It's winter time on Soggy Bottom Holding's small-scale pig farm on the outskirts of Ngāruawāhia. While it's cold and wet outside, the sows and their piglets are happy being kept indoors for two months of the year.

Farmer, Jonathan Walker says there are usually two to six pigs in each 4x4m straw filled pen.

"They've got loads of space," he says. "They've got toys to play with like old tyres and stuff. When they're outside they've got paddocks to run around in and the hill, so get plenty of exercise. They have a pretty good life."

But most pigs in New Zealand lead a different life on large-scale commercial farms.

Animal rights lobby group Farmwatch has released new 360-degree virtual reality videos of sows and piglets in farrowing cages.


Their aim is to get consumer attention and give people a chance to see and experience what it might be like for the sows.

"The experience for these sows is really quite horrific, it's worse than you or I can imagine," says Farmwatch investigator John Darroch. "I go into these farms and I'm there for an hour or two tops, and I go in and I have nightmares about what I've seen. And these sows, they're living in these conditions day after day, week after week, unable to move."

Waikato pig farmers using farrowing crates who were approached for comment, all referred on to the New Zealand Pork Chairman, Ian Carter

"What worries us is that the consumers and New Zealand public aren't getting the correct information as to why the reason why farmers go out of their way to care for their animals and design systems to look after them," Mr Carter says.

Farrowing cages are used to stop the sow crushing her piglets by rolling on top of them. But Mr Darroch believes the cages are inhumane because the sow is trapped.

"There is a lot of research out there showing there are alternative systems which have similar or even lower mortality rates. Around a third of New Zealand pig farms don't use farrowing crates... so there are other systems out there where the sow can move around and interact with her young."

Ian Carter points to an independent review last year by the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) for MInistry Primary Industries (MPI), that stated:

"The Committee considers that the use of farrowing crates for the limited period of five days prior to farrowing and four weeks afterwards should be retained. Although NAWAC believes that the confining of sows in farrowing crates for this length of time does not provide for every behavioural need of sows, their use provides the best welfare outcome for the welfare needs of piglets and the best total welfare of piglets and sows, based on currently available farrowing practices and scientific knowledge and as appropriate to the environment and circumstances of the animals."


But Mr Darroch disagrees. "What NAWAC are saying is that there are no alternatives within the factory farming environment. What they are saying is that outside of the factory farming environment there are alternatives."

New Zealand Pork maintains that farrowing cages are like a hygienic hospital where sows and piglets can be kept in a safe, temperature controlled environment. Back at Mr Walker's small-scale pig farm, the sows are safe and warm, and they have extra space to make a nest in the sawdust.

Mr Walker estimates about 10 percent of the piglet litter are crushed. It's a price he is willing to pay.

"I'd rather none of them die obviously because the more pigs the better, but I accept it's part of the system, it would happen naturally, it's a natural phenomenon and I'm just allowing it to continue."

Mr Walker says his customers want a product which had a humane upbringing, and he says it tastes better.

"The question they ask, were the pigs happy? In other words, have they been kept in a system that allows them to exhibit their natural tendencies?"

Farrowing crates are banned in parts of Europe, Canada and some states of the US.

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