My experience yesterday confirmed what my prior experiences had already proven–you can’t make a pig get on a trailer. A pig will get on a trailer when the pig feels like getting on the trailer, and not before.
But in due course, and following much comedy, three of our pigs decided to get on the trailer. I then made the nerve-wracking 45 minute drive to the processor. In about a week we’ll have delicious, healthy pork from pigs raised humanely and ethically. We’ll have pork that came from happy pigs.
Days like yesterday are bittersweet of course. We don’t take lightly the sacrifice our pigs make. But days like yesterday come with the territory when you’re trying to farm sustainably.
Over seven years ago, shortly after I started this blog, some people questioned my reference to our “happy pigs.” The following is the post I did in response, from June, 2008. It bears repeating, I think
Quite a few folks seem to think it’s weird that we emphasize that our pigs live happy lives. One person said we make it sound as if they’re pets. Several just can’t understand why it would matter to us that our pigs live happy lives, if they’re destined for the freezer and dinner table.
These comments illustrate what has happened to the concept of animal husbandry in this country. I’d venture to say that 90% of American kids know of only two kinds of animals: pets and wildlife. They have absolutely no concept of where the meat they eat comes from, and don’t want to know. They (and increasingly their parents) would be horrified if they did.
But that is not as it should be.
Leaving aside the fact that animals raised and slaughtered humanely are better tasting, and better for us, we believe that we have a moral duty to treat our livestock well. We humans have been given dominion over animals, and they have been given to us a source of food. We are, in essence, stewards of creation.
For thousands of years our ancestors practiced animal husbandry, recognizing the importance of the symbiotic relationship between a herdsman or shepherd and his herd or flock. The inhumane and unsustainable practices of the modern industrial food businesses would’ve been revolting to them. Our ancestors might not have used the term “sustainability”, but they would’ve known that in order for the animals to survive and thrive, and continue to be a reliable source of food for them and their families, those animals must be treated with care and respect. The Bible is full of beautiful images of the love of a shepherd for his flock, for example. Those sheep weren’t pets. They were ultimately destined to be human food. Yet a good shepherd would do his best to assure that his sheep had happy, healthy lives.
Let’s compare how the beginning of the 23rd Psalm might be updated to fit contemporary practices:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters.
I am the property of a multinational industrial food corporation; I shall be fed the cheapest possible material that will keep me alive, and I shall be injected with growth hormones to maximize the corporation’s profit. It maketh me to lie down in filthy, overcrowded, disease-infested confined animal feeding facilities. It leadeth me to a tortured death in an assembly-line slaughterhouse.
I’m sure y’all get the point.
On sustainable farms, now, just as three thousand years ago, farmers and their families understand that there is a cycle (a circle, if you prefer) of life and death. Though death is inevitable, that doesn’t mean life shouldn’t be beautiful. Indeed, sustainable farmers live out daily a fundamental truth that human beings have always understood: death is necessary, in order to have life continue. And that essential fact is true in regard to matters far more significant that merely eating.
So, weird or not, we are proud to say that we raise our pigs humanely, and that they have happy lives. When it’s time for those happy lives to come to an end, our pigs reward us with healthy delicious pork.
For those who would prefer pork from pigs that led miserable, unnatural and unhealthy lives, just go to the supermarket. That’s the only kind they sell there.