Sep 11 2013
    I was getting more and more troubled by what I was seeing. And smelling. And it wasn't coming from me.

    I was getting more and more troubled by what I was seeing. And smelling. And it wasn’t coming from me.

    We smelt it before we saw it. The aroma was familiar  – syrupy, warm, sickly – and it oozed through the gaps in the windows.

    Manuel turned off the engine. ‘This one looks OK’.  Two long white buildings sat in the dusty hillside a few hundred metres away. He didn’t mean it was a nice pig farm – he meant I might be able to get inside without anyone seeing .

    We waited for a moment. No wind, no noise, no life. The only motion was waves of heat coming off the tarmac.  But inside hundreds of pigs would be packed in upon the hard slatted floors.

    ‘Are you sure there is no person inside?’

    ‘It’s too hot. They are probably asleep, or in a bar…or it’s just left empty’.

    When animals are treated as units of mass production then welfare (and ultimately quality) is compromised in the hunt for productivity and profit. This is the flawed equation at the heart of all intensive farming. Pig production is no different. Staff cost money.

    Outside the farm we found a large container full of dead pigs with one baby pig squished underneath them. Perhaps they had been sick. Good to know that someone was tending to the dying.

    Dead pigs piled up outside a spanish pig farm waiting collection

    Dead pigs piled up outside a spanish pig farm waiting collection

    A dangerously simple plan

    The plan was simple: go in, don’t get caught, take some photos, get out. Spread the images on the blog.

    But Manuel was not keen to come inside so suggested I go in alone. This wasn’t wonderful but it made sense. This was my journey so my risk. I decided on a rough plan that were more informed by childhood experiences of retrieving a football kicked over the fence than much else –  I would enter by walking to the very corner of the building, climb over the wall where I was least visible, have a snoop round and get out before my mum found me. If necessary I could go to the sewage pond and crap myself.

    My escape route would be diametrically opposite to the road that was going into the farm. If a car came I would then head through the woods, up and over the hill and track back to the road. Either that or I would sit down and cry.

    Although nervous I felt strangely emboldened by having seen the misery of the pigs the previous day. Did this give me any right to go in? No.  These pigs need to be acknowledged  and I felt I was protected by that imperative. I was wearing a moral cloak of invisibility. Or was it a checked shirt from GAP that stood out painfully against the hillside?

    This was the most space I had seen pigs given for a while

    This was the most space I had seen pigs given since being here.  Not too bad.

    Inside the farm

    Before I knew it I was over the wall and tucked in an SAS crouched position. I had to stop myself from making a pistol shape with my fingers. This is real, Martin, wake up.

    I peered  round a wall between the two long buildings.  A long alley-way  between the buildings lead to a half-open door that I guessed went into  the pig enclosure. Thee door was fully visible from the incoming track. If a car came and I was inside the pig enclosure I would have to run out of the door in full view. The windows were blocked up. Hmmm. Screw it, I’ll go for it. Spanish prison can’t be as bad as being in a pig in a shit dump.


    After some initial fear the pigs were keen to make contact with me but I didn’t touch any for fear of cross-contamination

    I heard a grunt then a cough. Then another cough. I stepped back but realised it must be a pig. Many pigs have chest infections in intensive farms. I scuttled over to the door and pulled it open.

    At first the conditions did not look too bad. Maybe two hundred pigs, perhaps a month or two old being fattened for slaughter. They squealed a little in fright and retreated against the back wall but then quickly settled down. There was the usual slatted floors, metal bars and intense heat but I was vaguely surprised by the space they had been given. I saw one pig with a badly swollen ear that hung down to its side.

    Dead, sleeping or hopeless? Let's play the game!

    Dead, sleeping or hopeless? Let’s play the game!


    I moved through the half-darkness taking photos all the while  listening if a car might come. Pigs pushed up to the bars to meet me but I made a point of not touching them for biosecurity reasons. Barriers still existed between us. One young pig lay lifeless on the floor. Asleep, dead or hopeless?    Perhaps there’s a game show in that I wondered…  Is this pig dead??? $1 million is yours if you play ASLEEP, DEAD OR HOPELESS with me, a slightly over-excited host in a pink leather coat. Thin humour provided distance.

    The conditions in the final pen were horrendous.

    The conditions in the final pen were depressing. Something tells me the pigs felt the same.

    I then moved onto the next shed. Darker in here. Adult pigs this time, but compressed into a small space so they could hardly move. Maybe fifteen or more pigs in a pen only ten foot by ten. Their long backs pushed up against each other and  covered in a black slime. More coughing. Eyes peered at me, white circles on black faces as though they were dressed in war paint. I hardly dared look at the eyes as if the pigs might think I would help.

    cramped conditions

    horribly cramped conditions


    That was enough. It was time to get out.

    I retraced my steps and clambered back over the wall. I met Manuel and slumped back into the car. I felt relieved and physically exhausted but for the moment not much else.

    ‘Please don’t mention my name on this blog, Martin’

    ‘Of course not. Woudl you like to be a woman?’ It seemed  a strange question to ask. ‘Perhaps a priest?’

    Manuel smiled. ‘Just change my name’

    It was not until that night that emotions began to surface. Often new experiences filter down, juices rearrange in the gut and feelings bubble up later.

    But I was about to go into another three farms – also unannounced  – and the final visit was not quite as safe or predictable as I was expecting. Perhaps that is what got to me.

    In the next blog.

    I love the faux rustic mottled effect in here... Is this Farrow and Ball?

    I love the faux rustic mottled effect in here… Is this Farrow and Ball?

    Post divide