One little piggy’s in a farrowing crate, one little piggy gets his tail docked and one little piggy is left alone.

Three Little Pigs
Illustration by L. Leslie Brooke, from The Golden Goose Book, Frederick Warne & Co, Ltd (1905). Image taken from Project Gutenberg eText

I know I’ve already mentioned pigs, but something came up again this week that seriously rattled me. Using an online programme, an example came up in which a sow had given birth to her litter in a pen, not a farrowing crate. One of the piglets was injured and later died because she’d laid on it. The conditions were described as “cramped” and it was insinuated that the death had occurred due to the lack of space.

While the conditions were not the point of the example (it focused more on the attitude of the stockman), I couldn’t help but feel displeased at the way in which the information was portrayed.

Coming from a pig farming background, I know from experience that it is better to put sows in farrowing crates for the sake of the piglets, saving them from being squashed. The farrowing crate would, in fact, give the sow less room than the pen used in the example.

The principle facts in the programme were wrong, regardless of whether it would be considered “cruel” by some to confine sows in this way – the reason for the piglet’s injury was too much space, not too little.

In another example used in the same programme, it was, again, insinuated that tail docking piglets is cruel.

What I would consider cruel would be to let pigs die of spinal abscesses arising from excessive tail biting, which would be the result of not tail docking them. Would you argue that vaccination is cruel? No, because a small, short term burst of pain is better than contracting a disease that would later prove fatal. Same principle.

Practices such as tail docking or the use of farrowing crates do not come about without reason. Farmers do not inflict mindless cruelty on their animals – it’s not in their interest to do so. These methods are used because they are the most efficient way of managing worse problems. This should be made more evident to vet students who have little experience of farming.

So which little pig is the odd one out?

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