yes, in your backyard

A dumpster outside a barn piled high with dead pigs

A dumpster outside a barn, piled high with dead pigs

Yes, that is what you think it is – dead pigs in a dumpster. I took the photo earlier this year. The farm is about 10 minutes from town. Eat Local, everyone!

Okay, enough with the bitter sarcasm. Seriously, since this photo was taken I’ve seen the same dumpster fill up with dead animals again, twice (and this road is not one I frequent too often). This is the stuff we sometimes hear about but nobody wants to believe – or at least believe it happens at home.

Judging by the barn design and by the size of the animals in the dumpster, these pigs were about 4-5 months old and, had they lived another month or two, would’ve been on their way to the slaughterhouse before reaching their first birthday.

When I first saw these individuals’ bodies limp and lifeless in the dumpster, with birds of prey circling above the area, I wondered what caused their deaths. Was it the deadly porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus, that’s been in the news so much this year? Doubtful, since that virus mainly kills young piglets, not adolescent animals, and these pigs’ bodies do not look emaciated. Did they succumb to injuries sustained in their cramped quarters, maybe infected wounds or untreated hernias? Or, were they ill with pneumonia or some other ailment that either claimed their lives, or made them a target for the farmer who believed it better, more economical, to kill them rather than treat them?

Any one of those (and more) are possible. In Ontario, “we” (ie. the governing bodies that are supposed to regulate the animal ag industry) find it acceptable to kill animals who are hurt or ill if it’s going to take a decent amount of work – and money – to make them well. What’s the sense in spending all that time and all those dollars to help an individual, when you already pay thousands of dollars to run the farm, feed those other few hundred pigs, and ship them to the slaughterhouse? Yes, there are cases when “euthanizing” (I use the term loosely here, you’ll understand why in a minute) a pig is better for the pig who is suffering greatly. But when other reasons such as poor “production” (read: growth) or failure to respond to medication after just 2 or 3 days of treatment are acceptable reasons to kill an animal – one who is treated as a commodity, not an individual – you have to wonder how often a pig with treatable symptoms simply gets tossed in a dumpster.

If they didn’t succumb to their ailments, I wonder how those pigs in the dumpster might have been killed. Gunshot? Captive bolt? Electrocution? Probably not a vet-performed euthanasia as it’s expensive (and means those pigs’ bodies would not be suitable for rendering into pet food), and probably not CO2 poisoning given the size of the animals. All of those options are allowed, though. Did the person who killed them know where to aim, or did the pigs suffer from a misplaced captive bolt that damaged their brains but did not make them lose consciousness? If they were shot, did the bullet reach its target quickly enough to kill them right away? Did their siblings witness their deaths? Most likely, given the barn setup. Did the person who maybe killed them feel sad, frustrated, disturbed? Did they release their feelings before going home, in order to keep up the stoic appearance that is so often a part of farming, in front of their family? Maybe by this time, the person has seen so many pigs go like this that they’re hardened to so much death and misery.


A wire or polypropylene rod is inserted through the hole in the head made by gunshot or penetrating captive bolt. The rod is pushed into the brain and slid back and forth and rotated to cause maximum damage to the brain and upper spinal cord. Initially, the pig may show muscle contraction and twitching, but muscles will relax and movement will be inhibited shortly thereafter. – on “pithing”, from Pork Checkoff’s brochure, ‘On-Farm Euthanasia of Swine’

I know this is horrific and disturbing stuff, but this is reality. In fact, Harish Sethu of the website Counting Animals compiled some numbers and found that the number of chickens in the USA who die before reaching slaughterhouses (just chickens, not cows, pigs, sheep, turkeys, rabbits, ducks, fish or goats) vastly outnumbers the total population of animals killed for fur, in laboratories, AND in animal shelters across the USA.

Keep those dead pigs in mind when you make your grocery list or shop at the farmer’s market (even if you think eating local erases these problems, it doesn’t), and remember that under different circumstances, the pigs in the dumpster could have led long, joyful lives like Oink and Cromwell who live at Cedar Row Sanctuary.


About tino

I'm an aspiring organic farmer living in canada. I talk about farm life, things I'm learning, other relevant topics like feminism, social & environmental justice, nature, animals, vegan food, and fun.

Posted on August 25, 2014, in Local Farms, Pigs and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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