UPDATE: In September of 2016, Fair Oaks Farms “Pig Adventure” sow breeding operation was awarded third-party humane certification by the American Humane Association “for meeting its rigorous farm animal welfare standards for the daily operations on the farm.” Humane certification food labels allow producers to charge more for meat, dairy and eggs produced on their farms, and lead consumers to believe that the animals enjoy a happy life in a natural environment. My photos from a visit to Fair Oaks tell a very different story.
On August 5, 2013, Fair Oaks Farms celebrated the Grand Opening of “Pig Adventure,” a breeding facility where approximately 2,700 sows are confined and artificially inseminated to produce nearly 80,000 pigs for slaughter each year. Pig Adventure joins the Fair Oaks Dairy Adventure, a 36,000 dairy cow operation that has, since 2004, doubled as an “Agricultural Disney.” Among the dairy-themed spectacles that comprise the daily tour, visitors can watch calves being born on a theater stage as their mothers heave beneath a giant traffic light cartoonishly signaling the stages of labor; mother cows about to give birth are literally forced onto a trailer, hauled to the “birthing barn,” and prodded onto a stage where rows of spectators can gape as they push their 9-months-carried newborns into the world— only to have them stolen away minutes later, forever.
And now, with the help of major agribusiness backers (including the National Pork Board and Indiana Pork), visitors can also oooh and ahh at the more than 200 piglets born each day at Fair Oaks Farms, then head over to the farm’s full restaurant for a Bacon and Swiss Grilled Cheese.
As I’ve written elsewhere, you could almost be fooled into thinking that Fair Oaks is some kind of Pig Appreciation and Protection Society: from the tour buses plastered with images of smiling, adorable pink piglets, to the exuberant animated pig who narrates Pig Adventure’s website, to the reverential description of Pig Adventure’s breeding and confinement operation as “The Miracle of Life Project.” The founders of this facility say it’s designed “to highlight the treatment and well being of pigs” and to demonstrate that “pork production is morally right, a noble profession and a service to humanity.” I decided to visit and see for myself. (Please note: as far as we know, Fair Oaks Farms has no ties with Disneyland or Disney corporation.)
Visitors to Pig Adventure first pass through the pig “education center” (above). 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 designed to appeal to feel good American values; “family” is inescapably one of them. But make no mistake: 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 these pigs, all I could think was, would anyone here do this to a three year-old child? If not, then how on earth is this acceptable? Why is everyone smiling and having such 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 being schooled 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?
After finishing up in the Education Center, visitors may enter Pig Adventure’s “Gestation & Breeding” wing.
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 abjectly 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 worker (above), 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.”
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.
“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.
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 instinctive 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 to create profound emotional and mental disturbance in pigs.
These rows of seemingly endless cubicles are called “open stalls” by Fair Oaks Farms, implying that the pigs are free to roam and fulfill all their natural instincts. “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.
Pig Adventure’s breeding facility is huge, like a mega-church or an airport with different terminals connected via long, carpeted corridors whose walls are (creepily) covered with loving images of piglets.
There are three observation wings for viewing some of the early stages of “pork” production.
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, if left to their own devices, 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.
My video footage of Fair Oaks’ farrowing crates.
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 in nature spend hours lining their secluded nests with soft materials, 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.’
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 then asked our guide 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 Fair Oaks Farms: Selling Sexual Violation as the Miracle of Life.)
In the “nursery” were huddled piles of piglets who had 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. They are slaughtered at six months of age.
Loving photos with a maternal emphasis are blown up to near-pathological proportions and line the corridors in a sweetly menacing “Angels of Death” fashion all along the Fair Oaks Farms 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 truly is. I was originally 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 actually see what we were seeing and ever again feel okay about eating bacon or cheese. But as we got off the bus, one smiling family after another headed over to the farm’s BBQ, their pig balloons bobbing amiably behind them. So I guess the masterminds were right: a spoonful of Disney really does help the misery go down.
Learn more about humane meat, dairy and egg labels at HumaneFacts.org.
Julie Fleiser says
I don’t eat meat, but after seeing pigs that are raised humanely, I see it this way…it is the same as if I lived my life on a wonderful farm, having all my needs attended to, then I was gently put to sleep with gas before I was killed. Did you know that this is what they do for pigs in the industry before slaughter? It’s true. It’s not the same as gassing animals in shelters…the pigs just drift off to sleep) Then, someone made use of my body by eating me. You can be as idealistic as you please, but you will never get everyone to comply with your wishes. I’m just saying that there are alternatives to factory farming for those who will never stop eating meat. I see it as a better way than continuing to just hope that they will see the light. It’s more realistic. You should call Niman Ranch and ask them for details on what exactly is done to the animals from birth to death. Ask them to visit one of their farms. Have you read Temple Grandin’s books? They have even hired her as a consultant to find out what might traumatize their animals from birth to death. Their animals have better lives than most humans. Of course, if you have never actually been to one of the humanely raised farms, and only speculate, you would never know this.
Free From Harm Staff Writers says
Hi Julie, I and many others in my community of animal sanctuaries have rescued hundreds upon hundreds of animals from the so-called “humane” facilities you speak of. You would be absolutely devastated to see the conditions under which these animals were discovered. Again I think you have been really indoctrinated into a myth about humane farming and you settle for half-truths and partial-truths to wash your conscience. If you want to believe in your happy meat fantasies, that gassing animals is a humane way to end their their lives in their youth, for a food source we have no biological need to eat, then who can stop you from your denial? Hitler sought gassing as part of what he believed was a “humane” Final Solution for the extermination of the Jews also. You would be in this company in your belief. And certainly you will get all of the reinforcement you need from the dominant culture that believes in humane and happy meat fantasies as you do. But if you ever choose to be honest with yourself, and want to delve deeper, this is a good place to do it. And this article is a good place to start: https://freefromharm.org/animal-products-and-ethics/a-comprehensive-analysis-of-the-humane-farming-myth/. I recommend you stop worrying about what everyone else thinks and does and eats and instead be true to what you believe in and inform yourself better about the reality of the humane myth. Then perhaps you can advocate on behalf of animals with as level of integrity and truth that they require from us.
Free From Harm Staff Writers says
Pigs are killed at 6 months old or so or even younger for sucklings. So you would have to be gassed in your adolesnce in order for your analogy to work, Julie. What human being would want to be born into this world knowing they would be killed in their adolescence, knowing that their murder was committed only to proft someone or give them some form of pleasure? Again, believing that this is accptable for animals but not for humans is absurd, finctional, mythological and downright speciesist.
Free From Harm Staff Writers says
In our tendency to deny farmed animals a place in our circle of compassion, we fail to properly assess the gravity of the act of killing and tend to exclusively consider the conditions in which an animal lives. There is a sense that it is okay to slaughter an animal as long as she has been treated well, the “one-bad-day” scenario. In this sentiment, we fall short of extending the same recognition to animals that is the cornerstone of our criminal justice system: that taking life is the highest transgression, much worse than any crime that allows for the survival of the victim. For example, would you rather have six months in a five-star hotel and then be executed or have a lifetime in jail? Most everyone would take the lifetime in prison, even if the conditions were harsh. Because animals share similar behaviors to humans regarding their will to live, it is safe to assume that they would share the preference for living as well. Life is an animal’s most cherished possession and animals, like humans, will fight to survive. It is absurd to speak of humane treatment of animals when it comes to their handling, management, food, and shelter if you deny them the most basic right—to live out their lives—and condone or are complicit in their slaughter. Clearly, the killing of the animal is the most severe transgression, greater than any mistreatment that allows the victim to live. And because of that, our greatest concern should not necessarily be the treatment of the animal, though this is obviously very important; rather, the greatest consideration should be that the animal be allowed to live. – See more at: https://freefromharm.org/animal-products-and-ethics/the-ultimate-betrayal-is-there-happy-meat-an-excerpt-from-the-book/#sthash.BC2gRuyv.dpuf
Hi Julie – While I agree that certain systems may process nonhumans more efficiently or in a less cruel manner than others, the fact remains that none of this could ever be considered “humane”.
Here’s why: Webster’s dictionary says: Hu·mane / hyoomáyn / adj. 1. having what are considered the best qualities of human beings; kind, tender, merciful, sympathetic, compassionate.
Where does the orchestrated, for-profit-killing of healthy, sentient beings fit into the “kind” or merciful act of slaughter that the meat industry would have you believe exists?
And of course this would all make sense *IF* we actually had to eat animals in order to live – But that just isn’t so either. It’s a fact that repeats itself more each day, that we can thrive on a plant based diet. So all this fussing about how to “humanely” kill is nonsense! There is nothing “humane” about deliberately raising animals to slaughter when there are perfectly healthy, sustainable, affordable options not to. Please stop using that word to flower up and disguise the needless acts of butchery for greed and gluttony.
The kindest thing one can do if they want to truly be kind to animals is to stop exploiting them for our frivolous wants.
Good God, another sick attempt to hide the ugly truth behind factory farming, how can be people be so blind? Take them through a tour of a slaughter-house, now that would be an honest and truthful representation of what really goes on! I wonder how many people would come out smiling and feeling good about their choices then? And then after the tour,they serve up a plate of ribs at their on-site BBQ restaurant, this is beyond sick! Again, take those same people and show them the WHOLE truth from birth to slaughter house, why leave out the kill floor it’s part of the process after all! If you’re going to eat pigs or any animals have the courage to watch their whole life cycle from birth to death, don’t turn away from the truth, if you’re buying it you are contributing to this insane amount of cruelty. Why are people so disconnected? Brain-washed? Sheeple? Open your eyes.. http://www.mercyforanimals.org/pigs/
“It is a healthy, natural reaction for someone who witnesses the brutalities inflicted upon nonhuman animals in the agriculture industry for the first time, to ask, “how can we stop this from happening?”. The simple truth is that there remains only one answer, only one way to stop it from happening. We must end the consumption of animal-based products. Until then, nonhuman animals will always be placed in “livestock” conditions, they will always be exploited, they will always be abused and they will always be slaughtered. You cannot teach someone that a life-form has any real value when it is considered acceptable to enslave, kill and eat said being. Whilst humanity views nonhuman animals as resources, mere commodities, they will always be victims of our barbarity. There is no “humane” way to treat a slave and there certainly is no “humane” procedure to take a life.”
“Passively accepting these beliefs, carnists take pride in eating “cage- free” eggs, hams from “free” pigs, cheese from the milk belonging to “humanely raised” cow’s calves, and legs from “free” dead chickens. These consumers have become washed into believing that a little improvement in egg, meat, and dairy production has stopped the harm. They settle for the slight inconvenience of choosing and paying for a different box of eggs or a non-factory-farmed slab of meat. They believe in happy death, happy meat fantasies, and thus find escape from doing what is really needed. They avoid true and effective personal change.”-Wil Anderson
Free From Harm Staff Writers says
Hi Julie, With all due respect, you are victim of humane-washing, which is a special form of brainwashing from the happy meat, dairy and egg industry marketing people. Is slaughter made “humane” simply by doing it on a smaller scale, in your own backyard or under the pretext of “strengthening your local food system.” How can slashing the throats of 6-week-old baby birds, or 6-month old adolescent-age pigs, for profit and pleasure — but not out of necessity — be consistent with acting humanely, especially when there is an abundance of cruelty-free alternatives? Why define what is “humane” against the worst case scenario of factory farming instead of the best case scenario: a world that can thrive on a plant-based diet and no longer needs to breed animals into existence for the purpose of enslaving, exploiting and slaughtering them, at all? How can we claim to value the animal’s welfare during the short period of their lives we allow them to remain alive and yet so easily and violently dispose of their lives, as if their very lives held no value at all? What does this say about our culture when people like us from the most affluent countries still feel entitled enough to harm animals for their own pleasure, even after claiming to believe that animals count morally and should therefore be given moral consideration? Isn’t this yet another example of Orwellian doublespeak? In Voltaire words, “If we believe in absurdities, we shall commit atrocities.”
Eva Madera says
Wow, – this takes ‘sick’ to a whole new level! In fact words fail me. I cannot describe what I feel about the absurdity of this.
One thing I did want to say is that I love your articles Ashley. I wish I could write and reason my arguments as well as you do. I’m wanting to create a vegan website to reach a particular target audience, and if I do I will also direct visitors to Free From Harm. I would love to somehow share some of your content at some point, as I find it to be the example and there’s no point in repeating what is said here, only translating it to other languages maybe. What do you think?
Ashley Capps says
Thank you for your kind words, Eva. Please feel free to share or translate my articles. Thank you for your commitment to justice for animals!
So, cute little piglets are shown and then there is bacon. They conveniently forget to show the cruel torture and slaughter of those pigs. What they are demonstrating is how to lie and deceive. Agri-Slaughter industry at its best – and humans at their worst!
Susan Wavamunno says
I am absolutely disgusted!!!!! I am speechless, there is no way any responsible parent should take their children to see this sort of animal cruelty!!!!! I feel SICK!!!!
Nicola L says
Surely visitors should also get a free (mandatory) pass to somewhere like this:
“Miracle of Life”? more like “Disguising slavery and Death as Fun!” what a sick, twisted industry- the lengths they go to to indoctrinate and brainwash people, especially young children, in order to disconnect them and camouflage the true aspects of violence, exploitation and brutal murder is obscene. looking at the pictures of smiling faces holding the helpless, innocent babies and knowing that the victims inevitable fate will be a horrific, painful death inflicted by a knife to the throat in a few short months makes me physically ill. if they could figure out how to make money off of it, i would not be surprised to see a theme park based around dog fighting.
“A universe is indeed to be pitied whose dominating inhabitants are so unconscious and so ethically embryonic that they make life a commodity, mercy a disease, and systematic massacre a pastime and a profession.”- J. Howard Moore
This is truly disgusting–but then everything about factory farming and killing is. Apparently this is for general advertising to make people feel good about what they want to eat (which most people love because it doesn’t disturb their conscience). Seems like bribery to balance out the ag-gag law threats.
Kay Peterson says
This is unbelievable! As a parent, I am absolutely that Disneyland supports factory farming, not to mention creates a tour for children to see the artificial and confined conditions of the pigs. Fair Oaks Farms should be ashamed. They even still support gestation crates. I will share information far and wide with all the other parents and children I know to boycott Disneyland and spread the word that Fair Oaks Farms is nothing but a helish, confined life for animals to be used as commodities.
“Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages.” ~Thomas A. Edison
I ask people why they have deer heads on their walls. They always say because it’s such a beautiful animal. There you go. I think my mother is attractive, but I have photographs of her. ~Ellen DeGeneres
“But for the sake of some little mouthful of flesh, we deprive a soul of the sun and light, and of that proportion of life and
time it had been born into the world to enjoy.” -Plutarch
Ashley Capps says
The real Disney Land is not a sponsor of this farm and has no ties to it. Fair Oaks compares itself to an “Agricultural Disney” because they’ve created a theme park entertainment environment around their facility. But you are correct that what they are doing is deeply wrong.
Thanks for your support,