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A Pig's Life – A powerful series of photographs by Perttu Saksa

What is it like to live as a pig in Finland? Known for depicting the relationship between human and animal, photographer Perttu Saksa accepted Yle's challenge and created a series of photographs about the life of a pig. Saksa, recipient of the Fotofinlandia 2014 prize, was given a script detailing the important and problematic events in the pig's life. The script was then used as a basis for the photographs.

Sian elämä Perttu Saksan valokuvin.
Sian elämä Perttu Saksan valokuvin. 2.0

A birthing machine? The well-being of a sow and sow cages form one of the biggest problems in the pork industry. The gestation period of a sow takes about four months. Its movements are limited in the early stages of gestation to achieve a greater rate of successful pregnancies. In addition, the sow is kept in her cage during farrowing and the four week suckling period.

The sow gives birth to 2.2 farrows per year on average and one production cycle takes about five months. This means that the sow could end up spending over four months a year in a cage. In it, the sow can lie down or stand up. The cages evoke apathy and stress, and they don't allow for the natural nest-building needs of the sows.

The use of the cages is often justified by the fact that they prevent piglets from accidentally getting crushed under a sow. However, low death rates can be achieved in free farrowing and in group farrowing as well, as long as the pens are well-designed. The use of sow cages is prohibited in Swedish legislation outside the first days after farrowing.

Sian elämä Perttu Saksan valokuvin.
Sian elämä Perttu Saksan valokuvin. 2.0

Unnecessary suffering? The necessity and execution of at least two procedures that are part of pigs' lives are being questioned: hog castration and teeth grinding.

Male swines are castrated so that an unpleasant ”hog's smell” would not be emitted to the meat. The smell is noticeable when cooking the meat. If the hogs are not castrated, they can become aggressive and start serving young females or each other.

The castration is performed through an incision. Large Finnish meat producers require the farmer to use intravenous pain relief before the operation. Substitutes for surgical castration are being explored continuously, but they present their own problems. For example, anesthesia is a severe procedure for a young swine, and drugs aimed to athrophy the pig's testicles are not always effective.

Pigs can be castrated in Finland without pain relief or anesthesia until they are seven days old. European meat producers have committed to getting rid of surgical castration by 2018. Many countries already legislate that pigs cannot be castrated without pain relief.

Pigs' teeth have been ground or the canines clipped to avoid damage to the sow's teats. Grinding is however a difficult task: if the teeth are ground too much, the root canals are exposed.

However, sows that feed their piglets well keep the piglets satisfied and cause them not to harm themselves or the teats. Grinding the teeth is becoming an obsolete procedure in Finland – pig farms have deemed it unnecessary.

Sian elämä Perttu Saksan valokuvin.
Sian elämä Perttu Saksan valokuvin. sian elämä

Frustration? It is natural for a pig to dig around with its snout and explore its environment with its mouth: in its natural environment the pig spends several hours a day gathering food. In industrial environments it only takes about 10 minutes. One of the problems of piggeries is the lack of stimuli. The situation has greatly improved over the last couple of years, but there is still work to be done. The legal amount of stimuli is not achieved on a few percent of the pig farms.

Because the pen floors are mostly made of concrete, the pigs' innate need of grubbing the soil cannot be fulfilled. As they become frustrated and bored, pigs may develop a habit of biting each others’ tails. An infected tail causes pain and diseases. Sometimes biting is prevented by clipping off the tail of a pig. In Finland and in Sweden this practice is forbidden by law, unlike for example in Denmark. The ban is important because tail biting can easily tell an observer if the pigs are doing well. If the pig is provided with adequate room and stimuli, the tails are left alone.

Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira's guidelines require that pens contain a small amount of litter or other objects such as chains or other things for the pig to chew on. In addition it is required that if litter cannot be continuously provided, the pigs are given straws, newspapers or something similar at least twice a day.

Sian elämä Perttu Saksan valokuvin.
Sian elämä Perttu Saksan valokuvin. 2.0

Who gives way? Cramped production spaces cause problems for the well-being of pigs. A pig needs room to give way for a pig with a higher hierarchical position – if this room does not exist, fights can ensue. Moreover, the corridors and feeding places should contain adequate room so that even the more timid animals can move around. Smaller pigs are easily bullied. This is why pigs are sorted in pens containing other similar-sized animals.

The animal protection law requires 0,8 to 1 square meters of space for a 80 to 100 kilogram swine. This is too little for the well-being and health of the animal.

Sian elämä Perttu Saksan valokuvin.
Sian elämä Perttu Saksan valokuvin. 2.0

A mystical threat? The human way of life is totally different from a pig's world and needs. How does the swine experience the environment built for it by humans – and how does it see humans?

The dominance of humans on animals has even been compared to concentration camps. This comparison has later been criticized: Because an animal is not a part of the human world, its role in the production chain is even more horrific.

Sian elämä Perttu Saksan valokuvin.
Sian elämä Perttu Saksan valokuvin. 2.0

Diseases? The most common pigs' diseases that require medication are tail-biting, joint infections, diarrhea, and infections during farrowing, notably infections of uteri and teats. The most common medication given to pigs is antibiotics, usually penicillin given as an injection. Antibiotics, such as tetracycline, for diarrhea can be given among fodder.

The second most common medication is pain relief during castration, infections or farrowing. Sows can sometimes be given hormones to initiate farrowing.

Preventive or growth-inducing use of antibiotics on healthy animals is prohibited in Finland. The use of medication is regulated by a system in which the medication can be delivered to farms only by the orders of a veterinarian. By improving the pigs' living conditions, diseases and use of medication can be reduced.

Sian elämä Perttu Saksan valokuvin.
Sian elämä Perttu Saksan valokuvin. 2

The last journey. The moment when an animal steps in the truck delivering it to the slaughterhouse is often imagined as being horrendous with panic and screaming. In reality pig deliveries to the slaughterhouses usually go rather peacefully. Pigs get anxious when they are separated from their herd. That is why they are allowed to stay with the herd for most of the time. Pigs are transported to the slaughterhouse in trucks that can contain two or three levels on top of each other.

Sian elämä Perttu Saksan valokuvin.
Sian elämä Perttu Saksan valokuvin. sian elämä

To the sleep eternal. Once in the slaughterhouse, the pig walks into a corridor with the herd, leading it to the carbon dioxide stunning. Previously electricity was used in stunning, nowadays its use has diminished.

There is no certain information about how painful stunning is to animals, and new procedures are being developed continuously. Some estimates state that gas stunning can be more stressful to a pig than electrical stunning, because carbon dioxide may cause a feeling of panic. More recently argon has been tested as a substitute for carbon dioxide and results show that it causes less stress.

After stunning, the pig is suspended by its back leg and receives a lethal cut within 50 seconds, slitting its neck arteries.

Lastly
Many aspects of pigs' living conditions have improved over the last couple of years. Since 2011 the pig healthcare system, ”Sikava” has employed guidelines for responsible production. The parameters monitor disqualifications during meat inspections at the slaughterhouse and death rates. If the guidelines are broken, slaughterhouses intervene in the process. If the situation does not improve after a notice, slaughterhouses can stop purchasing pigs from the responsible producer.

Organic pork is not widely available in Finland, and meat producers are not very keen on developing organic production due to lack of consumer demand. Organic production demands large investments by the farmers and special concentration on animal feeding.
The farmers work in a difficult environment because of, for example, low producer meat prices. For the sake of animals and farmers, new gambits are needed in the political and social discussion.

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