So, for those committed to knowing where their food comes from, for those who want an authentic "farm to fork" experience, it's critical to understand exactly how the reality of life on a small pig farm can quickly run counter to the virtuous qualities we've naively entrusted it to embody.
It's often noted that pigs raised on pasture don't have their tails docked. This cruel practice pricked the conscience of Michael Pollan when he was researching "The Omnivore's Dilemma." Visiting a free-range farm where pigs were comfortably cavorting as pigs, Pollan admitted that he "couldn't look at their tails (which were intact) . . . without thinking about the fate of pigtails in industrial hog production." Nice sentiment. But Pollan failed to note something critical: on the free-range farms he so admired, a more consequential form of mutilation is commonplace. Pigs are affixed with septum rings.
The reason for ringing a pig's nose is simple enough. Left to their own devices, pigs will shred the landscape. In Animal Husbandry Regained (2013), John F. Webster explained that "There is no doubt that sows . . . will reduce any pasture to the status of a badly ploughed field." As a result, farmers who talk a big game about allowing pigs to be pigs interrupt the free-range fantasy with septum rings. The welfare implications of this procedure shouldn't be downplayed. Not only does nose ringing cause temporary pain; it condemns the pig to a lifetime of severe discomfort. Whenever she roots, which is constantly, her nose gets hit with a sharp sting. One farmer, writing on the Free Range Pork Farmer's Association website, explained that, "a farmer will put (pierce) their snout with a copper ring . . . right in the tender end of their nose, so when they are tempted to root, they bump that ring- causing shooting pain." Webster notes how "denial of foraging behavior is profoundly frustrating" for pigs. At least tail docking on factory farms only causes temporary pain.