The Story Of Two Pigs: Wilbur and Spam
My name is Wilbur and I'm a very handsome pig, a rotund pink pig, topping the scales at 340 pounds. I started life precariously. I was considered a runt by most standards. I had to share a teat with another piglet and by time she was through there was little left for me. Piglets are the sole owner of the first teat they attach to. It is theirs until they are pulled from their moms. I was a very lucky piglet. There was a lady working in my family's barn and she felt sorry for me. She gathered me up and hid me until she was scheduled to leave the facility.
She knew that I would probably not be missed. Runts were expendable and most of the time our heads just slammed against a concrete floor or against a hard metal cage. They were then thrown into a heap to be rendered into the feed for other animal species. I discovered later that I was a very, very lucky piglet. I was one of the special ones. The lady made a phone call and I was on my way into an unkown future.
What you may not know is that pigs are very social animals and I am very happy to announce that I now live in a group with 23 other pigs. Although we all come from different backgrounds, we get along splendidly and we've lived in porcine harmony for a very long time. My favorite family friends are Piggy Winkle, Potsy, Ezra and Precious. I think they would name me in their handful of favorites, too.
What is our life together like? Well, we al live at a place called Serenity Springs Sanctuary, which is like a farm from a storybook, where none of the residents end up on the dinner table, not the cows, the horses (some people do eat them), not the chickens, or even the pigs. We all live long lives and die of old age, often peacefully in our sleep. Our home is a wondrous place, nestled in a valley ringed with leafy shade trees and a big hill at the top of our pens and paddocks, all of which are big and wide and where water and food is plentiful. I count my blessings each day that the sun rises and the daily activities begin.
Now, let me tell you a little bit about our life here. In the winter we huddle together in the barns, pressing our bodies close to each other under mounds of hay. This helps keep us warm, as we can't control our own body temperatures. I must admit that we sometimes fuss at each other regarding who is going to sleep where. As we settle in for the night, and if you understood pig talk, you might hear a conversation that goes something like this: "Okay, move over everyone, here I come and I want to sleep where I did last night". "No, you can't because this is where I'm going to sleep tonight". "Hey, you better move over you fat pig and let me in, That is my spot and I'm not going to share it with you." "I won't move. You go somewhere else". "If you don't move I'm going to sit on you". "Well, I'm not moving so sit on me". This may go on for quite sometime until we all reconcile, make concessions and retire for the night. There are times that one of us may have to go outside to pee in the middle of the night and upon their return the melee may start up all over again until we resolve the new issue. We can be silly and territorial.
In the summer we love to lie together in the sun, at least until it gets so hot we have to make a trip to wallow in the cool water and mud, or head to the shade of the trees. Pigs don't sweat so we rely on the water to keep our temperatures from getting too high. The mud is also good for our skin. Many people think that we are dirty, smelly animals and that is just not true. We can be very fastidious and once we do get muddy we rub it off on trees or whatever else is available. Here at the sanctuary that could even be our human if she is in the paddock cleaning. We love when this happens. Humans used to pay to have mud packs put on their faces. We've been doing this for hundreds of years and although many people think this makes us "dirty" animals it is protection from the sun and sometimes insects that might find us interesting. Some of us love to root in the dirt with our hard, disc-like noses. It is such an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon, or anytime for that matter. Sometimes we even find grubs, roots or buried acorns to scarf up. Our noses are very sensitive and although we are not known for our eyesight, we sure have a great ability to smell.
Feeding time is the most important and exciting event of the day. When the machine fires up to pull the feed cart around to the feeding stations, we are ready and willing. We run around, helter skelter, thinking that the next pile of food is the bigger one. While doing this we converse in grunts, squeaks, woofs and squeals, depending on who's doing the talking. Yes, we do have squabbles amongst the family members and mostly about food but we always work things out, usually in record time. We're social animals after all and, like most humans, we want peace and tranquility within the community.
That rumor about us being smart? It's a fact, not fiction: we're considered the smartest farm animal of them all with the intelligence of a two year-old human. So we think a lot and we work things out in our minds, too. I'll give you and example of a smart pig in action.
In our family, the smartest pig is Willey. She is a feral pig that was brought here when a hunter in Lousisana shot her mom. She was just a baby and arrived with her brother, Walt. She is a big girl now and one day the well pump suddenly stopped working and there was no water running into the snout waterers. We all stood around wondering what to do, muttering "oh no, oh no" while thinking just how thirsty we were starting to get. Could we last the day without water? Would anyone in the house come down and discover this terrible problem? We didn't know that emergency calls had already been made to anyone that could come and help, even to the volunteer fire department in case the pump truck needed to come with water. While we all stood around worrying, Willey didn't join in our lamenting: she was standing by herself, examining the situation. She poked her snout in the water bowl, but no water seeped through. Then she looked over at us and I swear I saw a gleam in her eye. She trotted over to the hose that feeds the trough and took it in her mouth. With a mighty jerk, she ripped the hose from the faucet and stepped back, waiting with anticipation. All of a sudden water spewed forth, like a geyser. Willey squealed with delight while she ran around in circles, inviting us all to join in for a drink. And drink we did and we played too, romping together in the spurting water, a wonderful muddy water park for us pigs. Many of us used our snouts to dig holes so that the water could fill them up and we could splash and roll.
We all look up to Willey for her problem-solving skills and we respect her for it. Even our human praised Willey for her ingenuity; we are lucky to have her in our family. In fact, we are all very lucky to have a family and to live at the sanctuary. Each of us were saved from possible death and brought here to live out the rest of our natural lives as pigs. Idyllic? You bet. And although we all know how lucky we are, it doesn't mean that we aren't aware of how the other half lives. The other porcine half.
Let me tell you about my cousin, Spam.
Spam was born on September 10, 2006 in a "farrowing crate". He was one of eight piglets, all as cute as can be. His mother, Lovey, lived in a "dry sow-stall" which is a pen so small that she could only stand up, lie down, and move forward and backward, just a step or two. The floor was hard concrete and there was no natural sunlight penetrating the gloom of the building, just the constant exposure, day and night, to incandesent lighting. She could never turn around, much less root or run and explore the way pigs are supposed to do. She couldn't even nest or prepare for the birth of her piglets.
When Spam and his brothers and sisters were born they were not allowed to have any comforting contact with their mom, other that to suckle on her for nutrition. Neither he, or his siblings, could not do what piglets normally do: they couldn't crawl up on their mommy for a cuddle; she couldn't "woof" on them and love them back. All they could reach were the tips of her teats.
While most piglets live with their nursing mothers for at least the first 12 weeks of their life, Spam and his siblings were taken away from their mommy at barely three weeks old. They were stuck into a crowded holding pen (15 by 15 feet) with many other displaced piglets where they were fed hormones, steroids, antibiotics, and fortified feed to ensure, not that they would grow up healthy and happy, but that they would grow faster and larger before being murdered.
Spam's piglet-hood was confined to a concrete floor covered with feces, his own and his pen-mates. All day and all night there was the continuous reverberation of fearful and stressful squealing. The cramped quarters caused little Spam to become so stressed the he sometimes attacked his pen-mates and vice versa. Terrified and confined piglets bite off each other's tails and, in a frenzy of fear, and may even resort to other forms of unnatural cannibalism. Sometimes the human workers, annoyed by all the aberrant behavior, would just grab a knife and cut off the pigtails themselves. There is no anesthesia in a place such as this: boy pigs are castrated without even a thought to the horrific pain they must endure, while the knife slices through delicate flesh.
One morning, after about twenty weeks of being "fattened" up", Spam awoke to the sounds other than the usual high-pitched squealing he had come to accept as part of his life. There was the sound of intense clanging metal, slamming gates, hissing power hoses, and the gravely voices of many humans, some of which seemed gleeful and were joking and laughing. The heightened squeals were like none he had ever heard. Terror reigned. Squinting, Spam could just make out the shapes of humans in overalls, hard hats, rubber aprons and hip boots. Some were wielding sharp carving knives. As Spam stood there he could smell an overwhelming stench of urine, uncontrolled faces, blood and death, wafting his way.
Spam cowered in one of the corners, behind some of his pen-mates, watching in horror as 5 at a time were hustled down a narrow aisle into a tiny metal pen. The pigs that balked were zapped with a bolt from a stun gun, which sent them to their bellies on the slippery concrete, seizing in agony. Those who cooperated were met with the attachment of a tong-like apparatus on either side of their heads, just in front of their ears. An electrical current was applied, sending them to the concrete slab, twitching and bleeding from their noses. Their legs stiffened as they lay on their sides still awaiting the pain to cease, which would only be when death ocurred. The worst was yet to come.
A chain was attached to one of the pig's hind legs and then were hoisted up into the air. The chain is connected to an overhead conveyer belt and a human came by, casually slitting the pig's throat. While the pig's heart continued to pump, the blood spurted into a massive trough as the pig made its way on down the conveyer to a vat of scalding water. When the pig was positioned over the vat it was lowered into the water, thrashing and being scalded in indescribable pain. It was shocked, bled and burned.
After it was finally dead, the pig was moved to another tank where workers removed the bristles, then on to another area where it's body was shaved and the tiny hooves amputated. Then it was on to the gutting area where it's belly was slit open and the guts expelled. All of the "innards" are then put in a vat for collection by the renderer who sells them for sausage, sausage skin, bacon and insulin.
As Spam watched, all of his pen-mates were forced into the killing machine and he no longer had a place to hide. His time had come. He knew there would be no escape and no mercy. So he mustered up all his dignity and strength and bravely walked, without the prompting of the stun gun, through the opening and into the metal crate where the tongs awaited him. He didn't squeal. He was a good pig and held his head high while he endured the horrible death that hundreds of thousands of pigs suffer each year.
I think about Spam and mourn for him, and all the other factory-farmed pigs, as I stand in the glorious sunshine here at the sanctuary. I listen to the pleasant gurgle of the snout waterers, the singing of the birds, the braying of the donkey's, the whinnies of the horses, the barking of the dogs, the clucking of the chickens and the kind words, pats and belly rubs of our human caregiver. I watch as my friends sunbathe and wander around free and without fear or anxiety. The only worry we have is "will the feed cart be on time today"?
IN MEMORY OF SPAM
September 10, 2006 - December 30, 2007
Spam's life is consistent with all factory-farmed pigs. There is no mercy or thought given to the horrors of the life they must endure to provide pork to the millions of tables of those humans that "choose" to allow this horrendous application of death to continue. There must be a better way. This is a form of torture that is consistent with the human race and should be abolished. Is this why there is no "e" at that end of human?
Terry DeGaw - Founder and Director of Serenity Springs Sanctuary