigs includes playing with toys, wrestling, and excitedly leaping.

  • In the wild, pigs are social animals living in small groups who travel, forage, and even nest together.

GIF of pigs at Farm Sanctuary
“[Pigs] have the cognitive ability to be quite sophisticated. Even more so than dogs and certainly three-year-olds.”
- Professor Donald Broom, Oxford University

The Truth Behind Bacon

The life of a pig in the U.S. pork industry is one of confinement, stress, and suffering.

  • United States

    124,512,300 pigs were slaughtered in the United States in 2018.

  • Global

    1,484,492,843 pigs were slaughtered worldwide in 2018.

factory farming

Pigs Used for Meat

Pigs crammed into pens at a sale yard. Australia, 2017

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Aerial view of CAFO barns and manure lagoons in North Carolina

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

A sow lies separated from her piglets

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / Djurrattsalliansen

Tubes used for artificially inseminating sows at a family run organic pig farm

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals for The Guardian

Line of pigs, confined and isolated by metal bars

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / Essere Animali

A sow is forced to lay with hindquarters pressed into the bars of her gestation crate and her own feces

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / Essere Animali

A sow and her litter, nursing inside a gestation crate in an Italian factory farm

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / Essere Animali

A sow and piglet in a sow stall.

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / Essere Animali

Young pigs crowd pens in Swedish factory farms

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / Djurrattsalliansen

Pigs in a holding area at a slaughterhouse

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals for The Guardian

Slaughter at an Enormous Scale

In an average week more than 2 million pigs are slaughtered in the U.S., almost exclusively to be processed and eaten by people as “pork” products—primarily bacon, ham, and sausage. In 2017, about 235 million pigs were sold in the U.S., and 95% of those were raised on “farms” with 5,000 or more individual pigs. The nation’s largest “farm” keeps over 900,000 female sows at any given time designated for breeding until they are “spent” and slaughtered.

Waste at Enormous Cost

Research shows that a domestic pig produces about 13 pounds of excrement daily. At roughly 2 tons per year per pig, the nation’s pig farms produce about 270 million tons nationwide—the equivalent weight of 2.5 Golden Gate Bridges or the displacement of 5,100 Titanics. North Carolina alone is home to over 9 million pigs, mostly raised in CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations holding thousands of animals). The CAFOs’ unconscionable “disposal” of so much pig excrement has toxic effects on workers, local residents, their water supply, and the surrounding environment.

The Desperate Cycle of a Breeding Sow

The life of a breeding sow in the U.S. pork industry is one of extreme confinement, stress, and suffering. More than 5.1 million female pigs were used for breeding in the U.S. in 2017. These naturally curious and intelligent animals are first impregnated at 7 months of age and live out their lives in a cycle of pregnancy, birth, and nursing until they are eventually sent to slaughter.

Artificial Insemination

To keep sows pregnant, U.S. farmers increasingly depend on artificial insemination. According to one report, AI rose from about 1 in 10 pregnancies in 1991 to about 7 in 10 by 2000. Industrial farmers like artificial insemination’s ability to improve genetic selection and to reduce the cost of feeding and housing male boars. Prior to being inseminated, females are sometimes given drugs to stimulate ovulation—one such drug contains a hormone derived from the urine of pregnant horses, PMSG, and an analog of another originally derived from the urine of pregnant human women, hCG.

Imprisoned in Pregnancy

During pregnancy, most breeding sows in the past century have spent nearly all of their time confined to “gestation crates,” confinement stalls made of metal bars and only slightly larger than the pigs themselves. Such restraint makes it impossible for sows to lie down comfortably or even turn around during pregnancy. In larger operations, crates full of pregnant sows are typically lined up row after row in vast warehousing barns. Despite recent claims from some larger producers that they no longer intend to use gestation crates in the U.S., investigations have found that the method remains in widespread use.

Anxiously Lying Above Their Waste

Gestation crates are usually constructed with floors made of spaced slats to allow the pigs’ manure to fall through—so pregnant sows live directly above their own decomposing waste, exposed to high levels of ammonia. Living on the hard slatted flooring causes foot injuries, damage to joints, and even lameness. Enduring their 4-month pregnancies in a space slightly smaller than a phone-booth door, they suffer from intense boredom and frustration. Abnormal, neurotic behaviors—repeatedly biting at the bars of the crate or chewing with an empty mouth—often result, causing sores, tooth and mouth injuries, and further suffering.

Nursing Piglets in Industrial Stalls

Shortly before their piglets are born, pregnant sows are moved to “farrowing crates” where the piglets will be nursed. Meant to separate the mother from the piglets to avoid crushing, farrowing crates are only slightly larger than gestation crates, adding a restrictive attachment that contains the piglets adjacent to their nursing mother. Deprived of the ability to nuzzle her piglets or even turn around to see, she has enough room only to stand and lie down. No large pork producers have suggested that they intend to discontinue the use of farrowing crates.

Castrated and Tail-Docked Without Relief

Before they are three weeks old, piglets are removed from their mothers to endure a series of mutilations. Because tail-biting is a common behavior in captive environments and can lead to injury and infection, most pigs have a portion of their tails sheared off. Males are commonly castrated with a sharp knife, to reduce aggression and because the taste of meat from sexually mature males is considered less desirable. Pain relief is rarely provided for either operation.

Endless Cycle

After being separated from their mothers, piglets spend the next 6 months of their lives confined to pens until they reach “market weight.” They are then trucked to slaughter. Shortly after their piglets are weaned, females are commonly forced back into the restrictive gestation crates and re-impregnated. The cycle continues, with an average sow producing a couple of litters per year until she is considered spent and sent to slaughter herself. For farmers, a sow’s age matters less than the number of times she has given birth. Usually after 7 or 8 litters, fertility declines and her value is no longer sufficient.

Crippled, Broken, and Slaughtered

At least half a million pigs arrive at slaughterhouses every year unable to walk or stand. Whether injured in transit or lame from the stresses of excessive confinement, these “downed” animals will end up lying on trailer bottoms or dragging themselves across waste-riddled feedlots, increasing the likelihood of further injury and pathogen infection. Still, slaughterhouse workers routinely use force to guide them to their deaths. Though the USDA has banned the slaughter of downed cows and calves for human consumption, turning downed pigs into food remains both legal and common.

Pigs crammed into pens at a sale yard. Australia, 2017

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Slaughter at an Enormous Scale

In an average week more than 2 million pigs are slaughtered in the U.S., almost exclusively to be processed and eaten by people as “pork” products—primarily bacon, ham, and sausage. In 2017, about 235 million pigs were sold in the U.S., and 95% of those were raised on “farms” with 5,000 or more individual pigs. The nation’s largest “farm” keeps over 900,000 female sows at any given time designated for breeding until they are “spent” and slaughtered.

Aerial view of CAFO barns and manure lagoons in North Carolina

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Waste at Enormous Cost

Research shows that a domestic pig produces about 13 pounds of excrement daily. At roughly 2 tons per year per pig, the nation’s pig farms produce about 270 million tons nationwide—the equivalent weight of 2.5 Golden Gate Bridges or the displacement of 5,100 Titanics. North Carolina alone is home to over 9 million pigs, mostly raised in CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations holding thousands of animals). The CAFOs’ unconscionable “disposal” of so much pig excrement has toxic effects on workers, local residents, their water supply, and the surrounding environment.

A sow lies separated from her piglets

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / Djurrattsalliansen

The Desperate Cycle of a Breeding Sow

The life of a breeding sow in the U.S. pork industry is one of extreme confinement, stress, and suffering. More than 5.1 million female pigs were used for breeding in the U.S. in 2017. These naturally curious and intelligent animals are first impregnated at 7 months of age and live out their lives in a cycle of pregnancy, birth, and nursing until they are eventually sent to slaughter.

Tubes used for artificially inseminating sows at a family run organic pig farm

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals for The Guardian

Artificial Insemination

To keep sows pregnant, U.S. farmers increasingly depend on artificial insemination. According to one report, AI rose from about 1 in 10 pregnancies in 1991 to about 7 in 10 by 2000. Industrial farmers like artificial insemination’s ability to improve genetic selection and to reduce the cost of feeding and housing male boars. Prior to being inseminated, females are sometimes given drugs to stimulate ovulation—one such drug contains a hormone derived from the urine of pregnant horses, PMSG, and an analog of another originally derived from the urine of pregnant human women, hCG.

Line of pigs, confined and isolated by metal bars

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / Essere Animali

Imprisoned in Pregnancy

During pregnancy, most breeding sows in the past century have spent nearly all of their time confined to “gestation crates,” confinement stalls made of metal bars and only slightly larger than the pigs themselves. Such restraint makes it impossible for sows to lie down comfortably or even turn around during pregnancy. In larger operations, crates full of pregnant sows are typically lined up row after row in vast warehousing barns. Despite recent claims from some larger producers that they no longer intend to use gestation crates in the U.S., investigations have found that the method remains in widespread use.

A sow is forced to lay with hindquarters pressed into the bars of her gestation crate and her own feces

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / Essere Animali

Anxiously Lying Above Their Waste

Gestation crates are usually constructed with floors made of spaced slats to allow the pigs’ manure to fall through—so pregnant sows live directly above their own decomposing waste, exposed to high levels of ammonia. Living on the hard slatted flooring causes foot injuries, damage to joints, and even lameness. Enduring their 4-month pregnancies in a space slightly smaller than a phone-booth door, they suffer from intense boredom and frustration. Abnormal, neurotic behaviors—repeatedly biting at the bars of the crate or chewing with an empty mouth—often result, causing sores, tooth and mouth injuries, and further suffering.

A sow and her litter, nursing inside a gestation crate in an Italian factory farm

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / Essere Animali

Nursing Piglets in Industrial Stalls

Shortly before their piglets are born, pregnant sows are moved to “farrowing crates” where the piglets will be nursed. Meant to separate the mother from the piglets to avoid crushing, farrowing crates are only slightly larger than gestation crates, adding a restrictive attachment that contains the piglets adjacent to their nursing mother. Deprived of the ability to nuzzle her piglets or even turn around to see, she has enough room only to stand and lie down. No large pork producers have suggested that they intend to discontinue the use of farrowing crates.

A sow and piglet in a sow stall.

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / Essere Animali

Castrated and Tail-Docked Without Relief

Before they are three weeks old, piglets are removed from their mothers to endure a series of mutilations. Because tail-biting is a common behavior in captive environments and can lead to injury and infection, most pigs have a portion of their tails sheared off. Males are commonly castrated with a sharp knife, to reduce aggression and because the taste of meat from sexually mature males is considered less desirable. Pain relief is rarely provided for either operation.

Young pigs crowd pens in Swedish factory farms

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / Djurrattsalliansen

Endless Cycle

After being separated from their mothers, piglets spend the next 6 months of their lives confined to pens until they reach “market weight.” They are then trucked to slaughter. Shortly after their piglets are weaned, females are commonly forced back into the restrictive gestation crates and re-impregnated. The cycle continues, with an average sow producing a couple of litters per year until she is considered spent and sent to slaughter herself. For farmers, a sow’s age matters less than the number of times she has given birth. Usually after 7 or 8 litters, fertility declines and her value is no longer sufficient.

Pigs in a holding area at a slaughterhouse

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals for The Guardian

Crippled, Broken, and Slaughtered

At least half a million pigs arrive at slaughterhouses every year unable to walk or stand. Whether injured in transit or lame from the stresses of excessive confinement, these “downed” animals will end up lying on trailer bottoms or dragging themselves across waste-riddled feedlots, increasing the likelihood of further injury and pathogen infection. Still, slaughterhouse workers routinely use force to guide them to their deaths. Though the USDA has banned the slaughter of downed cows and calves for human consumption, turning downed pigs into food remains both legal and common.

Pig getting his nose rubbed at Farm Sanctuary
“Our results suggest that pigs can develop quite sophisticated social competitive behavior, similar to that seen in some primate species.”
- Dr. Mike Mendl, Bristol University

Featured Pig Rescues

Jane and Sebastian pig at Farm Sanctuary

VIDEO 1:54

Two Rescued Pigs Share a Lifetime Bond

Download Audio

Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] Sebastian was like the head of the pack, he is the bad boy. And Jane was like, oh, I like you. Sebastian is a Hampshire breed, which is typically used for meat. And usually slaughtered at the age of six months old. But Sebastian here escaped the farm, and he was actually found under a Farm Sanctuary employee's porch. She brought him here to the farm. A few months later, Jane was found by a wildlife rehab.


She survived the flood, and was found cold, and purple, and shivering on a swollen creek embankment. She came to Farm Sanctuary, and then she met Sebastian. It was love at first sight. Pig bond with each other, and they become friends very quickly. And oftentimes when they're separated, they will become depressed. And they'll feel lonely without their partner.


Luckily for these two, they have never been separated since they both came to Farm Sanctuary. When they're not sleeping, they're out like room in a barn. They like to eat together, sometimes play about the food. But you know, they always make up at the end of the day. And that's how their love story began.


[MUSIC PLAYING]


You got this.


[LAUGHING]

VIDEO 1:54

Two Rescued Pigs Share a Lifetime Bond

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