Let me first apologize for not writing sooner, because this
letter is long overdue. You see, we have rescued and cared for hundreds of pigs
from your industry. And when they pass, it is rarely from disease, although we
do sometimes see that, too. More often,
it is simply due to the physical flaws you have bred into them, viewing them
not as flaws, but as benefits. At the time of euthanasia, their brilliant minds
are still very much aware, but because their bodies have been so drastically
altered from the way they should be, they cannot live the long lives they
deserve even with the most restricted, healthiest diets.
Kim loved us so much. This was right before she had to be euthanized. Her back legs no longer able to function but her mind still clear.
Nikki loved to be kissed, hugged and snuggled like any being. (Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur / weanimals.org)
Sweet Nikki never forgot her good pal Julie, who visited her multiple times each year since she found her on the levee in Iowa. Here, Nikki’s daughter Ellen joins in the reunion.
Kim loved to stay out late and was often the last pig to come inside. All our industrial pigs do this- spend as much time outside as they can.
Super Piglet Kim Gordon leaping across the turkey yard.
Sleeping in straw- all our pigs love to nest and love to rest.
The ever-cute muppet Kim
Always happy and always running up to greet us- Nikki out on pasture with the kids.
Baby Kim, already too long- loving life outside in the big world.
Ellen with siblings and Mama Nikki — enjoying their first big snow!
So today I am writing to let you know about the devastating
loss of two of the most amazing pigs I have ever known. Both came from
industrialized farms in Iowa — one, Kim Gordon, rescued as a baby who fell from
a truck a little more than five years ago; the other, Nikki, a gestation sow who
was left to die during the floods of 2008.
Nikki was such a huge love and welcomed guests, interns, and anyone who met her into her life.
Both of these pigs had a few things in common. They were
both loving and friendly to people. They enjoyed long belly rubs and attention
from everyone they met. And both talked when you called their names — that
happy greeting which you may not know that they make, when they truly love
someone. We get to hear it all the time.
Kim relaxing in the mud.
Both girls were extremely intelligent. Not only did they
learn their names immediately when we started using them, but Nikki even figured
out how to take gates off hinges and open latches. They both taught themselves
how to hold down pumpkins with their front feet to steady them for that first
bite, so they wouldn’t roll away.
This smart girl got her babies out of a crate during transport.
Both pigs loved the outdoors and spent every day outside — in
the mud during the summer, and plowing through the snow during the winter. They
couldn’t get enough of it. We applied sunscreen to their ears to keep them from
getting the skin cancer pigs like them are prone to, since pork production requires
them to be white. But that doesn’t matter — they did great outside.
Kim loved spending hours outside every day — and especially loved the sunshine and flowers of the summer.
Nikki even taught
her children to love the outdoors, and ever since they were tiny babies — just
a few pounds each — they too spent their days outside.
Happy dancing piglets in the grass.
They both formed very close bonds with other pigs. Kim was
best pals with two other industrial females, Fiona and Joan. She was also best
pals with a male named Bob Harper, who himself had fallen from a truck as a
Kim and her girls Joan Jett and Fiona!
Nikki was best friends with two gestation sows: Honey, who
is still with us, and Rose, who passed a few years back. (Rose, by the way, had
MRSA — seems to be a big issue with the pigs coming out of your industry.) These
two mothers never got to keep their babies; Rose actually lost hers in the
floods, and was trying to get them up gently with her nose when we found her — but
they were already dead. She was starving and had not produced milk, so the
babies starved too. She was devastated and had to be force-fed, she was so
upset. But then she met Nikki and her babies and was instantly drawn to them,
and thankfully Nikki let her help raise them. Three gestation sows and Nikki’s
babies. It was such an amazing family.
The family outside in every type of weather. These pigs love the outdoors because mama Nikki taught them to.
Both Nikki and Kim Gordon were extremely playful and spent
hours making the fun “hoof hoof” sounds they make when they are being silly. Even
Nikki — who looked to be around two to two and a half years old when she was
rescued, and already had severe arthritis in her front elbow and in her back
feet — still ran, played, splashed in mud, dug mud holes, spun around in the
snow, and loved the hell out of her life.
Floppy-eared baby Kim Gordon loving the grass.
Kim would run and her ears would
bounce up and down. She reminded us of a Muppet and was always so happy and
smiling. They make sounds when they are content, sounds when they are playing,
and sounds when they like you. You may never have heard these, but if you
haven’t, you really should.
Happy talking Kim loved all kinds of weather, and loved us.
And the two pigs were also different in many ways — as all
pigs are, because they are individuals.
Kim after she fell from the truck. Her body was battered and she was exhausted.
Kim Gordon was either a suckling piglet or a feeder pig — the
name your industry gives to those pigs being raised for food. She was just a
baby when she arrived, and even with a restricted diet, her body was so genetically
flawed — by design, so that more food products could be created for human
consumption from a single pig — that she had spinal issues.
Even as a baby, she was so much longer than the other pigs.
Once fully grown, she
was more than seven and a half feet long, hence the breakdown of her body when
she was still so young, culminating in euthanasia to keep her from suffering. She
had severe arthritis in her vertebrae and she became ataxic; she could no
longer use her back legs. Even on a restricted diet, this very long pig weighed
more than 700 pounds, which is also due to her breeding, and again a condition
created by your industry so that more meat can be produced per pig and you can
make a bigger profit.
Kim’s head looks large due to her long, skinny body!
You see, wild pigs — where the pigs we know originated — have
19 vertebrae, and breeds like Kim‘s (she was a Landrace cross) have between 20
and 23. These breeds have, for a very long time, been selectively bred to
enlarge the size of their bodies for increased meat production, which is the
likely cause of those extra vertebrae and the extreme length of our friend Kim.
She almost looked like two pigs put together, with her front half moving counter
to the back half, curving into an “S” shape as she walked.
Kim was never spry due to her long body and spinal issues. She did, however, remain active up until the very end.
Kim was relatively shy as well, even though she was quite
large, and she was very low on the pecking order in her herd. She was easily
frightened by the other pigs and not good at defending herself — likely because
she was not as agile as the shorter, stockier pigs, many of whom come from breeds other than the large
Shy girl Kim.
Nikki, on the other hand, was very strong and very brave. She
was not only able to survive a flood in Iowa — while pregnant, no less — but
she was then able to find a soft, dry place to have her babies. And although
she was starving, she did not hurt her children, but instead kept them alive, even
when she was so gaunt that every bone in her body was visible. And even coming
from an industry like yours — most of the gestation sows we’ve rescued have been
frightened of people — she was unafraid, especially when someone messed with her
Mom and babies in Iowa after the rescue. Nikki was exhausted but was always an amazing mom.
To bring Nikki’s babies from Iowa to our sanctuary in New
York, we were legally required to have ear tags put in. This was done by a
local vet, and when we went to take them out later, we began by luring the
piglets into a pen — with a very strong gate and latch. Nikki was about a half
a football field’s distance away when we merely picked up the first baby, and
the scream (good piglet defense mechanism) brought the already-arthritic mother
barreling into the barn. She promptly yanked the gate off its hinges and broke
the latch off the post, which was concreted into the floor. This protectiveness
of her offspring continued until they were larger than she was.
Nikki and her crew. She was notorious for chasing anyone — human or pig — away from her tiny babies if they seemed to be trying to separate her from them.
Nikki was also a great mother in other ways. Every night,
from the day they were born to this year (her babies are now older than eight
years of age, and each is the same size or bigger than she was), she made them
a massive nest. I know you likely don’t see pigs nest, but it is incredible. She
would bring mouthful after mouthful of straw and make a thick, soft nest, and
she and her children and her friend Honey would all sleep together, bodies
touching, every night. It was so amazing to see.
Queen of nest-making Nikki, with Ellen running beside her.
And when Nikki had to have surgery — first on her right front
foot, and then her left front foot, and then one of her back feet, due to a
very resistant bacterial infection (you should probably not use so many
antibiotics when raising them) and to the bones breaking down in the feet
(gestation sows are kept on concrete, as you know) — her babies would always be
frightened in her absence.
From left to right, Portia, Nikki, Chuck, Honey, and Ellen all asleep tight together on a cool winter’s night.
They would chomp their jaws when we came into their
barn, even recently, though they are older now and bigger than their mother. She
seemed to always be the reason they felt safe. And when she would return from
the veterinary hospital, they would run and spin and clearly rejoice that she
was home, and their sense of security would return.
Nikki coming home from the hospital was always a celebration, with everyone running and hoofing in all directions. Amazing to watch.
That did not happen this last time. Instead, we brought her
home after treatment failed to euthanize her in the place she loved best. We
showed her body to her babies after she had passed — just so they would know
she was gone. They became very agitated, and her son Chuck was clearly the most
Mama’s boy Chuck when he was a youngster — enjoying the great outdoors and licking snow off my coveralls.
So when you are working in the lab trying to come up with a
way to make pigs grow larger, faster; produce more piglets; have more ribs; make
more bacon — remember that every one of those pigs is a Nikki or a Kim, just
waiting to be allowed to be a pig — not pork.
Sweet-faced Nikki with her battered ear, likely from being in a gestation crate and very frustrated. You can also see that she is on her knees here — she was always like that when first getting up, since she arrived with arthritis in both elbows as a result of being raised on concrete.
Thank you for your consideration.
Susie Coston, Farm Sanctuary National Shelter Director
This is one of my favorite pictures of Nikki and me — because it shows that she is a gentle loving being and that she is loved back.
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