The Noble Pig, Factory Farms, & How You Can Make A Difference: Part I of II

I once interviewed a former factory farm worker, someone who had earned a degree in agriculture. This person served her internship in a hog facility; she had no idea what she was getting into. While interning at the facility she saw firsthand constant and unspeakable animal abuse, things she relayed to me that I have no intention of relaying to you.  She was so traumatized by her internship that she finished her degree, and never worked in conventional agriculture. She couldn’t bear to be a part of a system that was so steeped in cruelty.

Our farmer now lives near Peyton, CO, where she operates a small, heritage farm.  She raises pigs on pasture for a modest profit, along with fancy chickens and a few other farm animals.  And, she does something unique for a farmer – she devotes a portion of her working farm to care for rescued pigs. This farmer rescues sows from gestation crate breeding facilities, sows that are destined for death, and she retires them on her little holding.

Knowing that farmers are always watching costs, trying to maximize yields, and hopefully turn a profit, it is remarkable to me that this farmer has set-aside pasture for an unproductive endeavor. There will be no product from these sows, no profit, and there will be associated costs.  All of this simply doesn’t matter to our farmer heroine.  Knowing how those sows have suffered, our farmer is dedicated to providing a safe, kind place for the sows to live out their years.  Our farmer cannot put out of her mind what she witnessed as an intern in a factory farm, but she can ease the suffering for a small number of extremely fortunate sows.

Here is a small sampling of facts I learned in my interview with this former factory farm worker:

  • Pigs are highly intelligent animals, at least as intelligent (if not more so) than the average dog.  Pigs confined in factory farms literally go mad from the deplorable living conditions.
  • Pigs in confinement operations rub their snouts on the bars of the cage, over, and over again.  This behavior has only recently been unraveled – the self-inflicted would causes the pigs body to release a hormone that acts like a drug.  The pigs are self-medicating themselves through self-mutilation.
  • Illegal drugs and antibiotics, not approved for use in pigs, are routinely found in supermarket pork.  There is no significant consequence for the factory farm for using these drugs and antibiotics on their hogs.

It is for these reasons, and many others (click here and here for the other reasons), that I am so passionate about the plight of the noble pig.  Pigs are a wonderful farm animal, providing benefit to the soil as well as food on the table.  Pigs are intelligent, sensitive, and have strong memories – torturing these animals in the name of food production is despicable.

Now, I want to be clear – I eat pork.  And, I buy the bulk of my pork from a farmer who raises their pigs on pasture.  If I eat out, I typically don’t order pork off the menu; pork served in restaurants (unless otherwise stated) comes from factory farms.  If I buy pork at the grocery store, I buy Niman Ranch pork (they have a great track record).  If you’ve been reading my blog long enough you know I’m an omnivore, and you know that I feel passionately about the welfare of food producing animals.

So here’s the upshot – mass produced pork has major problems for people, animals, and the environment.  Pork production is achieved on a massive scale through inhumane practices, to the financial benefit of foreign owned conglomerates.  The situation in Big Ag is getting worse, not better, with the introduction of Ag Gag legislation.

However, buying pork locally, from a small producer that raises pigs on pasture, neutralizes nearly all of the negative impacts of pork production.  Part II of this post (coming next week) is an interview with a local pork producer who raises hogs on pasture.  Watch the video below (if you can – I couldn’t get through it).  Compare this video to next week’s video.  You will never look at a ham and cheddar quiche in quite the same way, and the changes you make just might be the tipping point to change the pork industry in the United States.

There is a ton at stake regarding pork production, but this issue can be easily fixed.  Stop buying factory raised pork, and start buying local, pasture raised pork.  It’s that simple, and that profound.

WARNING: THIS VIDEO CONTAINS GRAPHIC AND VIOLENT IMAGES.  IF YOU ARE SENSITIVE TO SUCH IMAGES DO NOT WATCH THIS VIDEO.  I PERSONALLY HAD TO TURN MY HEAD AND LOOK AWAY DURING A PARTICULAR SEGMENT

Feature image (top right) is a still shot from the above video, Undercover at Smithfield Foods (2012 Webby Award Winner)

About Christine

Backyard farming rocks!

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15 Responses to The Noble Pig, Factory Farms, & How You Can Make A Difference: Part I of II

  1. Bea Elliott March 28, 2014 at 9:15 am #

    I believe food historian James McWilliams has addressed all the issues that arise in a post like this that “saves” some pigs but butchers the others. (I wonder how long this model will last?). The article is titled Loving Animals to Death
    How can we raise them humanely and then butcher them?
    http://theamericanscholar.org/loving-animals-to-death/#.UzWRKvldW8B

    The upshot is – You can never kill kindly when there are other food options available. The rest of the rationalizations are all just that.

    • Christine March 28, 2014 at 1:31 pm #

      Bea you hit the nail on the head – how far do we each take the welfare of animals? To the point of “do no harm” where you don’t consume any animals at all (to include honey and yeast)? To the point where you don’t consume animal flesh? Or to the point of raised and slaughtered without pain and suffering? We each have to answer this question; not any easy one to answer.

  2. Nichole March 28, 2014 at 9:54 am #

    Wow! I got a good sob out of me. Thanks for the PTSD and insight.

  3. Miranda Sherman March 28, 2014 at 10:13 am #

    Thanks Christine. I knew this and I choose pork from good sources, but this reminds me that most don’t know what they are eating. Factory Farming is so inhumane.

    • Christine March 28, 2014 at 1:32 pm #

      Shifting away from gestation crates and confinement make a huge difference, and our purchases dictate the demand for such products.

  4. Christine March 28, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

    This comment was sent to me via e-mail by a reader. It’s a different view, but one that is important and needs to be heard.

    Christine,
    You are not only wrong you are deadly wrong. Like most people who have no clue to the health effects of ground parasites you just jump to conclusions based on other clueless peoples here-say. I have raised pigs, I raised registered breeding stock for fifteen years so had to have my breeding herd blood tested every three months also we had meat tested for round worms. Those on free range as you would call it always had round worms and I have suffered from round worms in my muscles as did my family. That was the reason I went to confinement on concrete and stopped the round worm infestations in my pigs and my family. Until you find out the pain in your muscles caused by round worms never send me such a ridiculously ignorant letter.

  5. Nichole March 28, 2014 at 9:20 pm #

    I don’t feel that your blog post was ignorant. Maybe her email could have been. This roundworm parasite is passed through feces and uncooked meat. She either kept her pig pen filthy or didn’t cook her pork thoroughly. To kill parasites inside an animal or human, consuming food grade diatomaceous earth will help violently expel them. This would easily and organically avoid “confinement on concrete.”

    • Christine March 30, 2014 at 8:23 am #

      I need to check with some of the pig farmers I know that run pigs on pasture and see what their roundworm experience is. This is a very interesting wrinkle in raising pigs on pasture.

  6. Raleigh March 29, 2014 at 8:15 pm #

    Christine, thank you for the report. When I retired from the US Navy in 1981, we bought a subsistance farm in KY. One of the things I raised was pigs. I think they are the most intelligent animal on the farm. I remember that I would o to the hog lot and lie down. They would move each other out of the way so they could lie next to me. That alone was quite loving. I raised them so we could have meat. The night prior to butchering one I would make the decision which one I would butcher. Without fail that would be the one that would be waiting my arrival at the fence. I would kneel down and pet her and explain to her why this was necessary. I would pray with her and after the prayer her heade would be lowered so I could reach the spot behind her head. It was always the sweetest pork that I had tasted. I did one time take one to the slaughter house. She evaded me and was very difficult to put in the truck. She cried all the way to the butcher shop and until she was killed. Not only did it bring up emotions in me but it was the worst tasting pork ever. I never did that again. At that time I butchered all that we ate.

    • Christine March 30, 2014 at 8:26 am #

      Wow. That’s an amazing story Raleigh. I feel the same way about pigs that you do – they are not only smart but are emotionally intelligent. I deeply respect your approach to raising animals for meat – respect and gratitude for the animal, and a wonderful life for that creature before it is brought to slaughter. The excepted story of the one pig you took to the slaughter house illustrates your point. Thanks for sharing this.

  7. Christine April 3, 2014 at 2:47 pm #

    So I did follow-up and talked with one of the local pasture pig farmers near Colorado Springs. He wasn’t sure why the person who switched to confinement was having so many problems with roundworms, but he suspected it was because of inadequate pasture rotation. Hard to say without knowing all the details, so this is just a guess.

  8. Dawn June 2, 2014 at 4:23 pm #

    I have experienced and witnessed what everyone is viewing in the video. It is sad and frustrating but very very accurate! I was a supervisor at a confinement farm and beyond what you see there it gets a lot worse. It broke me down as a person and I have moved on to small scale farming on my own property for raising hogs on pasture and have many many years to make up for what I have witnessed.

    • Christine June 3, 2014 at 3:52 pm #

      Thanks for sharing your experiences with us Dawn – I know of what you speak. When trying to raise awareness about an issue there is a fine line to walk between making people aware of the problem (sanitized version) and showing the full ugly nature of a process (non-sanitized version). Please keep reminding folks that what we see is only the tip of the iceberg.

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