When I told my daughter recently that most cows are artificially inseminated, she looked at me with a grossed-out expression and said, “Wait, what?”
She must have missed this year’s “Oscar Speech That Broke the Internet.” Joaquin Phoenix said it bluntly, “We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow.”
The 2104 documentary Lucent (from the Australian producers of Dominion) also covers artificial insemination of factory-farmed animals. But it devotes most of its time to walking us through the lives of factory-farmed pigs.
The entire existence of these helpless creatures is built on heartless efficiency, beginning with their mothers’ insemination.
Take the boar selected to sire a litter of pigs. He spends his life confined to a small pen or cage, except for the one or two times a week he’s released for sperm collection.
A sow in heat is positioned nearby to excite him, but he actually ejaculates into a mounting dummy. A factory worker is there to collect his semen.
The entire process lasts about 10 minutes. Other workers then use the semen to impregnate the sows with specialized catheters.
The sows are inseminated multiple times over several days, until their pregnancies are confirmed. Then they’re moved to small cages known as “sow stores.”
Once there, they spend six to 16 weeks in a space too small to let them turn around. Sows are forcibly impregnated two or three times a year. After delivering four litters by the age of two, most are considered fit only for the slaughterhouse.
What happens to their piglets? If it looks like a sow might not produce a healthy litter, she too is sent to slaughter. Her babies never see the light of day.
Piglets considered too small or weak to reach a marketable weight in five months are usually killed with a blow to the head. The ones who are born healthy stay with their mothers only three to five weeks.
Then they’re packed into tiny indoor “wiener cages, “completely cut off from sunlight and fresh air. They lie on cement floors covered in waste, with nothing to do except eat.
For these naturally curious and highly social animals, the boredom is intolerable. They often turn on each other. Sometimes they resort to cannibalism.
In what was perhaps Lucent’s most brutal scene, frustrated employees randomly killed piglets that had escaped their cages. Other piglets died when their legs got trapped in poorly designed floor grates.
Consider this: pigs are among the most intelligent animals on Earth. In some ways, their problem-solving abilities surpass those of dogs, some primates and even three-year-old children.
They are also remarkably clean animals. When given enough room, pigs always relieve themselves far from their feeding and sleeping spaces. For them, factory-farm conditions must be the equivalent of hell on Earth.
While my daughter didn’t watch Lucent with me, she hasn’t been able to stop thinking about some of the details I shared with her. Yes, what this documentary exposes about the suffering of factory-farmed animals is deeply disturbing.
But until we stop demanding steaks or pork chops for dinner or starting our mornings with bacon, their suffering is partly on our heads