“Why did you do this for me? I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.”
These were the words of Babe the pig in E.B. White’s celebrated children’s novel, Charlotte’s Web.
Charlotte, the barn spider who made it her mission to save Babe from certain death replied, “You have been my friend…that in itself it a tremendous thing.”
There was no Charlotte involved in Babe’s journey to Asher’s Farm Sanctuary, but there was most certainly a web of people who made sure that this little piggy, like Babe in the book, was not going to be sent to market.
Babe either fell or jumped off of a truck in KwaZulu-Natal. At Asher’s Farm sanctuary, they like to believe that she jumped. It is presumed that she was on her way to an auction when she decided that there was far more to her life than the one for which she was destined. An activist was driving behind the truck when it all happened, and he stopped his car in the middle of the highway and gave chase on foot. Babe was terrified and running all over the place, narrowly missing being hit by other vehicles that were on the road at the time. He doesn’t know where he found the strength to catch her, but he did, and he quickly placed her in the back of his car. With the noblest of intentions, our hero drove Babe to the SPCA, but, much to his disappointment, he discovered that farm animals are not freely welcomed by the SPCA because there isn’t really anywhere for them to go once they arrive. With no other options available, he had no choice but to leave her there and hope for the best.
It is mandatory that all new arrivals at the SPCA are given a full medical examination. Although it was clear that she had been injured when she fell (or jumped) from the truck, she was barely examined at all because, in the words of the vet, “she’s just a pig.” The plan was to “destroy” her and give her to the staff to eat. Perhaps Charlotte was present in spirit as Babe’s fate was being decided because the SPCA agreed to release Babe to Asher’s Farm Sanctuary. When the team arrived to collect her, they found Babe in the same enclosure as Beverley, the goat, but they couldn’t bear to leave Beverley behind, so, instead of one really lucky pig that day, there was a lucky goat too. The two of them became great friends, to the point that Babe now identifies a goat. It is not uncommon to find her jumping up onto things like her roommate from the SPCA.
Although Babe’s story has a happy ending, there are billions of depraved pigs who are factory farmed in deplorable conditions around the world today. Babe, had she not escaped from the truck that day, would have ended up being impregnated over and over again, until she was of no more use to the industry. Her life would have been one of cramped, sad, painful misery. Pink pigs like Babe have naturally good mothering instincts, which is why they are used for breeding. Pregnant sows are placed in gestation crates (tiny pens, also known as sow stalls) measuring 2m x 60cm. Barely able to move around for the duration of her three-month pregnancy, she is then moved to a farrowing crate of the same size where she gives birth to up to ten piglets at a time. Unable to stand or even turn around, her only choice is to lie down on a cold, slatted metal grid (designed to allow excrement to pass through) while her babies fight for a teat through the metal rails of the crate. The reasoning behind these small crates is to prevent the mothers from accidentally crushing their babies.
Factory farm workers routinely (and painfully) clip the newborn piglets’ teeth to minimise damage as they fight to suckle. Bored out of their minds with no hay or wood or straw through which to exercise their natural rooting and snuffling instincts, many resort to cannibalism, chewing off the tails of their brothers and sisters. Rather than risk damage to “the product”, factory workers will walk around and dock their tails without the use of any anaesthetic, often when they are barely a week old. Because testosterone is seen to negatively affect the taste of the meat, male piglets are castrated—also without anaesthetic—when they are a few days old.
The piglets, born to grow quickly, are taken away from their mothers when they are about three weeks old and moved to an area where they are injected with growth hormones and fattened up on cereals containing antibiotics, to keep disease at bay. Sows are impregnated again as quickly as possible, while the young pigs are divided up into groups and labelled as weaners, baconers or porkers, depending on their weight, their breed, and their final destination as a commercial product. Weaners are the youngest (five to eight weeks old), with baconers being used for processed meat products and porkers for the higher grade cuts of meat. Many of them are sent to the slaughterhouse before they reach six months of age. Female piglets, once old enough, go back into the same breeding cycle as their mothers. In the highest performing production farms, breeding sows are allowed a mere seventeen day resting period over a period of an entire year in which they are “unproductive”. Once they are no longer able to produce young, or they begin producing inferior or stillborn litters, they are sent straight to the slaughterhouse. The slaughterhouses themselves are places of absolute torture, where the pigs are gassed in facilities that can only be compared to a modern-day Auschwitz. Those who don’t die immediately (which is most of them), have their throats slit while they scramble around in confusion and fear, fighting for a scrap of fresh air.
It is a sad fact that if we had to take all the animals out of factory farms and replace them with humans, we would be accused of committing unspeakable atrocities every day. These gentle, sentient beings, with an IQ of a three-year-old human being, deserve so much better than the lives into which they are born.