FREEDOM, IN - Pip the pig lays in his pile of hay, surrounded by a wooden house painted light blue. His ears stand up straight through the straw, unlike the other pigs who lay, ears flopping down, in the surrounding wooden houses or underneath the trees.
Suddenly, an engine noise sounds in the distance. Tarra Danner, animal caregiver and volunteer coordinator of PEAK Animal Sanctuary, drives her red MULE 5x F1 golf cart around the corner of a patch of pines, oaks and walnut trees. Pip’s eyes open, revealing blue irises. It’s breakfast time.
Since being rescued, Pip has come to be known as the most sociable of this family of pigs, notorious for being the youngest and always getting what he wants. When guests visit the sanctuary, he runs up to beg for attention, chatting with them through oinks. He wears his heart on his skin — literally, with a black splotch in the shape of a heart on the side of his belly. It perhaps represents his soft and gentle nature, especially towards his rumored girlfriend, Tulip.
Pip, a Yorkshire pig, was born on a North Carolina factory farm in August 2018. His life was set to end at 5 months, the average age genetically modified pigs live before being processed into meat.
However, at four months, he and 40 other piglets didn’t meet the weight requirement to be sent to the next stage of a factory farm process, also known as a “fattening farm.” In farm factories, hog farmers often dispose of pigs if they are growing slower than needed. Pip, his brother Potter and 40 other piglets were planned to be executed at a gas chamber, a common practice for disposing of pigs seen as unfit to fulfill their determined purpose.
During the COVID-19 outbreak, meatpacking plants suffered greatly, resulting in a backlog of pigs ready for slaughter but with nowhere to go. Highly populated barns were gassed, or pigs were shot directly in the head.
Rescue groups across Indiana frequently seek out opportunities to bargain with farmers about rescuing farm animals, even if it’s just a few. In Pip's and brother Potter’s case, a rescuer won.
Allison Hess, who at the time was the PEAK Animal Sanctuary board president, drove down the next day to bring the two brothers home in November 2018. They’ve been given a chance for a new, longer and more fulfilling life.
However, the effects of their genetic modifications continue to reveal themselves with age. Genetic modifications of pigs have been used since 1985, and since then, have increased to account for escalating meat demand. Unlike Pip, the other pigs in his group are sightless, eyes sealed shut. They also have flopped ears.
Danner said the volunteers at the sanctuary were unsure if thesge physical effects were the result of their genetic modifications, because many pig breeds are genetically modified. Usually, pigs are known for their bad eyesight, which is outweighed by their keen sense of smell and impressive hearing.
That same morning, Danner was in charge of doing the rounds and ensuring each animal was fed.
As she came forward with large plastic bowls in hand, each of the pigs popped out of their various piles of hay and jumped off of the grass floor, moseying their way over to eat.
Pip and his group of pigs receive a breakfast of mixed minerals, vitamins, oats, barley and corn, which the team of caregivers at the farm receive from the feeder store, Cloverdale Agricultural Center Inc.
Each of the pigs have a different background, but all are similar to Pip’s. Some have jumped off pig transportation trucks on the way to slaughterhouses and were found wandering on highways. Others escaped from farms or factories where they were to be processed, found wandering in fields with frostbite or torn ears.
To protect themselves from the approaching cold, the pigs choose sleeping spots strategically, covering themselves with hay to keep warm. As Pip trotted over to his breakfast bowl, his hooves pattered across the dew drop covered grass and oinks filled the air. The pigs mainly kept to their own bowls, interrupted occasionally by the approach of another pig and a slight shove.
Compared to the others, Pip has a smaller build, weighing around 700 lbs. The others weigh up to 900 lbs.
Tulip, the leader of the group and Pip’s rumored girlfriend according to PEAK Animal Sanctuary caregivers, rested in her orange house as the others continued to eat. Unlike the other pigs, she is a mixture of a Yorkshire and Meishan breed. Her genetic modification has left her living a life of decreased mobility: she faces joint disintegration and arthritis, among other difficulties.
Slight burns were present on her ears, which is common among the other Yorkshire pigs within the group. Danner puts zinc oxide sunblock on the pigs each morning to aid their sensitivity to the sun.
During breakfast, Danner chatted with the pigs, to which they oinked back, asking them about their days.
“I’m comin’ Lily! Watch your tone Hank,” Danner said toward a couple of the pigs.
One of them walked over to her and plopped on their side. Danner reached down and scratched their belly. “Well, hi there Sue,” she said.
After finishing up breakfast, the group of pigs spread back out to their own areas. A couple walked down the sloping hill towards a deeper set of woods, while others walked back to their own houses to lay back down. Pip walked over to clean Tulip’s face, a gesture he practices daily.
All of the pigs have a certain infatuation with Tulip since she’s the leader of the group. However, Pip shows a certain care for her, consistently checking in.
“He’s always got to know where his girl is,” Rayann Sanchez said, animal care manager of the sanctuary.
After checking in with her, he went to a nearby meadow where small white flowers grew. Pip snacked on the flowers and stood there, looking out onto the nearing patch of woods. Later in the afternoon, he decided to lie in the sun. One pig nearby immersed themself in a wallow, a puddle dug up by the pigs’ noses to help them cool down in the hot sun since they can’t sweat.
In factory farm conditions, the pigs' floors are concrete, and their spaces are crowded, making it impossible to smell the earth, eat flowers or wander through the shaded forest.
Normally, female pigs born into factory farms are confined in a gestation crate. The confinement is so they can’t move when being repeatedly artificially inseminated, having two to three litters each year. After three to four years, their bodies can no longer sustain their conditions and they are then processed for meat.
At PEAK Animal Sanctuary, there’s an unused gestation crate set outside of the properties main house to give an example of the crates. On it, a sign describes the conditions that pigs face. Blue flowers have grown and twisted around the metal bars, as though symbolizing the new life that the sanctuary caregivers hope to give to their rescued animals.
According to the sign, tail biting becomes common in these conditions because of their experience of heightened stress. The pigs become more susceptible to infections, lameness, paralysis or death.
As the sun reached its peak, Pip settled in a grove of trees. The same engine noise from the morning feed was heard in the distance as Sanchez made her rounds in the off-road golf cart. Pip poked his head up and began running towards the sound as the engine came closer.
“Not yet Pip! Dinner isn’t happening yet!” she expressed, waving him off.
Pip’s eyes followed Sanchez as she left, the engine noise trailed off into the distance. Once the noise dissipated, he made his way up the slope from the grove of trees to Tulip’s doorstep.
She snorted at him as he touched noses with her, his head bent down as he affectionately licked her forehead. After she gave an oink and moved her head indifferently, he stepped back, picked up a bit of hay in his mouth, then spat it back out.
He turned around and looked out on the field in front of him once more, the clouds trailed along the blue sky as the hot summer sun passed and a cool breeze settled in. Dinnertime was coming soon.
Maria Shau, the director of the sanctuary, said if Pip hadn’t been rescued, his factory fate would have been certain.
Each year, an average of 105 million pigs are raised on factory farms, with 97% destined for slaughter. Once they reach three or four weeks old, piglets are taken from their mothers and placed in metal barred pens in warehouses with little to no room to move around.
It is common for piglets who don’t reach standard growth rates to be killed to make room for new piglets in these factory farms, Shau said. For the group of pigs at the sanctuary, the sanctuary caregiver’s goal is to provide a better life where they can breathe fresh air and roam through the forest.
As a part of their daily snacks, the pigs also receive a plethora of medications which attempt to remedy their genetically modified deficiencies. The sanctuary caretakers will put Zyrtec pills, an allergy medicine which is helpful for the pigs’ pollen sensitive lungs, into small cupcakes.
Their medications also include meloxicam to relieve joint pain, dexamethasone to enhance their breathing, gabapentin to lessen nerve pains and tramadol to relieve more intense pain. Due to being genetically modified for the sake of being processed into meat, these pigs were never meant to live past 5 months. While their caretakers have improved their quality of life, the impact of the farm factory industry is still felt.
Roughly 125.3 million hogs and pigs were slaughtered within the U.S. in 2022.
Seven of the pigs who at one point could be a part of the statistic now reside at PEAK Animal Sanctuary, each given the rare opportunity of living their lives fully to old age together.
As the group waited for dinner to arrive, Pip scanned the dirt floor under a group of trees. Many of the roots had already been dug up, leaving a desolate space of dusty soil. He shoved his pink nose into the dirt, which was speckled with piles of leaves, grass and sticks he had flipped up with the upward motion of his head. His snorts broke the streamline noise of the crickets and cicadas. He exhaled heavily to expel the dirt gathered in his nose.
As he continued his foraging, the golf cart was heard once more, his head poked up. His ears, standing tall, pierced forward as he looked for Sanchez, who would soon provide the last meal of the day. As the food approached, dark clouds rose from the horizon, a cool breeze swept its way through the trees and the other pigs came running up the hill in excitement.
After his shared meal with his group, Pip checked in with Tulip once more then retreated back to his light blue house and closed his eyes to sleep in Freedom.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misidentified Allison Hess.
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