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Eating for a Better World: Factory Farm Survivors Reveal the Faces Behind Our Food

Sanctuaries give new lives to rescued "production units"

Guide to Meat-Free Meals

  • Scarlett the rescued pig                     Olivia Schlosser-Hogue

A pig. A hen. A bull. Just three among the nearly 10 billion land animals who suffer each year on U.S. factory farms. All were nameless “production units” bound for slaughter—until they escaped, and came into their own.

The pig was headed to her death on a two-level truck crammed with several hundred animals. Fresh from several months of “finishing,” when young pigs are packed in pens and fed as much as they can eat, she weighed 220 pounds—stocky and thick-legged. A tattoo over her rib cage identified her as one of more than 1,000 animals raised on an Ohio factory farm, the offspring of a sow kept tightly confined in a gestation crate—a mother the pig had known only during the few weeks she was allowed to nurse.

The young pig’s existence might have ended as an entry on a company ledger. Except that she tumbled out of the truck and onto the pavement. When volunteers from the Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary came to her aid, she got a name—Scarlett—along with the recognition that she was more than bacon.

Adopted by Happy Trails employee Olivia Schlosser-Hogue, Scarlett became a mother to three smaller rescued pigs. And when the neighbor’s 3-year-old boy visited, she watched over him too, making sure he was all right if he fell. Every morning, she has a special greeting for Schlosser-Hogue and her husband, pushing her nose close to their faces and making a loud huffing sound pigs reserve for individuals above them in the social hierarchy. In winter, she lies in the straw, waiting for people to join her there.

“There’s something really calming about her,” says Schlosser-Hogue. “She has always been the sweetest pig ever.”

The High-Flying Hen

The hen’s chance came as she listened to the panicked uproar of 80,000 birds housed five to a cage in a California warehouse. At one end of the building, workers were ripping hens from cages to send them to slaughter; the property on which the farm operated was being sold. Torn from the wire mesh, some lost wings and some feet. At the other end of the building, rescuers from a nearby farm animal sanctuary were gently lifting 2,000 chickens from their cages. The 1½-year-old hen, who was past peak egg production and would normally have been killed for low-grade meat, fell among the fortunates.

Named Sarah, she was placed in a flock of 50 rescued birds at Animal Place sanctuary. For the first time, she could revel in sunshine and grass. After living in a cramped cage, it took Sarah a few moments to realize she could walk. Then, “she would stand up and fluff up her feathers and run as fast as she could and take to the air,” recalls education manager Marji Beach. “She got the other birds doing it.”

When her atrophied muscles recovered, Sarah roosted on the top perch. Now 8 years old, Sarah is a happy, healthy bird.

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The Ebullient Bull

The bull made his break when a semi hauling 34 cattle on an Indiana interstate slammed into another truck and burst into flames. Fifteen surviving cattle were rounded up. But the bull, though severely burned, refused to be recaptured. The 2-year-old Holstein led police and others on a 12-hour chase before being taken to the local animal shelter.

Jay ended up at Farm Sanctuary in New York. When he arrived, staff removed his rope and halter. He wasn’t yet fully recovered, but he could move about in his spacious stall and touch noses with other cattle.

“Giving him that freedom really sealed the deal,” says Farm Sanctuary’s Susie Coston. “He’s blossomed. He licks your leg in greeting. We call him and he comes. We don’t even have to corral him.”

Before, the bull was kept penned indoors. Now he runs about, kicking up his legs.

“You look into any farm and there are thousands of animals,” says Coston. “But if you pull any one of those animals out, they are who they are.”

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