28 February 2011

Gestation Crates: One of the worst offenses committed on a daily basis in factory farming

From the time I was a little girl I have had an affinity and adoration for pigs. My mother had a small collection of pig inspired figurines and stuffed animals left over from a much larger collection that she had cherished growing up, which I then grew to love and cherish. What began as simple, instinctive childhood adoration grew into an educated respect and admiration after seeing Charlotte’s Web for the first time.

Since that first viewing, E B. White has fascinated me. I credit him for my early love and respect of animals and nature, as well as my passion for writing about each. Growing up on Long Island, trips to Montauk began when I was young and continued routinely as friends and I grew to acquire our own driver’s licenses and cars. No matter my age, I could not contain my excitement as Montauk Highway merged into a one-lane country road. The anticipation building each time I passed the driveway that held the black mailbox with the name E.B. White etched into its side. With my eyes straining I would try desperately to catch a glimpse of the house that dwelled within it the man who gifted us such classics as Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little, but to this day, it is impossible to see beyond the gravel driveway draped in trees. Still it makes no difference, as I imagine that whatever the shrubbery conceals, I would adore.

Mr. White was the first person who taught me, and countless other children, the realities of life for a farmed animal. Thanks to him and many other animal activists and educators, we know that by today’s standards, Wilbur was one very lucky pig. We also know much more (although E.B. seems to have known all along) about pigs and their sentience, as well as the horrors of factory farming, which make the atrocities committed against these creatures that much more disconcerting.

Both curious and insightful, pigs are known to have the intelligence beyond that of an average three-year-old human child. They are smarter than most dogs and every bit as friendly, affectionate, playful and loyal. Similarly to dogs, cats, and human children, pigs have individualized personalities. They are extremely social animals who can recognize friends and family of both animal and human distinction. They learn their names, bond strongly to each other and thrive on companionship.

During a recent trip to a local farm animal sanctuary I had the pleasure of observing the pig residents while they napped in their shaded barn, away from the heat of the afternoon. Each pig lay on his/her side next to a companion in what we humans call the “spooning position;” so content and trusting that the visitors were encouraged to approach the six hundred pound duos and rub their bellies, to which they responded by snoring loudly and rolling over on their backs in request for more. It was a delightful experience, which made the gravity of the educational aspect of the tour that much harder to comprehend. Outside the barn lay a metal contraption no bigger than that of a large dog crate with pictures of anguished female pigs, or sows, cramped between the bars. These man-made pig prisons are called gestation crates.

Also known as a sow stall, these crates are 7ft wide by 2ft high metal enclosures used to confine female breeding pigs during pregnancy, which by factory farming standards equates to the entire lifetime of each sow. More than seventy percent of sows are confined in gestation crates during pregnancy in the United States. Each pregnancy lasts four months, with an average of 2.5 litters every year. Weighing as much as 600 pounds, sows spend much of their adulthood in gestation crates, producing at least five to eight litters before their bodies literally begin shutting down and they are sent to slaughter. Far too large to be accommodated by the crates, the sows are unable to stand or turn around and must sleep on their chests while their excrement builds up around and under them, eventually falling through slatted floors into a pit below.

Besides the blatant disregard of sanitary concern, these physically, mentally and emotionally tormented sows birth their piglets in filth, and are never allowed to nurture and care for their offspring, as it is their instinctive nature to do. Shortly before giving birth, the sows are moved to farrowing crates, which are only slightly wider so they can lie down to nurse their piglets. After a few weeks the piglets are traumatically taken from their mothers and she is returned to the gestation crate where she will once again be impregnated and begin the awful cycle once more. Male piglets are raised for their meat and flesh, as well as their semen, which is used to artificially inseminate the sows, and the unfortunate female piglets face the same fate as their exploited mothers.

The use of gestation crates is without a doubt one of the worst offenses committed on a daily basis in factory farming. The sows, deprived of all natural rights develop repetitive, anxiety induced behaviors such as bar-biting, head weaving and tongue rolling, as well as learned helplessness, which indicates the sow’s inability to react or struggle to survive. In other words, they come to understand that nothing they do will change their situation and in essence, they give up. They will not react to being poked or prodded or even when a bucket of water is thrown on them. They wait instead, for death.

The height of such exploitation and greed leads, irrefutably to the dehumanization of an entire industry and demographic of people. There is no excuse for the behavior of those people capable of committing such atrocities against another living creature. The fact that people believe that it is their right to hold captive, torture and slaughter an entire species of animals for nothing short of superiority, gluttony and greed, must be called into question and must be fought.

Erica Settino
Erica Settino is the co-founder and executive director of the non-profit organization, Karuna For Animals: Compassion In Action, Inc. A long time vegetarian turned passionate vegan, she works tirelessly to educate others on the countless benefits of adopting a vegan diet. For more information about Erica and her work visit karunaforanimals.com.

Photo credit: cc: flickr.com/photos/woaw