Alice

Metal bars, cold barren floors and long endless days with nothing new to stimulate her intelligent and inquisitive mind. Boredom. Oh, the boredom. This is the only life she had ever known. In all her time on this Earth she had never seen the sun shine; never felt its warmth upon her back and most certainly had never felt the light touch of a kind hand.

For her name is Alice and she is a pig, a breeding sow, a ‘piglet making machine’ and for five long years, the confines of the factory farm were all she ever knew…

Those metal bars belong to a device called a sow stall. It is a contraption designed to keep a pig like Alice restrained. And restrain her it does for up to 16 weeks; the duration of her pregnancy. Alice can take one step forward and one step back.  When she tries  to rest feet that are sore from holding up her heavy mass on the hard concrete floor,  her legs will often protrude into the stall of the sow next to her. Sometimes the neighbouring sow will let Alice be, but other times  being so incredibly bored, upset and frustrated herself that for a break from gnawing on the metal bars that imprison her, she will instead set teeth upon those parts of Alice that protrude into her space. But this is not the only way Alice receives the many multiple wounds and scratches that adorn her body. The concrete floor and the restrictive stall make it painstakingly difficult for her to rise to her feet. Her sides and flanks tell the sorry tale of this process.

Alice has lost count of the number of warm, sweet babies she has given birth to. She tries, with all of her strength, to push the memories of them from her mind because every time it is the same; after only three or four weeks they are taken from her and subsequently, their lives are taken from them.

Before Alice gives birth to her babies, she is moved to another device which restricts her even more. Harsh metal bars tightly encircle her body and it is in here that she brings her offspring into the world. And it is in here that she will stay, until her offspring are weaned at the tender age of just 3 or 4 weeks. This very process frustrates Alice greatly as she wishes nothing more than to build a soft nest from straw, leaves and branches so that her babies will be safe and warm. She has heard people say this crate and the bare floors are so because she is stupid and will accidentally crush her babies should she lie down. But this is not true. If she were allowed to build her nest, just as her maternal instinct and intelligence drive her to, she would fashion it in such a way that if a piglet were beneath her when she lay down, they would simply fall to the bottom of the nest unharmed and happily climb their way back in. Oh how Alice wishes to care for her precious babies; to nourish and protect them as only a mother can. But in her world, the factory farm world, this will never happen.

Alice’s babies cry out loud as they are castrated, as their teeth are clipped and their tails cut. From the intensity of their screams, anyone can tell that they are begging for mercy or, at the very least, some anaesthetic and pain relief.

And so the cycle begins again: more confinement, more babies, more frustration and worst of all, more loss. On and on it goes: the life of a breeding machine.

Little did Alice know that her world was about to change forever…

It all happened one fateful Spring day. It was the 23rd of September 2005 and Alice was 5 years old, at the end of her ‘productive’ life and no longer of profitable use to her pig farming owner. She had briefly had a taste of stardom, being filmed giving birth to yet another litter whilst playing Wilbur’s mother in the cinematic portrayal of E.B. White’s classic tale, Charlotte’s Web. But Alice really was just an actor playing in a world of make believe, as no sooner was her time in the limelight captured on film that her fifteen minutes of fame were up and she was taken from the movie set and back to the place no pig could ever bear to call ‘home’.

It was then that fate, and a few kind hearts, intervened. The production company felt Alice should be repaid for her services to their industry and so they purchased her for the same price her ‘owner’ would have received for her life.

Alice was taken from the sow stall and loaded onto the back of a trailer. Alice was a five year old factory farm pig and although a pig’s average lifespan is 10-12 years of age, her body was tired from bearing the burden of all it had been forced to endure. There was no way she would continue to produce the endless amount of litters that would see her as commercially viable. Fear shone in Alice’s eyes for she was not to know that her fate would be different to that of her brethren, many of whom she had seen carted off before her when their bodies began to tire and fail far too soon, only to never return. And so the journey began. Although she was not yet aware, Alice was Edgar’s Mission-bound.

To Alice’s amazement, when the too-ing and the fro-ing of the trailer ceased and its door swung wide open, what stood before her was unlike anything she had ever seen before. Open spaces surrounded her, the vast blue sky stretched out above and there beneath her; sweet, soft earth. And the sun! Oh the sunshine Alice had so longed to experience radiated down upon her  back from far above and she delighted in its sensation.

For her name was Alice and she had found her Wonderland.

However, much like young Alice in the movie, this new and strange place, with all of its colour and its life, was somewhat overwhelming to her. The fragrant green grass that grew in abundance, so foreign to her world, both called to and frightened her. After some time Alice appeared to realise that to let go of her old life, she would need to step out from the trailer and into this Wonderland that awaited her. The cool grass caressed her foot in a way she had never felt before and her former ‘owner’ exclaimed with surprise, “That’s the first time she’s ever seen grass!” And so began Alice’s new life.

If Alice had fingers she surely would have pinched herself because, so far removed from that which she had always known, this new life was almost far too good to be true. But true it was! Each day Alice would awaken in her soft straw bed and gaze out at the vast expanse of her yard, a paddock, with not a fence, let alone a sow stall, in sight. She was truly free and could venture wherever she pleased. At first Alice did not know what to do with her newfound freedom and would remain close to her shelter where she felt protected. But as the days passed, her courage grew and eventually Alice was exploring to her heart’s content. Her kind human companions would lay out a smorgasboard of fresh fruits and vegetable daily and this, along with Alice’s newly discovered love of grass, delighted her senses and were reason alone for her to enjoy her new life. A wallow was created and for the first time in all of Alice’s years, she savoured the sensation of wet mud on her skin, cooling her off and protecting her from the elements. She found a friend in a pig named Daisy and together, they basked in the sunshine and explored the world as they pleased. They grew to trust a kind human who doled out the most incredible belly rubs like they were going out of fashion. Alice made up for lost time and collected all the branches she could find and created the most beautiful nests within her shelter. And, she fell in love with the most handsome gentleman of them all – Edgar Alan Pig.

Alice lived well beyond those five short years that her previous life had prescribed for her. And when given the chance, boy did she live life well! Sadly, her earlier years had taken their toll and gradually it grew more difficult for Alice to explore the world as she once had. Yet again, human kindness was by this gentle creature’s side and when she could go on no longer, a tender hand softly touched Alice’s back and a soothing, loving voice said, “I know.” Alice passed from this world not with fear or with screams of terror, but with dignity and grace, as is the right of a sensitive, sentient being.

For her name was Alice, and kindness gave her the chance to know life as a pig should.

The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men.

Alice Walker