SPCA New Zealand

Farrowing crates: Time is ticking to put an end to this "cruel and unnatural" practice

14 June 2022

Big changes are being proposed for pig farming in New Zealand - and it's about time. One of the big changes currently proposed includes a ban on the use of farrowing crates - and you can help end this by having your say on this before 8th July 2022.

Farrowing crates: Time is ticking to put an end to this "cruel and unnatural" practice

Did you know nearly half of New Zealand pig farmers already farm successfully without farrowing crates?

The pork industry has had warning after warning that farrowing crates would eventually have to go. Yet they are lobbying to prevent the proposed changes to the pig code of welfare by claiming that the improvements are not justified by animal welfare science, and will be too expensive and difficult to implement.

SPCA wants to help Kiwis understand the truth – that it is possible to phase out the use of farrowing crates and protect piglets.

The back story - why are they so bad?

A farrowing crate is a stall that the sow (mother pig) is kept in for up to five weeks around the time of giving birth (farrowing). Farrowing crates prevent the sow from moving freely, including turning around.

Farrowing crates have a significant negative impact on both sow and piglet welfare. For piglets, their use is associated with stillbirths, and a lack of enrichment and sow-piglet interaction. For sows, the crate restricts the expression of almost all normal behaviour, including nesting behaviour, and is associated with health problems such as pressure sores and lameness.

The High Court has ruled that the standards that were in the code of welfare for farrowing crates and mating stalls were “unlawful and invalid” under the Animal Welfare Act. But they are currently still used on approximately 55% of New Zealand pig farms as they make animal management easier for the stockperson.

What does life look like without farrowing crates?

Pork industry representatives have been using the emotive issue of piglet mortality to claim that, based on their calculations, tens of thousands more piglets may die in New Zealand each year if farrowing crates are banned.

However, large studies have shown that in countries that have already phased out the use of farrowing crates (such as Norway and Switzerland), the mortality rate for piglets is similar to the levels achieved in indoor farms here.

Nearly half of New Zealand pig farmers already farm successfully without farrowing crates.

There are measures that can be taken to protect piglets: such as requiring nesting material, designing farrowing pens well, training staff, and adapting genetic selection programmes.

It will be a big change for farmers, and it will require significant investment. SPCA would like to see support for New Zealand indoor pig farmers, including investment into research and training, to ensure that the transition period protects animal welfare and equips all farmers to succeed with modern farrowing systems.

We would also like to see pork imports restricted so that cheap, low-welfare pork doesn’t end up on our supermarket shelves, undermining New Zealand farmers.

A better life for pigs

The Government is reviewing the code of welfare for pigs, which sets minimum standards and recommended best practices for pig farming in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Some significant changes are being proposed: including a ban on the use of farrowing crates, a restriction on the use of mating stalls, a new minimum age for weaning piglets, and a requirement for more space per pig.

SPCA supports the review, and considers that these higher standards are well overdue. Codes of welfare are meant to be reviewed by the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee every ten years, though like many codes of welfare, the code of welfare for pigs had fallen behind. This code is being reviewed for the first time since 2010.

Public consultation happening now

We need you to speak up for pigs, so that the public view is clear, and New Zealand pig farmers are supported to move away from the use of farrowing crates forever.

The code of welfare is open for public consultation until 8 July 2022, and we have drafted a submission for you to make and instructions to submit.

After public consultation, the Ministry for Primary Industries and the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee will consider the submissions and make their final decisions.

SPCA will be making a submission and will continue to work with Government to try and ensure that the process is transparent, takes into account the public interest and animal welfare concerns, and is not delayed.

We will keep our supporters up to date with progress.  For more detail on the consultation, you can access all of the consultation documents here.

What else needs to change?

Space allowances need to increase

After piglets have been weaned, the “grower” pigs are usually kept in pens or sheds until they reach slaughter weight.

The current code of welfare uses a formula to determine the minimum space allowance per pig. The formula was originally based on the amount of space that maximizes efficient production – not welfare. It allows for a 65kg pig to have as little as 0.5m2 space each as they get close to slaughter weight. This is just enough for the pig to lie down.

Pigs need much more space than this to be comfortable and happy. They need space to play, rest, have positive social interactions, and explore. They need a separation of space between their eating, resting and toileting areas.

The Government is proposing a significant increase in space per pig. SPCA supports this move, based on the latest available animal welfare science.

The minimum weaning age needs to increase

Piglets naturally leave their mother and are fully weaned at between 14 – 17 weeks.

The current code of welfare allows for piglets as young as 21 days old to be weaned from the sow. Science shows that early weaning of piglets is associated with increased health risks and unwanted behaviour in grower pigs. Like puppies, piglets need an appropriate early environment to grow into healthy, well-adjusted animals.

The new standards propose increasing the minimum weaning age to 28 days. While this is still early, it is a step forward, and SPCA welcomes the new weaning age proposal.

Enrichment must be provided for pigs

Pigs are intelligent, curious animals. It is important that they have access to enrichment materials to satisfy their drive to forage and explore. Pigs love to wallow in mud, play, and explore.

At the moment, the behaviour section of the current code of welfare only requires that animals have the ability to eat, drink, sleep, vocalise, keep a normal temperature, and have social contact. Pigs kept in barren pens in today’s indoor farms have little to do except eat and sleep.

SPCA is advocating for requirements for all pigs to have permanent access to organic material that they can dig in, chew and manipulate. Ideally, all pigs would be kept in free range or ‘deep litter’ systems with plenty of straw.

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