What Are Gestation Crates?
It sounds like some kind of urban legend: To make bacon, evil farmers put pigs in tiny little cages where they can’t even move! The scariest part of that story is that is actually not a legend at all. It’s very true and those tiny cages are called gestation crates.
What are gestation crates?
Gestation crates are metal stalls measuring two feet wide and almost seven feet long used in the production of pork. Introduced in 1969, they became the most popular method of housing sows in pork production facilities in the ’80s and ’90s and are still used for most of the 5.9 million pigs in the industry.
How do they work?
The stalls are designed to individually house pregnant pigs that will produce more pigs to make bacon, spam and other meat products. They are usually constructed in rows of 20, with about 100 stalls per shed. The floor beneath them is made of slats so the animals’ excrements can fall through the cracks as they don’t leave the gestation crates at all for the duration of their pregnancies (about four months) — not even for feeding or bathroom breaks.
Why are they used?
The short answer: profits. The long answer: to avoid some of the issues that keeping pigs in group housing offers, which tend to decrease profits.
Once upon a time pigs were raised outside — but that required large spaces of land, it made them more accessible to predators, and, in the winter, they would eat a lot more just to keep warm. Farmers looking to increase the bottom line moved them inside.
The indoor group housing offered a new set of challenges, though. Just as a bunch of people in a crowded space get irritable, so do pigs — and they tend to push and shove. Since everyone is being fed a small amount, they all want a little more and can get very competitive for it, harming others in the process.
Then the farmer has to clean after them and medicate them, which gets complicated with the lack of space. The factory farmer’s solution: put the pigs in small crates. Since they’re not moving we can cram even more into the shed, it takes less labor to check if they’re all eating, and cleaning is easier. Ca-ching!
Why are they bad?
A pregnant pig is about the size of its gestation crate, meaning there’s no extra room for walking or sometimes even lying down or turning. This extreme confinement — equivalent to a human in a coach airline seat — leads to physical and mental problems.
As one would expect, the animals get tired of standing in one position continuously. In desperate attempts to turn or lie down, they usually injure themselves, causing bruises and abscesses that go largely untreated. The hard flooring beneath them leads to bone and muscle stress and damage since pigs are designed to live in the much softer grass surfaces.
Living directly above their waste — and their neighbors’ — exposes them to high levels of ammonia that leads to respiratory diseases and eye irritation.
Mentally, the experience is also dreadful for the naturally social animals. In the pork industry, sows spend about 80 percent of their lives in gestation crates, enough to drive anyone insane. Some animals chew on the metal bars until their mouths bleed out, others become aggressive, and others just check out in a state of deep depression.
Does anyone think this is actually a good idea?
Factory farmers do since it increases their bottom line but thankfully others have stood up for the welfare of pigs.
Renowned animal scientist (and livestock industry consultant) Temple Grandin said, “We’ve got to treat animals right. … Confining an animal in a box in which [he or she] is not able to turn around does not provide a decent life.”
As the public at large learns more about what gestation crates are, they have also stood against it. The American Farm Bureau found in a recent poll that most Americans consider gestation crates inhumane and a Michigan State University study showed at least 60 percent of respondents in every state wanted them banned.
Unfortunately, that opinion is not always respected by politicians seeking the support of pork farmers. New Jersey governor Chris Christie, for example, vetoed a gestation crate ban in his state twice despite 95 percent of the population supporting it.
At the behest of animal advocates and concerned consumers, restaurants and pork producers are ditching gestation crates in favor of more humane ways of production. Burger King, Denny’s, McDonald’s and Safeway are some of the chains that vowed not to use pork from facilities that use them.
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