I’m Still Saying “Happy Pigs”

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

Happy Pigs?

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.

Modern version:

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.


28 comments on “I’m Still Saying “Happy Pigs”

  1. Aggie says:

    Mark Shepard feeds his pigs on the trailer for the last month or so of their lives. Have you seen the video where he pets his pigs and says, “They have one bad day.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • avwalters says:

      That was exactly what I was wondering–hell, you could take them for short drives, even.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      A very sensible idea and one that many people use. But two years ago when I parked the trailer in the pasture with the intent to train them to eat in it, the pigs concluded that I had brought them a new toy. They began gnawing on the tires and seemed determined to destroy the trailer. Problematic, since it wasn’t my trailer. So that method was a fail for me. But I plan to try it again next year since I now have a chute I can load them through, giving them less access to the trailer itself. I haven’t seen the video but that is the reality here too. When we used to do our processing here, they never experienced any stress or fear. Now, in order for us to obey the USDA, they get one bad day.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Joanna says:

    Even better would be mobile butchers that would do on-farm butchering and then even that last journey would be short. Now all we have to do is overturn a whole vast swathe of legislation and we are set!


    • Bill says:

      That would be great. Until 3 years ago we killed the hogs here and then took them to a neighbor (about a mile away) who is a professional butcher with a first-rate facility. But since he doesn’t have a USDA inspector on site, we’re not allowed to sell cuts of meat processed that way, even if we disclose that fact to our customers.


  3. bobraxton says:

    Biblical – Hebrew (mostly) NT Greek
    1684 debach
    1685 debach
    2076 zabach
    2077 zebach
    2378 thusia
    8002 shelem
    8548 tamid


  4. BeeHappee says:

    Bill, thank you for sharing those thoughts.
    The attitude that if we are going to slaughter and eat those pigs anyway, then we may as well treat them meanly, is this pervasive distorted view in our society, the disconnection from everything, from life.
    I do not even really know how to describe it – suppressed guilt? – but it shows up in all aspects of our society, not just animal husbandry. The way we treat our elderly and dying people, the way children are treated sometimes, the way we treat each other – when we think ‘relationship will end’ or ‘I will get nothing out of it’, thus why should I treat this person well. . . 😦

    A farmer on a local farm here gets very frustrated when kids keep asking if this sheep or this cow has a name. They claim these animals are not pets, and therefore they do not get names, he says: they get slaughtered, would you like to be eating Molly and Fuzzball? It does not seem to matter for the kids, they name animals anyway, and personally I do not get this fear of naming an animal even if you are going to eat it.

    I read through some parts of the book “Pig Tales”, sad indeed. A new film is coming out, “The Last Pig”, which is good news for vegetarians, vegans. I am still not ready to give up my bacon though. . . I am reading a neat cook book “Back to Butter” by Molly Chester of Apricot Land Farms, which was inspired by Nourishing Traditions, and we do like out pastured animal proteins.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      I’m looking forward to reading Pig Tales. You might also check out the podcast Gastropod. They recently did an episode on pigs, and it was fascinating.

      As for naming animals, we do name ours. By giving them names we feel like we give them more dignity, and besides, you have to call them something. When we started out I read that one reason not to name animals is that the IRS considers that evidence that they are pets and that your business is a hobby–a ridiculous proposition that infuriates me.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

      All Life forms have a nervous system and therefore “feel”. Apparently these people neither believe in Karma nor The Golden Rule?
      What goes around, comes around…


      • Bill says:

        Interestingly, the prevailing scientific view in the 18th Century (and likely still today) was that animals don’t feel pain or suffer. Rather, they are mere machines (automata). Called the Cartesian view (because it originated with DeCartes) it held that any concern for animal welfare is mere sentimentality. Wesley challenged this notion in his day and I address it in my book.


      • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

        I believe they also said the same about performing surgery on newborn male infants, not so very long ago. Hmm, this somehow seems a pertinent reaction, on so many levels… “Poppycock!!”

        Liked by 1 person

      • bobraxton says:

        a reference to circum-navigation — the elementary student answered about what Magellan had accomplished answered that he had “circumcised the globe”


  5. bobraxton says:

    what it meant (from memory) – molecules / we are just / a string of: http://martin.ces.ncsu.edu/hogkilling/


  6. EllaDee says:

    To anyone who would ask why bother with happy pigs?, I would ask, why not? And before anyone scratches their head thinking about it, there is no satisfactory answer!


    • Bill says:

      We inhabit a food culture now where treating the animals we raise for food kindly is considered strange, while treating them cruelly is considered reasonable. The concept of animal husbandry is largely forgotten. We insist on humane treatment of pets and wildlife. With farm animals, anything goes (as long as we don’t have to see it).


  7. Laura says:

    Great post. We currently have “happy lambs, ducks, and chickens”. People don’t understand how you could eat your pets, but the better question is how they can eat the factory animals.


    • Bill says:

      Exactly. I don’t understand how people can feel sympathy for a well-treated animal with a name and a happy life, but none for an abused tortured factory-raised animal. I think it’s because the more we treat an animal like a mere machine, the less some people identify it as a living being. It’s a warped way of thinking that our modern food culture encourages by keeping the factory animals hidden from sight.

      Liked by 1 person

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