Jan.01.13: Week 3 Internship at Farm Sanctuary, Acton CA – Time to Meet the Pigs!

Jan.01.13:  More animal tales from Farm Sanctuary’s Animal Acres in Acton, CA…

Postscript on cows: I recently learned about “269” tattoos.  I had no idea a worldwide movement to confront slaughter exists. Animal activists who are unaware of the practice are encouraged to reference www.269life.com. Apparently November 1st is now both Global Vegan Day and World 269 Day. It was most heartening to learn of this group, and get a measure of the heavy lifting they are doing in animal activism.  Note to readers: content can be disturbing, depending on your level of awareness…

TIME TO MEET THE PIGS! We all think we know how intelligent pigs are. After all we’ve heard it, we’ve read it, it’s a cultural norm.  But to witness it is another story. Pigs are as astute as dogs with regards to time and daily routines.  When it comes feeding time, it’s as if they are all wearing invisible wrist-watches: they gather at their fence screaming for you to get on it already!  Twice a day you’d see the caretakers at the farm running the gauntlet through the gate, across the yard, from one trough to another to another to another, quick as they can with a huge bowl of feed. They’d drop a scoopful into a trough and race to the next – but it was the speed at which they ran – they had to! The pigs race with or behind the caregivers, and race against each other, around and around and around until they all settled on a trough and everyone is assured that no one is getting any more, or better, than anyone else! Whew. They are really intense about feeding.  Thankfully I never had to actually feed them, I’d have been quite afraid.

Good news: of all the animals, the pigs kept their barns the most consistently clean. Questionable news:  they regularly drink each other’s pee. Note to self, ask a veterinarian about the merits of that particular behaviour!

Pigs form strong bonds with each other and can also exhibit intense dislikes of other pigs: they are selective, hierarchical and vehement about it!   They recognize and acknowledge illness/otherness, check on each other during the day, regularly visit one another and other pig friends who may be sequestered for medical or behavioural reasons. They bed down together in small packs glued to each other, day and night alike. Pigs know fear, and experience it just as  greatly as humans.  I saw no difference between the anxiety a human can experience and witnessing the anxiety a pig can experience. When threatened, they absolutely stand up for themselves and each other, and express themselves quite capably. They fight hard. They’re not taking any shit, that’s for sure.  It’s really too sad that factory farmed pigs have to take so much. Learned-helplessness, especially when brutally forced on you, is not a nice place to be. If pigs are as definitive in thought and intent as they are in their day to day interaction, it’s more than a crying shame that they are forced to live on factory farms and in gestation crates, at the mercy of not-so-evolved humans.

Because they’re so intelligent, they can be quite industrious! They make exquisite beds in their barns. I know, because I picked more than one of those beds and they’re really mashed!  Essentially the pigs work and work and work on the straw, chewing it, moving it, packing it down and all around their bodies, resulting in perfect imprints of a full-bodied 800 lb pig in the straw. You have to see it to believe it. Sadly, I never got the photo I wanted of their handiwork on the beds. I really liked the environment they all shared. The terrain they occupy is on a central part of the farm, where there’s always human/animal activity, and their yard has small hills and dales to climb, the ability to check on other animals, and a pond to bathe in. There was some talk of getting them safe toys to play with.

What’s that? Can I have it?  Can I eat it? When awake, pigs like to play – they clearly need mental stimulation and/or “industry” as all animals do, humans included. On the farm, when cleaning animal waters in the morning, interns are encouraged to let the water run and let the main trough and pond fill themselves while you carry on and clean the small troughs in the barns. I soon came to realize that if you stayed at the main trough and filled it, the pigs would come over one after the other for a drink from the hose!  From there on in, no one would deny them their fun at the fountain each day.  Really, such a tiny gesture to allow another measure of quality of life into their days.  They also like to grab a bucket and kick it around, stomp on it, push it, argue over domination of it, toss it, squat on it, crumple it. All this while clocking about 18 hours of sleep each day, preferably in the sun.  This is Sophie drinking from the hose (you should see her smile, it’s just beautiful – she always greets you with a smile), and the main clan having a siesta together.

It was a delight meeting Alicia, a Yorkshire Cross who arrived in August, 2008 along with several others.  She was used as a “farm model”/educational tool for farming communities to help (farm) children learn about livestock. Once done their service as would-be “ambassadors” (“?!”)  in their farming communities, they are sent to auction and inevitably to slaughter.

Jimmy the Snout, arrived with a congenital defect: a deformed nose.  There were a lot of stories surrounding Jimmy’s arrival at the farm, but the short of it is that a homeless man owned him and couldn’t take care of him anymore at the junk yard where they were living. The man was afraid of Jimmy, and surrendered him. (Good thinking!) This is Jimmy. He’s very bonded with Christina – seeks her out all the time…

Jumper, a Yorkshire arrived in March 2009, at just few weeks old. She came directly from a breeding facility. She was a runt.  Whenever runts are born they usually don’t survive: they aren’t expected to grow and thrive, so they are often violently killed. Jumper was a really tiny pig that one of the employees at the breeding facility felt sorry for, and smuggled to safety. Jumper is blind. A nice, intelligent, curious girl, with strong boundaries.

Jorja, a female Yorkshire Cheshire pig, was found in a central California stockyard in October 2005 by a truly courageous rescuer, who would frequently go out and grab animals at auction or slaughterhouses that were sick, or dying.  Apparently Jorja was badly beat up – there is some speculation as to whether the beating came from a human child or another pig.  She was unable to stand. Photos showed she was in heavy shock, extremely battered, bruised, and scarred and bloodied on arrival. Today, Jorja is a huge, engaged, happy pig living a decent life, on her terms.

Christina came from a college where she was used as a model to show children how pig products were used, in this case for, of all things, pizza products. NTD: you can’t make this stuff up! Christina is unpredictable, moody, and does not suffer fools.  Interestingly I was there one day witnessing her allowing a perfect stranger, a human fellow, to help her. This person is the strongest (both physically and mentally) person I’ve ever met – amazing individual whose mission is to just put his shoulder to it and save animals.  His compassion, calmness and strength were very clearly well-received by Christina, as these attributes were by all the animals he worked with. Thanks to this rescuer, one of my 2013 goals is to be able to clear a four-foot fence using just my hands, just like he can! Caboose and Macy are part of this pig clan too – I never got to know much about either of them, but I remember making a mental note of how Macy handled herself. She had a nice way about her – she got along with all pigs in the clan, all humans on the farm.  This is Macy, getting a drink from Mari, an excellent, hard-working intern from Texas.

In speaking with the caregivers and administration folk at the farm, I found it really heartening to learn of so many more humans helping so many more animals, worldwide.  Obviously rescuers can only get to a small percentage of those in need – usually each individual animal is sorely in need by the time rescue is involved.  I derived a lot of strength from seeing the actions and knowing the numbers of people saving them. Almost always the rescue was without question – rescuers and activists just get in there and save them, no matter the cost, no matter the amount of complexity, nor the risk.  Beautiful, brave, committed human souls saving beautiful, broken, distressed animals – all over the world!

BTW, please be warned about current “trend” for purchasing micro-pigs as pets. “Micro-pig” is a misnomer, as well as a completely unnecessary ordeal for the rescue community to clean up behind:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmNR7giTLGI.

The last lady whose story I want to share is Sabrina’s, a beautiful organge-ish coloured pig. Sabrina was taken from a backyard butcher. This man had a “pigs for sale” sign on the highway, and he would slaughter and sell pigs to anyone who wanted one on the spot. Sabrina arrived at Farm Sanctuary with a recent batch of young – eleven piglets at the time, four of which didn’t make it. She had been used as a breeder for this backyard butcher.  Because this was the first batch of piglets she was allowed to keep, she was extremely protective of them, and initially quite aggressive. Sadly, Sabrina probably witnessed or heard her first few batches of piglets being killed on the property she came from – there’s no way a mother would not recognize her child’s cry and vice versa.  Happily, she is safe today at Farm Sanctuary’s Animal Acres, fulfilling her role as matriarch of her family, with seven of her only living children, “the dwarfs” … Doc, Happy, Dopey, Grumpy, Sleepy, etc. I have lots of video of Sabrina and her family, but haven’t yet mastered capturing stills from video…

While advocates, rescuers and activists continue to fight to abolish the use of ultra-cruel gestation crates, and world-wide activists are actively work on exposing the horrific realities of factory farming, we still need regular citizens to understand the plight of all pigs born for human consumption. The meat pigs that go to slaughter (7,000 a day in Toronto – you know, those eyes peeking out of the truck at you at the CNE gates), are usually only six months to a year old.  Gestation pigs are only allowed the 3-5 years that they will produce viable offspring. They shit all over each other in these trucks and experience extreme distress from hot and cold weather, and traffic effects, along with their individual fears and the generalized anxiety of the entire group being transported.

A compassionate world begins with you and me: no matter how small the reduction, if we take one tiny step, any step, towards reducing our consumption of meat and dairy products, it helps enormously. Every individual who chooses not to eat meat literally saves 31 animals a year. If we reduce meat consumption by a simple half, we save 14-15 animals per year.  Imagine if everyone did that.  This human remains hopeful. If you’re not ready for dietary changes, but still want to do something/lend your voice, there are a few new groups to join: Mercy for Animals (Canada), Toronto Pig Save and  Toronto Cow Save amongst other established rescue groups, and small Canadian sanctuaries for farm animals.

Email c4p@mediaintelligence.ca or skype nadonc4pmi,  if you would like to chat about any area of interest you have in animal advocacy.

Here’s hoping 2013 is the year that consciousness and compassion for animals get some real traction.