In June, I went inside one of Britain’s largest pig farms, housing 15,000 animals. This is my personal story of what I saw and why I’m determined with your help to offer pigs…
I know some people will hate the comparison but these are my thoughts and it is what went through my mind.
When I walk amongst thousands of animals crammed together, faces looking at me with anticipation, I see the bubbling energy of youth but witness that enthusiasm and brightness constantly slapped down. I feel their hope – that nebulous sense of a life they are meant to live but which never materialises. When I am there amongst them, I recall pictures of desperate people, packed into railway trucks, into gas chambers; innocents about to be murdered.
This is what my recent visit to Hogwood Farm in Oxhill, Warwick, elicited in me - that deep, acidic feeling in your soul that the human race is committing war crimes every day – in this case, a war against animals.
I stepped into a colossal shed that was more tightly packed with pigs than I have ever seen. There was no gangway and I tried to step carefully though them but pigs, being bright but utterly bored, swarmed towards me and nibbled the coverings of my shoes that I wore to ensure there was no spread of disease. I looked around and there were hundreds of animals about three months old and all wide awake at this early hour. This place doesn’t switch off the lights and there is no way any animal could sleep properly because of the overcrowding - there simply isn’t the space.
Imagine being in a shed so crammed with other people that the only rest you can get is that brief, deep slumber from sheer exhaustion, and then you are woken again by another person clambering on top of you. Contrast this to the beautiful, noble sow, Hope Apple Blossom who Viva! and Dean Farm Animal Sanctuary rescued along with her six piglets, now four months old, who sleep for hours in deep straw, peaceful and content in their cosy outdoor bedroom, set in idyllic rolling Welsh countryside.
No wonder disease is rife on factory farms; no wonder antibiotics are so overused on these animals that superbugs are being created inside their abused, sick bodies; antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their flesh that people eat. Half of all antibiotics in the UK are used on farmed animals and 60 per cent of those are sold to pig farms.
One of the most surreal experiences I had was in another shed. This time not crowded at all –quite the opposite. It was an old building festooned in cobwebs; a ghostly, oppressive place where it appeared that ill animals are more or less abandoned.
One sow was lying on the filthy floor, shaking. I went to her, knelt and whispered soft words, rubbed her tummy and I simply wanted to weep but just one solitary tear escaped. Days earlier I had Hope’s piglets, Jack Wigglinson and Lily Bubbles flopping on my lap, demanding their belly be tickled. And here was a sow, neglected, abused, dying but asking for the same, despite having been appallingly treated by others of my species.
And so we moved on to more modern industrial units, separated into concrete cells with slatted wooden gangways. Each was crammed with piglets where the cynical addition of a chain with plastic sheathing for biting hung limply, its novelty value long gone. This is ‘environmental enrichment’! No straw, no bedding, just harsh, soiled floors, concrete walls and a life filled with utter boredom, frustration and no outlet for those active, intelligent, inquisitive minds.
Contrast this to Hope and her babies, Mia Snuffles and Tom Rocket, who zoomed towards me when I visited them yesterday. Happy, joyous and playful. I kissed their ears, their snouts, rubbed their bellies (of course!) while they gently grunted - a grunt of complete contentment. It makes me laugh when they start grazing the grass whilst being stroked, like you sipping wine and nibbling chocolates while being massaged – what a lovely life!
I opened the door to the next cell block and to my horror, lay an ill pig, slumped against the wall. A little piglet had some neurological disease and walked oddly sideways, nipping at the camera – at last something to play with. Four other sick animals had clearly been abandoned to the gangway. A previous visit had revealed the atrocity of dead bodies pulled outside into an inglorious heap and left. We could find no evidence of them being shot and I suspect they were left to starve to death but I don’t know this as a fact. What I do know is that I was seeing the embodiment of hell.
A colleague called me over to the farrowing unit. “This sow is giving birth”. The mum’s face was one of the most upsetting things I’ve seen. Sometimes, I look back at the photo of her expression – the hopelessness of a mother giving birth in a metal crate, on to cold, unforgiving concrete.
Hope was rescued when her babies were three weeks old – just before they would have been snatched from her. For the first time, she has stayed with them - is still with them and always will be. She is still very protective and last week chased the vet when he wanted to vaccinate them! My respect for Hope is enormous. She remains wary of people but she allows me to cuddle and fuss over her precious babes, with a watchful eye from about 10 feet away.
She tolerates me because I am like the gushing aunt who comes along to take the pressure off her every now and then by playing with her fantastically boisterous children! For the first time, Hope asked me to give her belly rubs about two weeks ago – I felt very privileged indeed to be given that level of trust.
On leaving Hogwood, my colleague removed empty plastic feed sacks from a massive wheelbarrow. It was piled high with rotting piglets in a sea of writhing maggots… it was the end of our investigation and seemed to embody everything we had just experienced.
Anyone reading this, please tell your friends and family about Hogwood. Stress that this is not some small, aberrant farm but British factory farming. We reported it to the government’s Animal & Plant Health Agency and Trading Standards, asking for instant action at the very least for the sick and dying; and in the longer term for the farm to be closed. As yet we have heard nothing.
Of course we reported our findings to the government’s Animal & Plant Health Agency and Trading Standards, asking for instant action.
We need you to help us put the pressure on. Please sign our petition so we can add your voice to our call to shut Hogwood down and get justice for these animals.
Viva!’s experience of government vets is less than encouraging, as they are part and parcel of this system and sanction it. Everywhere Viva! points the camera on Britain’s factory farms we find misery, desolation, gloom, deprivation and pain. Ninety per cent of Britain’s pigs are intensively farmed and sadly their industrialisation continues. The only answer is to go vegan and encourage others to follow suit. Each and every one of us must take responsibility for what we buy. The power is within each one of us to stop this abomination and to stop the war on animals. Veganism means power to the people, the animals and our planet.
Viva! Campaigns Ltd