Animal Rights

Here's What Happened When I Tried to Rescue Piglets From a Factory Farm

One piglet is now safe at a sanctuary, but we had to leave the rest behind in pig purgatory.

Photo Credit: apidach/Shutterstock

For a city girl, I've had a lot of experience with pigs. I've visited with them in sanctuaries, given belly rubs (they love those), introduced little children to them, rescued and cared for young piglets, witnessed distressed, overheated, freezing, and/or thirsty young pigs in slaughter trucks, and experienced the hellish conditions inside a pig breeding and pig growing facility.

Reading about the injustices meted out to food animals turned me into a vegan and then an animal rights activist. This was the 1990s, before I’d even met any farmed animals.

So what's the truth about how pigs live on farms?

The industry provides an adorable illustration of "This Little Piggy" in a sweet-looking children’s booklet, "Pig Tales Fun Book." It shows piglets suckling from their mama on the grass, a vet on hand, kids playing among the pigs. The pigs are enjoying their freedom in an idyllic setting. It's an artistic rendering that the kids can color. What fun.

The reality, however, is quite different. This is from my direct experience, in Canada, a developed country.

From the outside, there are neat buildings, a clean white shed, surrounded by pristine fields. Workers park their cars and leave civilization to enter a secret world of suffering and injustice to their charges—hundreds, perhaps thousands of pigs. Their offices and kitchen area look like any workplace. Open the door to the pigs’ area and your senses and emotions are assaulted.

Pigs have sensitive noses. Their cousin, the truffle hog, is prized for sniffing out precious truffles. But pigs enduring life inside an industrial farm are in absolute purgatory. Shine a flashlight into the air and it's thick with particles. I wore silver jewelry and it was tarnished just from being exposed for a few hours. The cacophony of hundreds of pigs in distress, some screaming to escape, is deafening, as are the sounds of machinery—automatic feeders, automatic air extraction. Working in this environment must be awful for the humans, too. Who would be able to take pride in work that involves brutality, suffering and dangerous conditions? Dusty cobwebs hang from the electrical fittings, a desk fan is strung up in the corridor pointed at more electrics. The building is a fire hazard.

One could argue that the female pigs kept for breeding have it the worst. They languish in either a cramped gestation or farrowing crate, where they can't turn around. They urinate and defecate in the crate, and as they have to stand in their feces, it gradually falls below the slatted floor to a big pit. They give birth on these cold hard floors, not able to nuzzle their young or create a nest as they do in the wild. If they suffer injuries, there's no vet on hand. I witnessed one pregnant pig with a huge prolapse. She was being kept in a cold room, her chart marking her due date. Females like her forced to reproduce until their piglet production declines, and then they are brutally loaded and shipped off to slaughter.

Male pigs are mostly slaughtered young, at barely 6 months old. Some males, however, are kept for breeding and used to supply semen. I witnessed large boars confined in a small cold room, in similar cages to those of the females. They were trying but failing to escape the confines of their cages. The look of desperation in their eyes is something I will never forget. Syringes were nearby. 

The baby piglets seem oblivious to their fate. They struggle to reach their mother’s red, often sore, nipples. Some are obviously suffering, thin and struggling to survive. I tried to save one piglet who was shivering on the bare, cold floor. She died in my arms.

Piglets who don't thrive are swung by their feet until their heads are bashed on the concrete floor—and yes, this is standard industry practice. They endure 'modifications' such as having their tails snipped off, their testicles removed and even their teeth ripped out without any painkillers. Witnessing these atrocities, and knowing that pigs are intelligent, feeling animals breaks my heart. Locking eyes with adult pigs who are in a constant state of anxiety and distress is soul-destroying.

Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) activists have managed to rescue some individuals. We took one lucky piglet, Noel, out of a hellish place in Ontario, Canada. He had a swollen ear and needed urgent veterinary treatment. He's now safe at a sanctuary, but we had to leave behind so many others.

The public is beginning to understand what happens to animals used for food. So-called humane slaughter methods have come under scrutiny. A court in Canada recently viewed footage of the gas chambers in a pig slaughterhouse. The pigs descending into the gas were seen screaming and struggling for air. 

Please share this video and help the public see the truth.

 

 

Jenny McQueen is an organizer and investigator with Direct Action Everywhere in Toronto, Ontario.

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