Stages of pork production

Every day, Australian pig farmers raise and produce some of the finest pork on the planet. We’re proud of what we do and the animals we raise.

From piggery to plate, we care deeply for our animals and the lives they lead while in our care. Learn more about the different stages of Australian pork production.

Mating and pregnancy

Mating and pregnancy are the first steps of the pork production cycle.

They follow a general pattern starting with the female pig (known as either a gilt – a female that has never had a litter of piglets, or a sow – a female that has had at least one litter of piglets):

  1. Female pig: a healthy sow cycles (is ready to be mated) every 21 days (if she is not pregnant or lactating)
  2. Mating: gilts or sows are introduced to boars to check them for signs of heat. They can be mated naturally with a boar, or more commonly, by artificial insemination
  3. Gestation: during pregnancy, most sows stay in pens or paddocks (depending on the type of farm) with other sows. They will remain here for most of their pregnancy (approximately 116 days)

During this time, pig farmers carefully manage their pregnant sows. They provide them with an environment that helps to prevent bullying and fighting between sows, whilst ensuring all the needs of the sows are met.

Birth

A week before giving birth, pregnant sows are moved into the farrowing sheds or paddocks where they will give birth. When it comes to giving birth:

  • Housing can include the use of farrowing crates. These ensure individual care for the sow and her piglets during and after the birthing process, and protect the piglets from being accidentally crushed by the much larger sow
  • Most sows give birth naturally, only requiring intervention if complications arise
  • Newborn piglets are carefully attended to following birth to ensure their survival and growth
  • Sows remain in the farrowing area, nursing their piglets for about 3–5 weeks until the piglets are weaned
Weaning to market

When piglets are 3-5 weeks old, it’s time for weaning. This means they are removed from their mothers.

Weaner stage:

  • Is when growing pigs join the other piglets for the first time in separate housing from the sows. As such, they no longer have access to milk and are given a weaner diet
  • Pigs will remain in the weaner shed until they are approximately 9-10 weeks of age

Grower stage:

  • At approximately 9-10 weeks of age, pigs will move to what is known as the grower stage
  • During this phase they may be moved to another shed or regrouped so as to meet their spacing requirements as they grow
  • They are fed a diet specifically formulated for the growing stage of their life cycle

Finisher stage:

  • At approximately 16 weeks of age pigs will move to what is known as the finisher stage
  • During this phase they may again be moved to another shed or regrouped so as to meet their spacing requirements as they continue to grow
  • They are fed a diet specifically formulated for the finisher stage of their life cycle

Once slaughter weight is achieved, the pigs are transported for slaughter. This is typically at around 5 to 6 months of age.

The pigs are calmly moved in small groups through the receiving and holding yards towards the slaughter process.

Approximately 85% of pigs are stunned with carbon dioxide (CO2) gas while the remainder receive electrical stunning. The pigs are checked for unconsciousness before being exsanguinated (bled out).

The pigs are then processed to the highest Australian food safety standards, providing Australian customers with some of the best pork in the world.

Transporting pigs to the abattoir

Once market weight is achieved, the pigs are transported to the abattoir. This is typically at around 5 to 6 months of age.

It is important to keep pigs calm along their journey. Producers transport pigs with a lot of care and extra consideration. This includes:

Ensuring pigs are “fit to load” before being removed from their pen or paddock and walked onto the truck or trailer.

  • This means that only pigs which are healthy and uninjured are loaded for transport to market

Co-ordinating animal truck movements with transporters and farmers to avoid extreme temperatures and weather conditions. It is important to keep pigs cool during transportation. This is done by:

  • Providing shade - trucks provide shade using tarpaulins or shade cloth
  • Misters - some trucks have spray misters to keep the pigs cool in hot weather
  • Increasing wind movement - pigs naturally pant (like dogs) to lose heat and are cooled by the wind
  • Reducing the number of pigs loaded also keeps pigs cool and allows more air movement between them
  • Having the appropriate PigPass documents and identification to ensure the pig movement can be traced
At the abattoir

Pigs are processed to the highest Australian food safety standards. These standards ensure Aussie pigs provide customers with some of the best pork in the world.

At the abattoir, pigs are unloaded from the trucks on arrival and walk down ramps into pens. This area where the live animals are received is called “lairage”.

Lairage

In lairage, pigs are allowed time to relax and rest. They stay within their farm groups for traceability. Here, pigs have access to plenty of:

  • Water
  • Shade
  • Sprinklers on hot days

Good lairage practice is to move pigs off trucks and into pens with the minimum of noise and without sticks and electric goads.

Pigs generally settle quickly and stay rested until they are processed between two and 24 hours after arrival. If they remain longer than 24 hours, they are provided with food.

Stunning

There are two ways that pigs lose consciousness at Australian abattoirs:

  • About 85% of pigs in Australia are stunned with carbon dioxide (CO2) gas
  • About 15% receive electrical stunning

Pigs are checked for complete unconsciousness before being slaughtered quickly and painlessly with a sharp knife.

While pigs are unconscious, they do not feel pain. They are then bled out, dying humanely without regaining consciousness.

Types of abattoirs for pigs

There are around 75 abattoirs that process pigs in Australia.

Export abattoirs:

  • Must be accredited by leading Australian agricultural auditors AUS-MEAT
  • Process pigs for international and domestic markets
  • There are 7 export abattoirs in Australia. Around 85% of Australian pigs are processed in these
  • All export accredited pig abattoirs use CO2 stunning systems

Domestic abattoirs:

  • Smaller abattoirs process pigs for domestic markets only
  • 15% of Australian pigs are processed here