A vegan cockfight and a shed-load of sheep shit

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A vegan cockfight and a shed-load of sheep shit

“One can measure the greatness and the moral progress of a nation by looking at how it treats its animals”. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

But how shall my own greatness and moral progress be measured?

On Saturday, with Andy’s help, I finally ticked off the tenth item on my “List of 30 things to try before I’m  30“, Number 17: ‘Volunteer at Edgar’s Mission Farm Sanctuary‘.

Edgar's Mission

Pick the odd one out…

I am now officially a third of the way through my Top 30 challenge, which (coincidentally) places me perfectly on track as the first third of my year-long journey comes to a close.

How, then, shall my own greatness and moral progress be measured?

I’d hazard a guess and say “By the shovel-full”.

If lawyers be sharks then surely law students be at least barracuda. Walk into any “legal ethics” class at any university and listen quietly for the snores and/or snorts of disgust. At law school, ethics is usually one of those pass/fail subjects that even the lecturers have to stifle a chuckle to get through when faced with a room full of ravenous flesh-eating fish.

My barracuda teeth may be a little blunt these days, but I still remember one or two little gems from law school that pop up from time to time in my daily life. On this particular occasion, the one little gem that sprang to mind was the maxim, “Equity will not assist a volunteer”.

This, my friends, is a lawyerly way of saying “The Good Samaritan was a schmuck”.

Coming from this background, it is easy to see why I might balk at the suggestion of volunteering in my spare time… volunteering to help ANIMALS no less! (We all know how much I love animals!)

The suggestion came from my friend Emily, who is far more community-minded than I am, and must have been paying far more attention when the all-girls Catholic school we attended attempted to teach the principle of “social justice” (through snores, snorts and Backstreet Boy wedding planning).

Em is a herbivore, so this particular volunteering program was right up her alley. Edgar’s Mission provides sanctuary to animals rescued from brutal farming conditions and gives them a new place to roost rather than roast.  As you arrive you immediately notice the very relaxed attitude towards penning the animals in, with a veritable Noah’s Ark of animals sauntering about wherever they please (too many Biblical references for one blog post? Sorry guys, I must have been awake for at least some of those Catholic school lectures…)

The place is impressive, and I’m sure it wouldn’t be what it is without the help of volunteers (like us!) and the regulars who turn up to tackle the tasks the owners simply don’t have time for. Cheerfully decorated with innumerable inspirational quotes like the one above, it’s an animal lover’s paradise. Nevertheless, anyone who has ever breathed in through their nose at the Sydney Royal Easter Show (or local “county fair” equivalent) will know that most farming tasks involve poo. And lots of it.

Our task was no different, so, armed with shovels and brooms and buckets of hot water, we accepted our muckraking mission up the back shed…

Oh Shit!

“Oh shit!”

I’d love to say that many hands make light work, but that would imply that there were many hands there to help us. While 8 people (and 16 hands) were assigned to this task, the brunt of the work was borne by about 6 hands, 2 mouths and 3 phantom bucket-fillers who would swoop in on occasion to not-so-helpfully splash fresh water on areas we had just finished cleaning. If volunteering at Edgar’s Mission taught me one thing, it’s that, sometimes, comparing a person to a “pig” is a little insulting to the pig.

This little piggy...

“You’re not afraid of getting your hands dirty now are you?”

The work was almost literally backbreaking, but in the end “back-straining” is probably more fair. My bony little girl arms held up well considering I rarely lift more than an eyebrow in my day-to-day life, and in the end (at least in my opinion) we did a pretty stinkin’ good job…

Clean ShedClean enough… but not clean enough to eat off.

Somewhat disappointingly, we learned that the sudden need for cleanliness was not inspired by the animals themselves but was instead part of the preparation for an upcoming “Carols by Candlelight” event. Having come into contact with very few animals during the course of the work itself (with just a couple of ewes popping in to bleat their own not-so-helpful suggestions), we had hoped that our work might somewhat more directly benefit our new furry friends. Perhaps it’s the barracuda in me that felt a little “used and abused” instead of brimming with joy at the selfless Christian kindness of it all. Fa-la-la-la-la la-la la-laaa.

But I didn’t harbour my bitter resentment for long… How could I complain in the face of irony so delicious that even Alanis Morissette would pick up one of her ten thousand spoons for a taste…

In the midst of all the animal-cuddling, raw carrot-chewing, winning friends with salad antics, Andy and I witnessed our very first cockfight!

Vegan Cockfight

“Nobody calls me chicken!”

Though we weren’t game to place any bets…

As entertaining as this little display of bravado was, the prospect of attending the afternoon’s farm tour was a little much for us and, after a lunch fit for a rabbit, we set off on the hour-long drive back to civilisation (and hot running water).

Had we attended the tour I’m sure I could regale you with countless horrifying facts about the mistreatment of animals in captivity, but for now I’ll just leave you with the one that struck a chord with me as I passed the display on the way to get a shovel.

This is a “gestation crate”:

Pig Gestation Crate

“Between 60 and 70 percent of sows are kept in crates during pregnancy in the United States. Each pregnancy lasts four months, and sows will have an average of 2.5 litters every year for three or four years, most of which is spent in the crates.They give birth to between five and eight litters before being slaughtered. As they grow larger, they no longer fit in the crates, and have to sleep on their chests, unable to turn around to lie on their sides as pigs usually do. The crates are usually placed side by side in rows of 20 sows, 100 rows per shed. The floors are slatted to allow excrement and other waste to fall into a pit below”. ~ Wikipedia

Check out “gestation crate” on Google Images if your eyes and stomach can bear the reality check.

I’ve known for a long time that pig farming in Australia is generally appalling, but I’d given little thought to what that cruelty really looked like… I was sickened. While we’re much better educated these days about free range chicken and egg farming, for some reason the humble pig hasn’t quite received the publicity it deserves.

On October 22 this year (just last week), the ‘Make it Possible’ campaign brought this very issue to small screens across Australian homes with its groundbreaking 1 minute commercial. It’s pretty cheesy (think ‘Babe: Pig in the City’), but the images of the very real and very unnecessary animal cruelty speak for themselves. If you have 1 minute to spare, I suggest you watch it now.

I don’t know about you but I have found that the price difference between cage and free range chicken products barely rates a mention, particularly when you also take into account the vast difference in the quality of the product you receive for those few extra coins. I haven’t put this theory to the test in the pork department but I’m going to throw caution to the wind and guess it’s no different.

So, while volunteering at Edgar’s Mission did little to deter my omnivorous ways, it has certainly given me pause to think about the small choices I can make to help put an end to, what even the most staunch of meat-lovers would have to admit is, unnecessarily inhumane treatment.

It’ll be free range for me from now on.

What do you prefer to think about when planning a meal, ensuring their welfare or ensuring you’re well-fed?

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6 responses »

  1. I actually just watched a really interesting video on gestation crates…

    Now, normally I don’t care for factory farming at all, but I like these crates. I would feel OK eating pig from these crates because all these animals are capable of standing up, walking around and moving about should they see fit… And controlling angry, hormonal 100lb pregant mama pigs in an open pen is crazy.

    Not saying don’t make better choices. I’m just saying you should consider that there is propaganda on both sides.

    • Interesting video! I can’t say I agree that it demonstrates proper care of the animals at all. I am by no means an animal rights activist but I do believe our consumerist culture has created a situation that has pressured farmers into using cruel methods to farm animals just to stay competitive on price.

      If anything, that video has just strengthened my resolve to avoid “factory farmed” pork products.

      • Well, the animals can certainly move about, interact and the cages are clean. I agree it could be improved. The crates could be larger and there could be an outdoor pen FOR them to go into and do things like root around. But when I think of housing any farm animal in groups when you COULD house them seperately, all I think of is the fights that take place, like the two cocks you saw fighting. Fights like that can result in terrible injury… And I’d rather see a pig in these crates that they can walk out of freely and keep them clean and able-bodied then covered in battle scars.

        I am still glad you’re making a better choice for your food. I just like reminding people that these issues are not always black and white and not every factory farm has animals forced to lie down in tiny boxes 24/7 in filth and decay and disease the way major anti-farming groups would have you think.

      • I’d have to say that I disagree that the animals “can clearly move about”. To me it appears that, at best, they have limited access to a narrow passageway between crates. The presenter himself mentions that some of their pigs are still kept in the fixed cages, meaning some of their pigs don’t even get access to the narrow passageway.

        I don’t have any experience with pregnant pigs so I can’t comment on that from my own perspective, but I suggest this research gives a fairly balanced perspective on the issue:
        “Group housing results in greater levels of aggression and possible injuries compared to stall housing. However, aggressive interactions are less prolonged compared to unresolved aggression in stalled sows, where the dominance order is not settled.” – http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/doc/572.pdf

        The report goes on to give recommendations about how grouping can be done to avoid aggression (such as only mixing animals of similar age and size and avoiding frequent regrouping).

        I accept your point that it’s not necessarily as dire as animal activist groups might have us believe. I’m sure there are plenty of farms that go to great lengths to ensure their animals are “clean and able-bodied” as you say, however I believe that at the heart of the issue is cost, and the fact that is simply costs more to raise animals in more humane conditions.

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