Visitors to Pig Adventure first pass through the pig "education center." It's a multimedia learning facility full of interactive exhibits that present the history and future of pig farming, as well as lots of "fun facts" about pigs.
"Good for the pigs"—this was a message that was constantly repeated during my day at Pig Adventure: from the Grand Opening speeches in which the owners discussed their profound "love and respect" for the animals at Fair Oaks, to signs like this one insisting that all the needs and preferences of "EVERY pig" at Fair Oaks are met. Those words, "all the creature comforts," played through my head again and again as I went on to observe the pigs.
There are several recurring buzzwords in the Pig Adventure discourse intended to appeal to "feel good" American values; "family" is one of them. Fair Oaks Farms is a massive factory farm and intensive confinement operation, capitalizing on a misplaced nostalgia for the small "family farm" animal exploitation of the good old days.
"A pig is as intelligent as an average three year-old child." It's true, of course. But I was shocked, based on what we were about to witness, to see these signs educating visitors about the intelligence of pigs, and especially surprised to see the comparison to three year-old children. As we moved from room to room observing the miserable confinement and barren environment of the pigs, all I could think was, would anyone here do this to a three year-old child? If not, then how is this acceptable? Why is everyone smiling and having a good time?
Again, the unintended irony at Pig Adventure is stunning. At this point in the tour, we've just learned how intelligent pigs are, and here we're educated on the incredible refinement of their physical senses. The cognitive abilities of pigs, combined with their acute sensory perception, means that pigs are extremely curious individuals who love to explore their environment. Yet Fair Oaks pigs spend their entire lives completely deprived of intellectual or physical stimuli, never touching a blade of grass, never hearing birds, wind, or crickets, never rooting through earth, never experiencing a moment of sunlight. Do visitors remember this information about pigs' intelligence and "super senses" as they observe the artificial lighting, the hard bare floors, the immobilized sows and the piles of confined piglets with nothing to do or explore?
Pig Adventure's Gestation & Breeding wing.
One of the viewing wings at the Fair Oaks Farms Pig Adventure. From skybox-like observation stations, visitors look down on various stages of early "pork production." From windows like these, visitors can see female pigs being restrained and artificially inseminated, pigs lying around pregnant in barren stalls, pigs confined in farrowing crates with their newborn litters, and, finally, in the "Growing" wing, piles of piglets who have been taken from their mothers and who are being weaned in preparation for sale to "finishing farms."
Some readers may remember the boar on the leash from Pig Adventure's disturbing promotional video. This unfortunate creature spends his days chained to a robot or leashed to a college boy, led through avenues of female pigs who are being prepared for artificial insemination. According to The Pig Site, the presence of a boar is essential during artificial insemination, or A.l. The purpose is two-fold: the boar helps the workers detect which sows are in heat, or "estrus," and close contact with the boar also causes a facilitative arousal reaction in sows who are in estrus. "The pheromones produced in the boar's saliva induce the intense receptive period of oestrus, where oxytocin release in the sow causes strong standing response and regular wave-like contractions of the uterus. It is these essential contractions that draw the semen... [in] through the uterus and up to the site of fertilisation."
"Boar contact should be maintained throughout insemination and for the 10 minute "rest period" after insemination, when the uterine contractions will continue to move semen up the reproductive tract."
Semen reception is also facilitated by workers sexually fondling the sows. Workers should "mimic some of the stimulation normally provided by the boar, i.e. back pressure, flank/udder rubbing."
The boar is led back and forth through rows of caged sows as well as through small groups of standing sows, helping workers detect which sows are in heat, or "estrus." Sows are checked for estrus once or twice daily. The pigs in crates have already been artificially inseminated once; sows may be inseminated up to three times while in estrus. When the boar is led past crated sows, those in estrus will typically move forward and assume the telltale "immobilization response," indicating they are ready to mate. When the boar is in direct contact with sows, workers press on the sows' backs; sows in estrus will push back. If pressure is applied to the back and the sow is not in estrus, she will be unresponsive or attempt to move away.
"Pigs are one of the most intelligent animals, outranked only by chimps, elephants, and dolphins...A pig is as intelligent as an average three year-old child." - from the educational signage at the beginning of the Pig Adventure tour.
Educational poster in the Gestation & Breeding wing of Pig Adventure.
Once pregnant, Pig Adventure's sows spend nearly 4 months in these barren stalls, day after day and night after night, with no stimulation or environmental enrichment. It's impossible to miss the utter dejection and hopelessness of these intelligent animals. Remember those signs about how smart pigs are, and how "all the creature comforts of EVERY pig" are attended to at Fair Oaks? Pigs possess active, inquisitive minds, and crave a natural environment that lets them fulfill their profound drive to seek and explore. Pigs love to sunbathe, and perhaps most of all they love grass and straw. These sows get nothing but the maddening monotony of confinement and environmental deprivation, conditions which are proven in study after study to create profound emotional and mental disturbance in pigs.
Rows of seemingly endless "open stalls," as they're called by Fair Oaks Farms, implying that the pigs are free to roam and fulfill all their natural instincts. For the record, here's what a truly "free" roaming pig looks like: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rinalia/sets/72157622810354403/
"All pigs are given a safe and temperature controlled environment with no exposure to harsh outdoor elements or predators." Descriptions of Pig Adventure are always worded to make it seem as if confinement and environmental deprivation are all in the interest of the animals' comfort and well being.
There are three observation wings for viewing some of the early stages of "pork" production.
Pig Adventure's breeding facility is huge, like an airport with different terminals connected via long, carpeted corridors covered with loving images of piglets.
Around 114 days of gestation, pregnant sows are moved to farrowing crates to give birth, where they will spend roughly three weeks with their newborn babies, at which point the piglets are taken away to be sold to "finishing farms."
"All the creature comforts of EVERY pig..." Imagine, if you can, spending 3 weeks of your life like this, 24 hours a day. Imagine a three year-old child spending 3 weeks like this. Consider that in a natural setting, pregnant sows leave their social group a few days before birth and begin to search for a safe, secluded site where they can build a nest. Sows are very particular about the nest site and may travel for miles before finding a spot that feels sufficiently private and protected. Once the space has been chosen, the sow constructs a soft, comfortable nest by digging a hollow in the earth, filling it with grass, leaves and twigs, and lining it with branches.
In “farrowing crates,” newborn piglets can reach their mothers to nurse, but sows are prevented from even turning around, and must lie or stand on slatted metal flooring through which their urine and excrement drop. Inevitably these floors, on which sows nurse, sleep and stand, are covered in layers of waste, which is demoralizing for these fastidious animals who, when permitted, always establish separate toilet areas far from their nests. Slatted flooring also causes severe leg problems for sows and piglets. See video footage of the farrowing crates here.
"The deeply rooted drive in sows to express natural nesting and mothering behaviors is completely thwarted in the cruel confines of a farrowing crate. Though sows spend hours lining their secluded nests with soft materials in nature, in farrowing crates they receive no bedding whatsoever. According to a Humane Society report, 'Sows in intensive confinement operations attempt to perform nesting behavior—pawing the floor and nosing the bars of the crate—even in the absence of a suitable site and without nest building materials. Sows may even wear down their front hooves and suffer from abrasions on their snouts from performing this behavior in contact with the concrete floor.' " (1)
At one station of Pig Adventure's birthing wing, children taking the tour are encouraged to name a newborn piglet. I watched as kids who were perfect strangers flocked to the window and bowed their heads together, cradling complimentary plush piglets and consulting in breathless tones. Since the piglet was a she, they decided on Charlotte, after the spider in Charlotte's Web, the beloved children's book in which a pig is saved from slaughter. Interestingly, just a few days before, I'd seen a letter from E.B. White responding to a request from his publisher that he explain his reasons for writing Charlotte's Web. He replied:
A farm is a peculiar problem for a man who likes animals, because the fate of most livestock is that they are murdered by their benefactors. The creatures may live serenely but they end violently, and the odor of doom hangs about them always. I have kept several pigs, starting them in spring as weanlings and carrying trays to them all through summer and fall. The relationship bothered me. Day by day I became better acquainted with my pig, and he with me, and the fact that the whole adventure pointed toward an eventual piece of double-dealing on my part lent an eerie quality to the thing. I do not like to betray a person or a creature, and I tend to agree with Mr. E.M. Forster that in these times the duty of a man, above all else, is to be reliable. It used to be clear to me, slopping a pig, that as far as the pig was concerned I could not be counted on, and this, as I say, troubled me. Anyway, the theme of "Charlotte's Web" is that a pig shall be saved, and I have an idea that somewhere deep inside me there was a wish to that effect.
A child asked if all of the piglets were given names. Approximately 250 piglets are born at Pig Adventure every single day. The tour guide gently laughed. "No, not all," he said.
What the Pig Adventure tour doesn't show, of course, is that these piglets have had their tails cut off, their incisor teeth broken off with pliers or clippers, and, if they are male, their testicles ripped out through brutal scalpel incisions; all without anesthesia or any prior painkiller. See our post, "Fair Oaks Farms: Selling Slavery and Sexual Violation as the Miracle of Life."
Piles of piglets who have been taken from their mothers to be weaned in preparation for sale to "finishing farms"—more indoor confinement operations where these intelligent animals lie around for months with nothing to do but eat or sleep. Some of the largest commercial finishing operations house more than 5,000 young pigs. "Pigs raised in these systems are unable to engage in any important natural behaviors, including rooting, wallowing, exploring, nest-building, and foraging, and are unable to form natural familial or social groups. Like their confined mothers, young pigs exhibit dejection, learned hopelessness, and neurotic coping behaviors indicative of mental disturbance." (1) They are slaughtered at six months of age.
Loving photos like this one are blown up to wall size and line the corridors all along Fair Oaks Farm's Pig Adventure.
After the tour, as we waited for our bus, we watched a video that plays on a constant loop, in which some of Pig Adventure's head honchos discuss what an "amazing animal" the pig is. Originally, I was skeptical of Fair Oaks's decision to peddle factory farming cruelty by embedding it in the glaring non sequitur of Disney theme park fanfare. I couldn't believe that anyone could see what we were seeing and ever again feel okay about eating pigs or cheese. But as we got off the bus, one family after another headed over to the farm's full restaurant and BBQ. Smiling and laughing. I guess the masterminds were right: a spoonful of Disney helps the misery go down.
This is Ruby. She's not a Fair Oaks pig, but I want to introduce her because some people who see the images from Pig Adventure will say, "This is why we should only buy meat from small, humane farms." Ruby was born on a small, free-range farm in California where the pigs roam on ample pasture. But she was a runt: sickly, and not growing nearly as fast as the other piglets in her litter. Because of this, she would have been slaughtered as a baby except that a visitor to the farm inquired about her fate and asked to take her home when she learned that Ruby would be killed. That visitor gave her to Animal Place sanctuary, where she has lived for three years now, not as a commodity, but as an individual who is loved and respected, and who loves being alive.
The truth is that any time consumers of meat, eggs or dairy purchase "humane" animal products, they confront an unavoidable paradox: the movement to treat farm animals better is based on the idea that it is wrong to subject them to unnecessary harm; yet, killing animals we have no need to eat constitutes the ultimate act of unnecessary harm. Scientific evidence has irrefutably demonstrated that we do not need meat, milk or eggs to thrive, and leading public health organizations around the world acknowledge that a balanced vegan diet is healthy and appropriate for people at all stages of life. Unlike animals who kill other animals for food, we have a choice. They kill from necessity; we do not. When we have access to plant-based food options, and a choice between sparing life or taking it — there is nothing remotely humane about rejecting compassion, and choosing violence and death for others just because we like the taste of their flesh and secretions. Might does not equal right.
Too, unknown to most consumers, many of the worst cruelties inflicted on animals in factory farms are also routine practices on small, free-range farms. Please learn more at our article, "A Closer Look at What So-Called Humane Farming Means."