Shocking farm footage shows piglets with tails cut off and mothers crammed into tiny cages

Footage shot on British factory farms that show piglets with tails cut off, mother pigs in metal cages the size of a fridge and chickens struggling to breathe highlights typical conditions in which meat animals are reared, say activists.

The World Animal Protection organisation says the photos and video “expose the myth” of the UK’s world-leading animal-welfare standards. It is calling on the government to ban new factory farms and prevent them from expanding.

Investigators visited two UK pig factory farms housing both farrowing – breeding – pigs and those for slaughter.

They said they saw pigs destined for meat crammed into pens covered in dried excrement with liquid slurry on the floor.

Breeding pigs were confined to tiny metal cages, and dead piglets, discarded tails and afterbirth were strewn across the floor, the investigators reported.

Enrichment – objects designed to fend off boredom – was described as “suboptimal”, consisting of a small piece of wood or plastic on a chain. Footage also showed pigs with hernias or growths.

World Animal Protection said the conditions were legal and commonplace on UK factory farms.

An estimated 73 per cent of UK-farmed animals are kept in industrial-style farms.

Farrowing crates, metal barred cages, severely restrict a sow’s movement, stopping her stretching or turning round, and frustrate her instinct to build a nest before giving birth.

Mother pigs are kept in them for up to eight weeks. Piglets’ tails are cut off in crowded conditions to prevent the young biting each others’ tails.

Pigs in farrowing crates (World Animal Protection/Tracks Investigations)
Pigs in farrowing crates (World Animal Protection/Tracks Investigations)

At a typical broiler factory farm, where chickens are raised for meat in sheds housing up to 41,000 birds, investigators said they saw fast-growing-breed chickens – standard ones sold in most supermarkets - in filthy, cramped conditions.

Many birds struggled to breathe, stand or walk, and had bald patches and filthy feathers.

“Unable to sustain their rapid growth rate, their legs collapse under them, and feathers are lost due to stress, overcrowding and prolonged sitting and standing in waste-saturated litter,” said a spokesman for the organisation.

“Vital organs too small to keep up with rapidly growing muscle mass, lead to difficulty breathing, and sometimes even heart failure and sudden death.

A blackened dead chicken carcass (World Animal Protection/Tracks Investigations)
A blackened dead chicken carcass (World Animal Protection/Tracks Investigations)

“These conditions and the use of fast-growing breeds are legal and commonplace in the UK with an estimated 95 per cent of UK broilers bred in this way.”

One of the undercover investigators said: “The shocking conditions we witnessed are legal – that’s what makes it hard to document – knowing nothing you can do can help the individual pigs and chickens that you have filmed.

“It’s the same in every factory farm I have been into in the last 15 years. Hour after hour, day after day, the suffering continues.”

Industrial farms have been blamed for polluting local environments and contributing to biodiversity loss.

A spokesperson for the National Pig Association, representing pig farmers, said: “We do not recognise the term ‘factory farm’, and are proud of our animal welfare and environmental standards, especially considering the extremely challenging circumstances pig farmers have been subjected to over the past two years.

“Our ambition as a sector is to provide safe, nutritious food which is affordable and accessible to everyone, produced to the highest standards possible.”

An NFU spokesperson said: “British farming aims to consistently deliver world-leading, high welfare standards. These standards have been recognised by the World Organisation for Animal Health as exceeding the 12 set legal codes and specifications.

“More than 95 per cent of UK pig and poultry farms are assured by Red Tractor, which means they are independently inspected.

“British farmers work hard to uphold high standards while at the same time producing affordable and sustainable food.”