Small, local farm demonstrates importance of enriching the lives of pigs

Posted on 04/01/2019 by Cameron Harsh
in the Animals in farming blog

We met a family of cute pigs living happy, enriched lives on a small, local farm.

My colleagues and I recently visited a small farm on Long Island, Kunekune, where local farmer Sue Drake breeds and raises heritage pigs.

We arrived at feeding time and toured the farm as Sue visited each pen tossing cupfuls of feed pellets to excited pigs of varying ages, sizes, and colors.

She watched carefully, ensuring each pig was able to eat and threw in a little extra for the ones slower to the food.

The pigs live in small social groups in large fenced-in areas of mud and grass. The soil and grasses offer opportunities to use their powerful noses, rooting through the dirt for tasty morsels that provide extra nutrients.

Sue’s pigs live much like pigs did on farms across America before the unstainable increasing demand for meat created a proliferation of industrialized farms.

Unlike Sue’s pigs, those on factory farms are isolated in steel cages, a lifetime of torture for these social, intelligent creatures.

Rather than rooting and exploring, those on factory farms spend their lives on concrete floors standing in their own waste.

At Kunekune, each pen has two igloo-like domes filled with straw, which offer the pigs a comfortable place to sleep, a warm respite in winter, solitude from their pen-mates, or a place to just hang out and root around.

There are also small ponds of water in which the pigs can wallow. On hot summer days, the pigs will lay in the cool, muddy water to beat the heat and protect their skin from the sun.

On a factory farm pigs are trapped inside for most of their lives, never experiencing the feeling of sun on their skin, and never having the opportunity to lay in cool muddy water.

A picture synonymous with pig happiness. It was wonderful to see pigs with an opportunity to perform their natural behaviors on a working farm.

The pigs largely ignored us while breakfast occupied their focus. But once every last pellet was devoured, their curious characters became evident.

Shoving their noses through the fence or standing with their front legs over the top, they were eager for our attention and affection.

As we strolled by each pen, getting sniffed, petting heads, and scratching ears, Sue shared stories about specific groups or individuals, telling us their names, their quirks, and the many things she loves about them.

Even in the pen of 12 piglets, who mobbed us as we hand-fed them peanuts, Sue knew each by name.

There are thousands of farms like this in the US, raising heritage or conventional breeds in social groups, with access to the outdoors and enrichments that allow them to express their natural behaviors and live fulfilling lives.

These farmers are innovators, understanding that close confinement and barren environments in factory farms are bad for pigs, people, and the planet.

Pigs are incredibly social, intelligent animals who need enrichment. Group housing and enrichments like straw or other rooting materials are vital whether the pigs live on a small farm on Long Island or a large intensive farm in Iowa.

At World Animal Protection, we are working to ensure every pig is provided with a life worth living.

Learn more about about a pig’s life on a factory farm and the need for enrichment in this blog by my colleague.