Thursday, August 28, 2008

Our work with the pigs in the weeks since three of the pregnant sows rescued from the Midwest floods gave birth has kept us in a state of emotional flux. The most devastating news we have to report involves Mango – one of the mothers who gave birth last month. Like the other flood survivors, she had suffered immensely prior to rescue, and in the end, the ordeal proved fatal for her babies. Her little ones were nearly four weeks premature, their tiny lungs underdeveloped, and despite the intensive care they received here and at Cornell University’s Veterinary Hospital, they tragically passed away.

Though the loss of these precious lives hit us hard, no one was affected more profoundly than Mango. Like Faith, a sow who gave birth during the flood and then lost her piglets on the Iowa levee, Mango grieved, falling into depression, losing weight and pacing next to the stall where she had once cared for her babies. We are thankful to share the news, however, that she has since found comfort in an old friend, a young pig she bonded with during her time on the levee, and the two have picked up right where they left off, spending each moment together as surrogate mother and child.

Above: Mango and her young pig friend, prior to rescue, on the Iowa levee.

The other new mothers, Mabel and Rosebud, have also had their share of sorrow, as some of their babies were too small and sickly to make it through their first days of life. Happily, both continue to care for seven babies each while we monitor them closely, watching for signs of illness or distress. The love between the sows and piglets that we witness during our observations is remarkable, especially in the moments after the piglets wake from naps and run to reach their mothers’ faces, grunting excitedly into their ears as if to say, “thank goodness you’re still here!” One of Rosebud’s babies, Pepper, is so thrilled to see his mother when he wakes that he sticks his entire nose into her ear.

Above: Rosebud chats with two babies who are checking in after waking from a nap.

And then, of course, there is Nikki – the mother sow who gave birth on the levee and risked everything to keep her babies alive. She and her pleasantly plump, very muddy and deliriously happy little family have been a constant source of joy through all the trials we’ve faced in caring for the flood survivors. That’s not to say, however, that Nikki hasn’t done her part to keep us on our toes! Just the other day, as we performed health checks on the piglets in a treatment stall, Nikki ran to the gate and, within moments, skillfully and unapologetically removed it from its hinges so she could check in with each baby and ensure they were okay. Nothing, and we mean nothing, keeps this family apart.

Above: Nikki with her piglets following close behind!

After having the honor of knowing these sows, it is painful to think about what their lives were like at the factory farms they only narrowly escaped when the Mississippi River overflowed. But we must think about it because Mango, Rosebud, Nikki, and all the other bright, passionate, loving, and sensitive gestation sows rescued in Iowa are not anomalies in their ability to feel so deeply, and they need us to tell their full stories and show the world what is at stake when factory farms treat sentient creatures like commodities.

Every day on factory farms, sows like Nikki and the rest are confined inside 2-foot-wide gestation crates with concrete floors. They cannot turn around, or lie down comfortably. In fact, they can barely move. They are artificially inseminated by hog industry workers and left alone in solitary confinement to carry their babies for a term of 114 days. After giving birth to up to 17 piglets, a number that the pork industry continually pushes to increase, they nurse their babies through the bars of farrowing crates, minimally larger than gestation crates, unable to touch their newborns – let alone experience the kind of tender moments with them that we’ve seen here. After 10 days, the sows’ babies are torn away from them while they watch helplessly, and the cruel cycle begins again. These sows are treated as nothing more than piglet breeding machines.

Above: Gestation sows endure immense suffering on factory farms.

This life of misery drives gestation sows to madness – the evidence of which we have seen among the rescued Iowa pigs who spent entire days upon arrival here neurotically rubbing their noses against their feed bowls. Nearly all of them, in fact, are missing front teeth, presumably from their days of biting on metal bars. While this behavior has ceased with long days outdoors, play sessions, wallow time in mud holes, and affection from one another, these pigs will still chew on wooden slats if they are temporarily restricted to a stall for medical treatment – their time on factory farms lingering despite their freedom.

Above: A rescued sow runs and kicks up her heels in the pasture.

As Californians gear up to vote YES! on Prop 2, an initiative that would ban the use of gestation crates for breeding sows, as well as veal crates for calves and battery cages for egg-laying hens, in the nation’s largest agricultural state, people across the country have an opportunity to reduce animal suffering, as well. With only 68 days to garner public support and secure endorsements before the November 4 vote, we urge you to join the YES! on Prop 2 campaign and be a part of this historical effort. No matter where you live, you can help protect 20 million animals from the worst factory farming abuses. Learn how at

Please also join us in sharing the stories of Mango, Nikki and the other rescued pigs with the world and educate your friends and family about the many reasons to embrace a cruelty-free lifestyle and go vegan. Find more resources today at

Above: A rescued sow soaks up the sun while bathing in her water tub.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Since a number of the surviving sows we found on the Oakville, Iowa levee were already in late term pregnancy at the time of their rescue, we have experienced several piglet births at Farm Sanctuary this week – the very first to ever occur at our New York Shelter. A rarity in our work as we take measures to prevent breeding among shelter residents so we can always focus our efforts on animals in the most desperate need of our help, the births have been quite a new experience for us all.

Around noon on Wednesday, a third sow in late term pregnancy, Mabel, gave birth to 10piglets. See below for photos of the happy mom and our newest additions. As the newborns have raised the number of pigs in care from this rescue, we are still in urgent need of donations to cover the costs of their feed, housing and medical care. We are also searching for loving adoptive homes for pigs, as well as volunteers to assist us with shelter work in Watkins Glen. If you can help, please call 607-583-2225. Contributions can be made by clicking on the donate box to the right of the blog.