I thought long and hard about it before I went to my very first slaughterhouse vigil, otherwise known as an ‘Animal Save‘. Would it be helpful for animal rights? Would it be detrimental to the animals in the trucks? Would it make my activism better or worse in the future? Would it negatively effect my mental health to see thousands of animals heading for their deaths?
There was only one way to find out.
After my first vigil with Suffolk Animal Save back in November convinced me how important this method of activism really is, I vowed to attend as many as possible. In the early days when we were able to touch the pigs through the open slats of the trucks, they would greet us with curiosity and some would even act playful. I have no doubt in my mind that this may have been their first instance of human affection. With the videos, live feeds and photos we’re able to collect, dozens of activists are able to share their own experience on social media to friends and family that have never otherwise even spared one second of thought about the last few minutes of life of their bacon sandwich. The disconnect is so ingrained by society that people are outraged and sickened by the thought of a truckload of dogs heading for slaughter don’t see any issue with the same happening to pigs.
Due to an agreement with the slaughterhouse and local police we are granted with exactly three minutes to comfort the animals, film the squalid conditions, the wounds and excrement they are covered in and their distress in the heat or the cold depending on the time of year – All to highlight the fact that whether they come from a factory, barn or a free range farm, they all end up taking the same journey to the same gas chambers and have their throats cut exactly the same. There is no humane way to kill someone who does not want to die and there is no such thing as humane meat.
James Aspey and Joey Carbstrong of YouTube fame joined us in Suffolk yesterday at C&K Meats and Eye Poultry, all the way from Australia. A journalist for the Diss Express arrived in the morning to cover the story and many debates were had with police and the liaison officer present. Slaughter truck drivers have also been known to quit their jobs due to speaking with activists as well as the countless people reached b images captured by the hundreds of activists involved in sharing them as widely as possible. “I think events like this are very important and people need to see the victims before they go into these places” says Joey Carbstrong. “The biggest enemy of injustice is the truth. People need realise that these victims are individuals, they suffer and they’re in pain.”
Yesterday was the very first time I had seen a trucks full of chickens headed for slaughter up close. In fact, it was the very first time I’d ever seen a broiler chicken alive and with feathers. The hens I rescue are brown ex-battery hens, especially bred to lay as many eggs as possible. The ones I saw yesterday were white and were bred to grow as quickly as possible. At only 42 days old they were still making chick sounds that were so different to the adult chicken noises I was used to from my three-year-old rescues. They were all just babies. Counting the stacked-up cages of the four trucks that went past, we bore witness to around 4,000 chickens go to slaughter in the space of a couple of hours. All were hung upside down, dragged through electrified water and had their throats cut by machine, one by one.
Because ‘chicken catchers’ on the farm are paid by quantity and aim to get the chickens into the trucks as fast as they can, it wasn’t too surprising when we found a couple of birds wedged in the space between the rows of cages. One already dead, the other obviously dying and unable to stand or move, presumably for the entire journey. It’s difficult to stand so close to those you want to help so desperately. With police standing by and reminding us all that touching the animals is forbidden, the injustice of witnessing systematic animal cruelty can be torturous. The stuck and dying bird would likely end up in the slaughterhouse bin, having been born to never feel the sun, see the sky, run across grass or experience mercy of any kind.
Attending a slaughterhouse vigil may seem like slow work in terms of creating social change, but with 52 Animal Save groups popping up all over the UK within the past two years alone, if we keep going at this pace, who knows what can be achieved. And if we don’t get this close to the animals in their final moments, in order to spread awareness and educate those who won’t, who will?