The answer can be seen in the swollen legs of the sows standing or trying to stand. To lie on their sides, a powerful inclination during months of confinement in twenty-two inches of space, they try to put their legs through the bars into a neighboring create. Fragile from the pigs' abnormally large weight (500 pounds), and from rarely standing or walking, and then only on concrete, their legs get crushed and broken. About half of these pigs whose legs can be seen appear to have sprained or fractured limbs, never examined by a vet, never splinted, never even noticed anymore.
What's that on the thigh of NPD 45-051? I ask. "That's a tumor," says Gay (an employee of the company that owns the farm; she has a doctorate in animal sciences.) The tumor, I observe, is the size of half a soccer ball. "Yeah, and she's just one year old," says Gay. "Getting thin, too. So she's not desirable anymore." What causes these tumors? A shrug. What happens when they get tumors? "She goes into the cull pen after her next litter." The sow herself may not even survive till birth, Gay explains, but they have a new method, called "superovulation," of harvesting the eggs and getting the live babies from the dead mothers.
A single piece of rubber tire hangs by a string over one crate in the entire barn, apparently someone's idea of "environmental enrichment," yet out of reach unless NPD 88-283 has been genetically engineered to lead five feet in the air. One of those "soft pliable objects" recommended by Temple Grandin (near as I can tell, the industry has tricked her into covering up their sins; try Google), whom Smithfield has paid for consultation, I have an awful hunch it was put there just so they can tell her, yes, Dr. Grandin, we've applied your findings, our pigs now have toys and they're happier than ever. NPD 39-215 is bleeding profusely from a gash above her eye. Nothing a little Kopertox won't fix. NPD 45-066 has a bright pink "X" painted on her back, indicating an imminent birth and transport to the Farrowing Barn. New life on the way, as the expectant mother noses at straw that isn't there to make a nest she'll never have for another litter she'll never raise. NPD 38-453 pulls back, shaking and screaming wildly, as I lean down to look at a perfect litttle spiderweb between an iron bar and a wooden board at the base of her crate. No Charlotte to bring help.
Gay trundles ahead, directing my attention to this and that with the AI rod she has been using as a pointer, cheerfully unaware, apparently, of the profound betrayal of veterinary ethics everywhere around us - the sworn obligation of every veterinarian "to protect animal health and relieve animal suffering." Who cares for these creatures, besides Gay and Roberto (a non-english speaking visa worker) and whatever other poor soul reports here every morning? Some Smithfield shill of a vet comes by every few days to check on the stock. But for the vets, too, they are not even animals anymore. They're piglet machines. And tumors, fractured bones, festering sores, whatever, none of these receive serious medical attention anymore. If the ailment threatens a particularl production unit's meat-yielding capacity, like the vaginal and urinary tract infections apparent from discharge stains on some of the sows, they'll get treated. That
can be justified by the return on labor and costs - though only if the unit isn't too old to even bother, "old" meaning three or four years instead of one or two. Otherwise, it's a quick cull and sale to the renderer. There is no sick ward here. For most, it's either Kopertox (a copper napathe cure-all that's the only treatment these pigs receive; it's dangerous if ingested by either pigs or humans) or the cull pen. Nothing in between, no care anymore for animals as such, no regard for their suffering or for the most minimal duties of ordinary decency.
NPD 41-132 is lame and losing weight and dying in the cull pen - here, at least, able to stretch out her limbs. She never made it to her eighth litter, Gay tells me. By the miracle of fertitlity drugs she had eighteen piglets in her first litter - twice what a sow will normally carry - thirteen in her second litter, but then started losing weight and aborting, and now, says Gay, "has served her purpose" and will be killed. Lying near her is another sow who left us this morning, dying of pneumonia, and strewn elsewhere in the cull pen the bodies of six others who for some reason just never learned to love it. The man in the truck will come by soon to take care of them all. "Most of the culls go to market," says Gay as we survey the day's casualties, "but the ones with disease don't go to Smithfield at all. These are, like, trash."
The diseased ones don't go to market because at Smithfield they have standards. They make only quality products here. You, the consumer, deserve only the best.