As a graduate trainee in the Agriculture team at Sainsbury's, my role is hugely varied and I am out and about doing something different most weeks. I've spent much of my time out and about with different suppliers who are based all over the country. I’ve experienced everything from free range egg production in Cumbria to hill sheep farming in Wales, as well as learning about ground-breaking agricultural research that is taking place all over the country. I'm currently spending time in our pork supply chain, learning about the farming system and the research Sainsbury's is doing in this area.
The system starts when female pigs - known as gilts at their first pregnancy and sows at subsequent pregnancies - are served and become pregnant. In modern commercial farming systems this is usually done artificially, rather than by a boar, to allow careful genetic selection and maximisation of efficiency on-farm. Once pregnant, the pigs are kept in small groups throughout their gestation period, with feed and water intake and animal welfare carefully monitored by the farmer.
When they are ready to give birth, the sows are moved into individual pens and then remain with their piglets until they are ready for weaning, which is usually at around 4 weeks of age. At this point, the sows return to group sow housing and the weaned piglets are moved into larger groups of similar-sized pigs to develop and grow together. The piglets are then introduced to solid feed and kept in carefully designed weaning environments. Once the piglets outgrow this weaning accommodation, they are moved in the same groups to finishing accommodation where they grow and develop up to their desired final weight.
There are so many different systems used in our pork supply chain - indoor, outdoor, straw-bedded, slatted, separate breeding and growing - that research can often end up being very specific! However, we're involved in many various projects that could have big effects across our whole pork supply chain.
This research focuses on new ways of improving welfare throughout all the different parts of the system. However, in addition to our research, our farmers also monitor the welfare of their pigs and work to maintain a high standard of welfare on-farm. Lameness and any injuries are quickly found and treated, and each farmer is visited regularly by their vet. The pigs' environment is also enriched to make sure they are kept entertained, farmers provide chains, rubber toys and even footballs for the pigs to play with! No pigs are tethered in our farming systems, and they are only kept confined for a short period during farrowing if required.
Welfare also continues off the farm; our pigs are transported by fully trained drivers to abattoirs which are independently assessed for welfare. All of Sainsbury's pigs – like all of our other meat animals – are stunned prior to slaughter so the animal can’t feel pain. We never use suppliers which slaughter animals without stunning, and all of our abattoirs are fitted with round-the-clock CCTV to help maintain the on-going high levels of welfare.
We prioritise the welfare of all the animals which go into making our products, but also offer a great range of higher welfare options too. This includes our So Organic pork which is fed a special organic diet, and Taste The Difference pork which is RSPCA Assured and comes from farms that are independently assessed to the RSPCA's own welfare standards. RSPCA Assured pork does not come from farms which use farrowing crates, and the farms are assessed every year to make sure that the increased space allowance, health and dietary checks, bedding provision and environmental enrichments laid out in the welfare standards are being upheld.
Sainsbury's is proud to be the UK's biggest RSPCA Assured seller, and over 50% of all RSPCA Assured sales are from our shelves.
For more information about RSPCA Assured pork, click here https://www.rspcaassured.org.uk/farm-animal-welfare/pigs/ or watch the video below:
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