The Incredible, Amazing True Journey of a Pig Named Julia (Video)

While coming home on a plane from California, between flights, I received a call from our placement coordinator about a pig at a factory farm who was being removed from the facility after an audio tape was made of her being beaten.


In reality, though Julia was two years old at the time, this is when her life began.

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The outside of the barn where Julia lived prior to her rescue.

Julia is a typical gestation sow, and her story is no different from that of millions of pigs; it just had a very different ending. The tape was too painful to listen to all the way through, and if taken out of context, if you did not know that Julia was a pig, you would have thought that a woman was being attacked and beaten by a group of men.

She was called crass and horrific names, she screamed when hit, each hit was heard, and she was burned with an electric prod.

All of this was done not because she had attacked her human captors, but because she had refused to move from a gestation crate to the farrowing room—a room she had been in before, and the room where she would give birth and then, 15 days later, have her babies taken away.

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This is the crate where Julia lived—now empty as she waited for us to get her out of the farrowing crate and to her new home.

Gestation sows spend their lives in gestation crates—where they cannot turn around and can only stand up and lie down. They remain there for years, with a break in between during the birthing process. This break is being moved from the gestation crate to the farrowing crate—which allows the mother to lie down and enables her then to nurse. (Learn more about the pig industry here.)

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This is a very stressed-out mother in a farrowing crate right across from Julia.

Once the babies are between 12 and 30 days old, depending on the farm, the mother is moved from the farrowing house and returned to a gestation crate, where she is then artificially inseminated again. In 114 days, another litter will arrive and the process starts over. This lasts for two to three years—again, depending on the farm. Gestation sows are inseminated 3 times a year and give birth to two litters per year, some up to 20 or more babies. All the sows in these facilities are inseminated around the same time so if someone has too many babies the babies can easily be moved to a pig who only has a few live births.

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This was Julia the first time I saw her: frightened and in shock.

According to the farmer this was Julia’s third litter time in the farrowing room. Knowing her now, I can see why the thought of going there was so frightening.

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A very terrified Julia leaving the farm and getting into our trailer to start her new life.

Once in the trailer, Julia collapsed in exhaustion; we were terrified she would overheat on the ride to Cornell. She was so afraid and so beaten down, and her body was going into shock. Thankfully, farm assistant Sarah stayed with her during the ride and kept her cool with alcohol- and water-soaked towels and calmed her down.

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Once in the trailer we also saw the damage that had been done to her physically. When we’d arrived at the factory farm where she was being kept, she was on her side, and the bars of the farrowing crate didn’t allow us to completely see how extensive her wounds actually were. Red lines and holes in her skin where the electric prod was used to move her covered her head, back, and ears, and her body was bruised from her belly up her side.

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Getting water from Sarah, by hand at first. Julia was used to using a nipple drinker, so at first she did not understand how to drink from the bowl.

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Keeping cool with the towels and water on the 90-minute drive, Julia was finally able to stand when we arrived at Cornell. 

After an overnight stay at Cornell to do blood work, get fluids, check her vitals, and make sure she was not in need of any other emergency care, we made the decision to bring Julia home and put her in a pen where she could feel safe and not have the stress of a hospital.

The very next morning we brought Julia home to start her new life over.

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And then things got a little crazy.

Julia arrived home around 10am the day after her rescue. Our co-founder and president Gene Baur was visiting the farm, and outside the hospital, I told him about Julia and what she had been through. Gene wanted to see her, so he went into the hospital pen; when he came out, he said, “How sad—but her baby is really cute.” 

According to the farmer (yes, that farmer who did this), Julia was due on the 4th of July, and it was June 30. Pigs gestate like clockwork—114 days—so she was early, and that meant premature babies.

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First there was Bertha and then there was Diane, and then there was Seth, and then Linus, and then…

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Then there was Christopher and Betty and Ben. Finally, at the end of the night, 16 tiny babies had been born, all below the lowest normal body weight, but healthy. Sadly, Julia was not healthy, and she required fluids during the process and had to be kept cool (since her babies needed to be kept warm).

Complicating matters, she had mastitis, leaving her only seven functioning nipples to feed 16 hungry babies. This meant numbering the babies with colored animal markers to ensure each one got enough of the vital colostrum needed to keep them healthy and happy.

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For the next 36 hours we had to help the weakest piglets nurse and ensure that everyone got the milk they needed. As they grew, it became clear Julia could not handle all 16, so the strongest piglets were removed from their mother to be fed on their own at just a few days of age.

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To keep the babies from wanting to go back to mom and vice versa, we took Julia and the littlest babies to our rescue barn and fed the others on cookie sheets full of milk; it took about 24 hours to teach them how to eat this way.

Still numbered and weighed daily, this process went on for weeks until finally everyone was okay.

Mom and babies thrived and loved every second of their lives. Her other babies did fine as well. As you can see in Julia’s eyes, there was a massive change. She was happy and no longer afraid.

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Speedy Seth, like the other piglets, were nonstop energy and pure happiness, having never known a single day of fear.

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Wet sloppy kisses for Betsy, ending with a big blob of spit foam on the head.

For the first month she was at our rescue barn, we noticed Julia did not go anywhere near the mud puddle, though it was super hot and she was getting a bit of sunburn (even with sunscreen). She was pristine, which is not a piggy way to be in the summer.

But soon it became clear that the mud was too deep for the tiny babies. When they were just big enough, our girl made her move—straight into the mud with the whole crew right behind her.

Although this was definitely her first mud bath, she knew just what to do and taught her piglets to do likewise. From clean piglets to mud-covered in a matter of minutes—and ever since that day, really.

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Day one in the mud! Worth the wait.

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Getting to know each other: The bond between Julia and her humans grows stronger every day.

Although Julia loves people, she is still far more wary than most of our other pigs and she is very frightened of the big pigs in the barn. We tried a few times to put her with friends her own age (with her babies) and she was terrified. Pigs have a very strict hierarchy and when introduced will fight to establish their place in the herd.

Julia is clearly not a fighter, so she never has to join the larger group. She's gone through enough already. So she lives in a private area with her family, stress free.

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A favorite picture, because she is adorable and also so clearly happy.

Now her babies are bigger than she is, but she is still mom. They rely on her completely and sleep against her as tightly as possible every night. She is also still in charge, which is the way it works in pig land.

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Picture of Julia and Linus as he grows—and he is still growing. Pigs are not full-sized until they are around three years old.

Two winters ago, Julia went into shock again. Her gums were white, and she was shivering. There was an ice storm and no way to safely get her to Cornell, so overnight we kept her warm, bringing a steady stream of blankets from the dryer to replace ones that had gotten cold, and started her on fluids.

The next morning when the roads were cleared, we took her to Cornell, where it was discovered that her spleen had ruptured and she was bleeding internally. Spleen successfully removed, she was home again, and within six weeks she was back to her old self. This winter, she experienced another close call with fusing of the intestines (likely damaged during the first surgery), but again surgery saved her.

Her body took some serious hits on that industrial farm, but now she has a reason to live, and live she does.

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The family all grown up. Even Diane is taller than her tiny mom and Linus, pictured back behind his family, is the tallest of all. They are all so happy to be together. 

When Julia is away, her piglets are frantic. Each of the surgeries listed above required a six-week recovery time with limited activity. During these recovery periods, Julia lived temporarily in a pen beside her children, who insisted on snuggling right by the gate so they could touch each other at night. They are family, and they want to stay together.

This video show the reuniting of her family after Julia's last six weeks inside:

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I wonder if, before her rescue, Julia ever dreamed of running, of touching her babies, of the sun she was only able to see through the small clouded panels of her barn. And today, does she dream of the pigs who lived beside her who could not come with her; of her littermates? We hope she only has good dreams of running through the grass, digging in the soil and sleeping tightly against her piglets. She is living the Farm Sanctuary life—a life every animal deserves.

Pigs and all farm animals living in industrialized farms are only there because there is a demand for cheap meat, eggs and milk. Only humans can change this by the decisions we make every day. Julia represents those left behind, and we hope her story opens the hearts and minds of all who read it.

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Please share Julia’s story. Together, we can encourage awareness and understanding that every farm animal is someone, not something. With your support we can continue to promote compassionate living through rescue, education and advocacy efforts. A compassionate world begins with you.

Watch this video showing Julia's transformation from living in an abusive factory farm to living the dream at Farm Sanctuary with her family:

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