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2017 57,9 million pigs were slaughtered in Germany (Albert Schweitzer Stiftung). More than 40% of the farmed meat worldwide is from pigs. The meat of pigs is the most similar to human meat (Masson 2018).
Hannover Animal Save meets once a month in front of the slaughterhouse Leine-Fleisch GmbH, where 500.000 pigs are slaughtered each year. At the 21st of November 2018 this slaughterhouse is the third one within a month, which is denounced for animal abuse. Videos show how pigs are tortured with electro shockers up to 40 times (Doeleke 2018). While I was standing at the trucks and petting the pigs whose trucks were waiting in a row to drive into the slaughterhouse, while hearing the screams of pigs out of the building, I was shocked about the many scratches and wounds many of them had. I saw the very few space they had, fights between them, fearful eyes, cut tails and froth on some of their snaps. But what I also realized was, that I do not really know much about pigs, despite the fact that they are intelligent and not so dirty as many humans think.
This essay takes an in depth look on who pigs really are, with a focus on the domestic pig, since this is the species which is used mostly in the meat industry. To judge conditions, it is necessary to have foundation of knowledge about the species. This essay will provide the information’s which are necessary, to argue if pigs should be ethical considered and to make qualified statements about observed conditions.
Pigs belong to the phylum Chordata, class Mammalia, order Artiodactyla and the family Suidae. The family Suidae contains seventeen species and includes feral pigs and babirusa, which are endangered by habitat loss (pygmy hog).
Pigs are highly intelligent, adaptable and like humans omnivores. Wild pigs live in forests and the grasslands of Africa, Europe and Asia. They were also successfully domiciled in Australia, America and New Zealand. Nearly all domestic pigs descend from the European feral pig (Burnie 2017). In some regions of the world live wild pig populations, which developed out of wild domestic pigs (Lytle & Meyer 2010).
Many anatomic and physiological attributes of pigs are very similar or even identical to the ones of humans (Lytle & Meyer 2010). To the external characteristics belong a barrelled body, short legs, a short neck and a big head. Pigs use their muzzle to search for food in the ground. The muzzle has a cartilage disc at the top, in which the nostrils are located and is based on a little bone (Burnie 2017). Lateral of the muzzle are stiff sensory bristles (Lytle & Meyer 2010). Females have smaller canines than males.
Pigs have two flattened hooves; on flat grounds there are also two after hooves, which help to carry the relatively high weight. The skin of pigs is thick and has bristles. Their tail is rotated (Burnie 2017).
Pigs have sweat glands only in their nose. On hot summer days they wallow in sludge to cool off their body. Water evaporates too fast; the sludge lets the excess heat vaporize for a significant longer period (Masson 2018). The on dried sludge layer also protects of sunburn, cleans their skin and protects them from mosquitoes and other parasites (Lytle & Meyer 2010). That is why pigs take a sludge bath much more often in summer. After the bath they scour of the dirt on bushes, trees and poles (Mecklenburg 2011).
Pigs have a very sensitive sense of smell, which is why they are used for the search for truffles since centuries. Already in the first world war pigs were used to search for buried mines (Burnie 2017). If they have space, they keep their sleeping corner clean and separate toilet and living area accurately.
The hearing ability of pigs is very well. Biologist already discovered twenty different kinds of oinks, which is the way pigs communicate with each other (Fuessler 2012).
Pigs can distinguish colours and have a life span of around twelve years (Masson 2018).
Pigs live in groups, a sow with her offspring and female relatives. Boars only join while breeding season. Pigs are the only ungulate which have more than two offspring (except the babirusa who tends to have twins). Piglets like to play; they hunt each other, fight and frolic around. They like to play with toys and like human children, they tend to have a short attention span. In warm summer nights pigs like to sleep snuggled up with each other and tend to sleep nose on nose. It is not scientifically clear why they are doing this, but pigs welcome each other nose to nose, so it seems to be a social gesture. They make choices of who they sleep next to and with who they spend their days. Kim Sturla, who works in a reserve in North California says, they show many social behaviours. They are often especially friendly to pigs they arrived with in the reserve. The piglets play with each other and show a lot of endurance with new arrived piglets. Especially for older pigs it can be harder to be accepted by the other grown up pigs.
Even that pigs are omnivores, they have preferences. If presented a mango and a broccoli, they choose the Mango. They prefer sweet fruits over vegetables. But if they had their favourite dish for a day, the next day they tend to pull it to the side if presented again and eat something else. This shows that they like variety. In nature pigs eat 90% vegetarian foods like fruits, roots and tubers. A study in Indonesia showed, that they eat more than 50 different varieties of food (Masson 2018).
Males use their fang for defence and to fight with other males about females or echelon. Pigs with long and small faces, little fangs and without humps, like the domestic pig and the feral pig, fight lateral (shoulder against shoulder) (Burnie 2017).
Pigs need around 13 to 16 hours sleep a day (Fuessler 2012) and have the ability to dream (Masson 2018). Like humans they have a longer sleeping period in once and shorter separated naps. Depending on climate and temperatures pigs are either day or night active non-human animals. Most species sleep on determined places in dense vegetation. The feral pig builds a nest and pads it with vegetation, other species sleep on the blank ground. There are also species who use the burrow of other non-human animals or they are building own burrows. The relatively high need to sleep comes from the high activity rate when pigs are awake. They are constantly moving and are using a lot of strength and endurance while they search for and intake of food. Even when they are full, they keep on looking for feeding points, places which are suitable for wallowing and protected resting places. Continuously they roam highly concentrated through their territory, orientating and recognizing every change. Like humans, pigs have a really curious character and want to examine their surroundings (Mecklenburg 2011).
Feral Pigs (Sus scrofa) and Domestic Pigs (Sus scrofa domestica)
The feral pig is the ancestor of the domestic pig. It is one of the widely spread land mammals. It lives in different habitats in Europe, Asia and North Africa. His head and snout are tapered forwards, so it is easier to butt through the undergrowth. It eats nearly everything, can run fast and swims very well (Lytle & Meyer 2010). Pigs are fast eaters. Domestic pigs eat 1 kg in around five minutes (Fuessler 2012). Males live alone, only while breeding season they live with a female and fight for a harem. Females take good care of their offspring and form groups of sometimes more than twenty non-human animals. The gestation period is 16 to 17 weeks (Lytle & Meyer 2010). Feral pigs get four to six offspring and the mothers do not often leave them for the first to two weeks (Burnie 2017). Domestic pigs get seven to twelve offspring, sometimes even up to 18. After birth the offspring is fed with milk (suckled) which is produced and dispensed by mammary glands (Mammae) (Lytle & Meyer 2010). The offspring hide in hollows of grass, leaves and moss. Step by step the mother starts to show them how to search for food. With seven month the offspring is independent (Burnie 2017).
Humans and Pigs
Pigs belong to the oldest domesticated animal species. In the east of Turkey, they were used for the production of flesh for 9.000 years before our calendar. In Europe while the roman empire, pig farming was already widely spread. 1958 the first domesticated pigs were brought to North America by Hernando de Soto, a Spanish colonizer. The annual pig meat consumption in Germany is 39 kg per head (Fuessler 2012). The in Vietnam breed species post-belly pig was first imported to Europe in 1958 and exhibited in the zoo of Berlin. This species stays relatively small and is outside of Asia not only a farm animal. Some people have them as companion animals (Lytle & Meyer 2010).
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