top of page
  • Writer's pictureMeg

Animal Justice: Pigs, Cows and Sheep

Updated: May 29, 2022

“The problem is that humans have victimised animals to such a degree that they are not even considered victims. They are not even considered at all. They are nothing; they don’t count; they don’t matter. They are commodities like TV sets and cell phones. We have actually turned animals into inanimate objects – sandwiches and shoes” – Gary Yourofsky

I feel obliged to reiterate that initially I was a dietary vegan, following a whole-food plant-based diet as prescribed by the documentary Forks over Knives, for the benefit of my own personal health. My awareness of animal rights violations were in a blind spot in that, I was aware they existed but was unwilling to have my lens sharpened on the issue, due to my own discomfort around it. Indeed, I am still learning today, of the miserable lives of farm animals. Our culture ensures that animals are reduced to inanimate objects with non-descriptive names like bacon.

Pigs (also known as pork, bacon and ham)

A few months ago I watched a new documentary about pig farming in New South Wales called Lucent and I was horrified. This documentary is apparently referred to as “the Australian Earthlings”, exposing Australia’s pig farming industry through a combination of hand-held and hidden camera footage, highlighting the day-to-day cruelty accepted by the industry as standard practice.

As stated in the previous post, chickens, both broilers and layers, are often considered the most abused animals on earth in terms of the magnitude of factory farming – they are closely followed by pigs. Ninety-four percent of Australian pork comes from pigs confined in factory farms. The current demand for pork, bacon and ham in Australia can only be met by factory farming but this demand may never have existed if people knew the truth about how animals are being treated.

In many ways pigs are like dogs; they are social, highly intelligent, protective animals who bond with each other, make nests, relax in the sun and cool off in the mud. Pigs are known to dream, recognise their own names and learn “tricks” like sitting for a treat. Pigs have been documented showing empathy for other pigs who are happy or distressed and are even known to sleep in ‘pig piles’.

“When I was working with the monkeys, I used to look at them and say: ‘If you were a pig, you would have this figured out by now” – Tina Widowski, Biologist

Female pigs, called sows, spend most of their lives in individual “gestation” crates or sow stalls. Sow stalls are metal cages which female pigs are confined to after being mated by a male pig (boar) or artificially inseminated. These crates which are too small to allow the animals even to turn around. Therefore, the sow will spend at least the length of her pregnancy (around 16 weeks) lying on her side, often too weakened to stand. This not only makes it difficult for her to eat but also means the sow is forced to lie in her own urine and faeces, which is behaviourally abnormal for pigs, despite the common misconception that they are dirty creatures. Sows confined in crates have also been observed engaging in boredom and stress-related behaviour such as chewing on the metal bars of the crate and trothing at the mouth.

Sows are commonly staved to induce early births then moved to even smaller crates, known as “farrowing” crates after giving birth. The industry claims that this is because sows would crush their babies if permitted more space but it’s obvious to see that the ulterior motive is maximising profit. Due to the restricted space, piglets are often found by investigators to be crushed by their mothers which discounts the premise of confining them to the small space in the first place. Sows experience physical disability including swollen limbs, lameness, open wounds and infections. Moreover, the confinement means they cannot engage in normal pig behaviours, including making nests for their babies, which leads to significant psychological distress.

Piglets are separated from their mothers after as little as 10 days. Once her piglets are gone, the sow is impregnated again, via a boar or artificial inseminated over a “rape rack”. The sow endures this life of reproductive exploitation and suffering, which is arguably the worst of any farm animal as pigs have relatively short pregnancies and bear around nine offspring opposed to one. Then, like dairy cows, after three or four years the sow is “spent” and sent to slaughter. The piglets of the sows litter are confined to pens until they are separated to be raised for breeding or meat.

Male piglets are commonly castrated because consumers supposedly complain of “boar taint” in meat that comes from male pigs. Farmers often chop, or “dock” off piglets’ tails and use pliers to break off the ends of their teeth as the confined piglets are prone to display stress-related behaviour such as cannibalism and tail-biting. Ear cutting, called “notching” is often practiced as a means of identification. Each of these practices are commonly done without pain relief. Finally, injured piglets and “runts” are seen as a drain on resources and are killed with blunt trauma to the head, by means of stomping or hitting against a wall. The Code of Practice permits this to happen with a “hammer or another heavy object”.

Currently in Australia, gas chambers are considered the ‘most humane’ method of stunning before slaughter by the Australian pork industry. Seeing footage of this "humane slaughter" still haunts me today.

Cows (also known as beef and steak)

Cows are gentle creatures with the capacity to bear grudges, nurture friendship and become excited over intellectual challenges, some research has even suggested cows enjoy music. Beef cattle endure painful procedures such as branding, dehorning and castration without pain relief during their life on a cattle farm. Cattle and sheep raised for meat in Australia are generally grass-fed and spend a large part of their lives outdoors. Around one million cattle annually will spend some time (average of 3-4 months) in feedlots to be grain-fed to add extra weight in a shorter amount of time before slaughter.

Around 8 million cattle are killed in abattoirs each year in Australia for human consumption. Just prior to slaughter, animals are walked up a raceway into the abattoir where they enter the stunning box. This box separates the animal off from the rest of the animals in the raceway. Within seconds of entering this box, an operator stuns the animal. With pigs or sheep, this may be an electrical stun. With cattle, this may be a captive bolt. Both devices are aimed at the brain. The animal is rendered unconscious and the ‘stun’ will last for around 45 seconds. Industry standards state that the animal’s throat must then be cut without delay after the stun to ensure that there is insufficient blood and oxygen to maintain life, prior to the time the animal would normally regain consciousness. Once ‘bled out’, the animal’s body will then be hoisted onto a processing line to be butchered, that is, skinned, gutted, and cut up. The same is true for cattle killed in compliance with halal (Islamic) requirements, despite the common misconception in Australia that halal slaughter is crueller.

The RSPCA definition of humane killing is; an animal must be either killed instantly or rendered insensible to pain until death supervenes. Indeed, it is illegal for abattoirs in Australia to slaughter animals without stunning. However, a small number of facilities have been given an exemption in order to practice un-stunned ritual slaughter. This is not only for a small local halal market but also to meet kosher (Jewish) slaughter requirements. Animals Australia has been campaigning to close the legal loophole that is allowing non-stun slaughter of both halal and kosher to occur in several small abattoirs in Australia.  

“There is no humane way to kill someone who does not want to die” – Unknown

Stunning is effective in the vast majority of cases, however even in the most well managed facilities there is always a risk that the stunning procedure may fail. These animals may need to be stunned again before losing consciousness. Moreover, animals may even ‘wake up’ during the slaughter process. Animals are capable of detecting and feeling pain and as a result of the cut and the blood loss, if not stunned, will feel pain and fear. The rapid decrease in blood pressure which follows the blood loss is detected by the conscious animal and elicits fear and panic. If conscious during slaughter, animals inhale blood because of bleeding into the trachea. Research using behavioural and brain responses has shown that without successful stunning, the time between cutting through the major blood vessels and insensibility is up to 20 seconds in sheep, up to 25 seconds in pigs, up to 2 minutes in cattle, up to 2.5 or more minutes in poultry, and sometimes 15 minutes or more in fish.

That is what happens in Australia, however over 6.4 million cattle have been exported to Indonesia for slaughter. Animals Australia‘s first investigation in Indonesia, as shown on Four Corners, exposed the routine, widespread and brutal treatment of Australian cattle overseas. Around 1,000 cattle are reported to die each year on live export ships but the real figure is likely to be higher. Animals Australia continued investigations have exposed Australian bulls being sledgehammered to death in Vietnam, years of torturous cattle slaughter procedures in Israel and Gaza and the neglect of dairy cattle and sheep exported to Qatar.

Sheep (also known as lamb and mutton)

I was only vaguely acquainted with the live export industry when I attended a protest to ban it last year. As we stood outside the House of Parliament in Melbourne on a hot summer day. Lyn White told the personal accounts of the Animals Australia investigators in Egypt, who held suffering sheep – who had been transported in car boots during excruciating heat, then had their throats cut in ‘slaughter rooms’ whilst conscious – as they went limp in their arms. Myself and those around me wept.

The Festival of Sacrifice, celebrated by those of Islamic faith, means big money to the live export industry. Every year Australian sheep are sent on a tortuous voyage, then on their arrival to Middle Eastern countries enter a frenzy of buying and killing. Live export laws are supposed to protect them from the worst abuses but some export companies are consistently breaking these laws without punishment. This year across the Middle East, terrified sheep were dragged through the streets and stuffed in car boots in suffocating 48°C heat. Their enduring suffering only ended when their throats are cut while fully conscious — either at private homes or in filthy makeshift ‘slaughter rooms’. The Australian Government knew exporters were breaking export laws in Kuwait yet allowed them to send thousands more sheep into the region. If the Australian Government was doing its job properly, and holding the Department of Agriculture to the law, then export licences should have been cancelled and exporters could now be facing jail time.

Australia cannot ensure the welfare of its animals overseas. A little closer to home, eating sheep is probably the only meat product with an honest description. Roast lamb is quite literally a baby lamb, slaughtered between six weeks to five months of age, then roasted. Young lambs are born in winter just so they can be consumed in spring. As industry standards do not require lambs to have full shelter, they and their mothers are left unprotected from the elements and these baby sheep often only survive for a few days. The Australian meat and wool industry concedes that up to one in four lambs will die from exposure, which equates to around 15 million lambs every year.

Tail docking, mulesing (a procedure in which the skin around lambs buttocks and the base of their tail cut off with a pair of metal shears) and castration without pain relief are common practices performed on baby sheep. Lambs and sheep suffer a similar death to that of pigs and cattle.

“The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look on the murder of men” ― Leonardo da Vinci

Please spare a thought for the millions of innocent farm animals, maybe more intelligent than your cat or dog, that have been killed both past, present and future.

Thanks for reading,

Meg x

Reference and Resources


  • Why we Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows – Melanie Joy

  • The Sexual Politics of Meat – Carol J Adams

  • The Jungle – Upton Sinclair

  • Animal Liberation – Peter Singer

  • The Ethics of what we Eat – Peter Singer and Jim Mason

  • Eating Animals – Jonathan San Foer

  • Proteinaholic – Garth Davis

  • My Year Without Meat – Richard Cornish

  • Mad Cowboy: Plain Truth from a Cattle Rancher that won’t Eat Meat – Howard Lyman

  • Diet for a New America – John Robbins

  • Diet for a Small Planet – Frances Moore Lappé

Recipe Books

  • Forks over Knives – Self titled, edited by Gene Stone

  • Eat like you give a F%ck – Thug Kitchen

  • Simple Recipes for Joy – Sharon Gannon (Jivamukti Yoga Founder)

  • Natural Harry – Harriet Birell (Geelong local!)

  • Oh she Glows – Angela Liddon

  • Deliciously Ella – Ella Woodward

  • Easy Vegan – Sue Quinn (my go-to!)

  • Hot Vegan – Robin Robertson

  • Practical Vegan – Brussels Vegan

  • Skinny Bitch – Rory Freedman


Related Posts

See All


bottom of page