Though it is obvious that virtual reality could never truly recreate the experiences of an animal subjected to such cruelty as exists on farms today, a study at Stanford University has perhaps come a little closer than before.
According an article in Scientific American, researchers carried out an experiment meant to give students an impression of what it might feel like to be a cow in a slaughterhouse:
They donned a virtual reality helmet and walked on hands and feet while in a virtual mirror they saw themselves as bovine. As the animal was jabbed with an electrical prod, a lab worker poked a volunteer’s side with a sticklike device. The ground shook to simulate the prod’s vibrations. The cow at the end was led toward a slaughterhouse. (link)
The experiment was not meant to turn people into vegetarians (though it would be nice if that was an unintended effect!) but to learn whether “virtual reality could alter behaviors that tax the environment and contribute to climate change.” Why in the world that required them to feel like a cow I honestly don’t know. (Learn more about animal agriculture and climate change.)
“Once I got used to it I began to feel like I was the cow,” one person wrote. “I truly felt like I was going to the slaughter house towards the end and I felt sad that I (as a cow) was going to die. That last prod felt really sad.”
On that note, the Vegan Feminist Network has written a very thought-provoking response to the idea of a virtual reality program and “feeling like” a cow:
Let’s parallel this. That’s like saying, in order to “feel” what it’s like to be an oppressed person of color, let’s all willingly sit in a prison (considering there are more people of color in prison than any other population because of racism) for an amount of time that you arbitrarily choose in hopes that you, a privileged person, will be able to relate, just so that you can care.
There’s still a very arrogant element involved here. In order for you to care about something, you have to literally be in its position to give a shit. That’s pretty terrible.
That’s why I think it’s important that we don’t conflate empathizing, and then becoming an oppressed being. Those are two completely different projects.
Anyway, we can’t all take part in this particular experiment, but there are a couple of interesting little gadgets available online from Animal Visuals. If possible you should turn your speakers on–perhaps even loudly.
First, a pig trapped in a gestation crate:
Learn more about pigs and gestation crates in Canada.
Animal Visuals also has a virtual battery cage. Again, speakers are recommended:
Learn more about battery-caged chickens in Canada.
Again, such programs as these cannot really come close to recreating the experience of life on a farm, but perhaps they can give us the barest glimpse of it.
Michael, shortly after his rescue. (Photo: Farm Sanctuary)
Michael was born on a small dairy farm. We might like to imagine that small farms are somehow drastically different than large, industrial factory farms–and in some ways, they are–but not necessarily as much as we’d hope. For example, even on the smallest, friendliest dairy farms, calves are a byproduct of an industry that requires constant pregnancy–and therefore, constant babies. Most dairy calves have a miserable fate. Females are sometimes kept to replace their mothers; despite the fact that cows can live 20 to 25 years, the turnover rate for the average dairy farm is shockingly high: in British Columbia, for example, cows are sent to slaughter at the age of 5. (Learn more.) Male calves, meanwhile, are most often killed outright or sold at auction for veal.
Two weeks before, the farmer sent a group of calves to auction, yet she held one back. She liked something about this little calf and wasn’t ready to let him go. Eventually, however, she decided that she must. It is uncommon for a dairy farmer to keep a male calf, feeding and caring for him as he grows while gleaning no marketable product. When animals are seen as commodities, it becomes impractical to put their welfare first, and personal connection inevitably yields to the bottom line. (link)
The farmer eventually decided that Michael would have to go to auction like the others. A trucker friend of hers, however, heard about the little calf’s predicament and began sending out messages, looking for somebody who might take him in. Animal rescuer Mike Stura learned about him just in time, and he and his wife leapt into their truck and headed for the farm, still trying to get in touch with the farmer.
They were finally able to get the farmer’s contact details from the truck driver — and not a minute too soon. Stura pulled into the farmer’s driveway just as the auction truck arrived. He lifted the calf into his own truck and headed for our New York Shelter, arriving at night in the middle of a snowstorm. In honor of this valiant friend to animals, we named the new arrival Michael.
Michael frolicking at his new home at Farm Sanctuary's New York Shelter. (Photo: Farm Sanctuary)
Liberation BC is proud to support Farm Sanctuary by participating in the annual Walk for Farm Animals. Won’t you join us?
Daisy and Stanley bear witness. The driver purposely stayed far from the curb and, with the police present we were not permitted to leave the sidewalk to comfort the pigs. Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur, August, 2013.
I spent the summer in Toronto visiting my family, especially my elderly parents. I was reluctant to leave Vancouver for several reasons, one of them being that I would miss our Friday Chicken Slaughterhouse Vigils at Hallmark Poultry Processing at Commercial and Hastings. Fortunately we have such an awesome team of regulars who kept the vigils going strong in Vancouver while I have participated in Toronto’s Pig Save, Chicken Save, and Cow Save vigils.
The purpose of these groups is to “erect glass walls in slaughterhouses” and expose the truth about the suffering of the animals who are delivered there. They do this by holding vigils several times during the week, all-day vigils every once in awhile, leafletting on busy downtown corners, and other special events.
I was given an early introduction to the Pig Save experience during my drive from Vancouver. Passing through Manitoba on the Trans Canada Highway, I stopped for a break at a rest stop on the side of the road. Coincidentally, a double-decker truck full of pigs had stopped there too. At first I was terrified to get out of the car but I knew I had to do whatever I could to offer those innocent little creatures some comfort. I patted their noses and spoke to them gently. I wish now that I had had some water for them. I took several photos before the driver came out of the washroom. I expected him to yell at me and tell me to get away from the truck but instead he looked kind of sheepish. I told him that I found it very sad. He said they were fine and went over to touch one of them saying, “You’re okay, aren’t you guys?” I asked him if it didn’t get to him just a little bit. He shrugged and said, “Not really.” I said one last goodbye to the pigs as they drove away–3 more hours–the driver said. I’m not sure how far they had already come.
Pigs crammed in bottom level of transport truck; Manitoba
This had been the third time I’d driven across the country. I’d never noticed those trucks in the past–I guess because I hadn’t been vegan then. After this I was amazed at how many more trucks I saw on the highway.
My first experience at a Pig Save vigil wasn’t at their usual spot–”Pig Island” at Lakeshore Boulevard and Strachan Avenue, just outside the Princes Gates at the entrance to the Canadian National Exhibition site. The Indy car race was in town and the roads were closed. Instead we met at the actual entrance to the Quality Meat Packers slaughterhouse at 677 Wellington Street. The fence outside the slaughterhouse was used to post several large pictures of pigs inside transport trucks, photos taken by various members of Toronto Pig Save. We held posters ourselves and handed out leaflets to passersby. While pulling into the yard, the trucks loaded with pigs did not stop for more than a second so we did not get to see much of the pigs. But as they backed up to the unloading dock , we could hear them squealing and could see the driver hit the side of the truck with his paddle to hurry them along. Suddenly it hit me that this was indeed their final stop and I began to sob uncontrollably. I was comforted by Agnes Cseke, one of the TPS regulars, and by Jo-Anne McArthur, the photographer featured in the documentary Ghosts in Our Machine.
Agnes comforts me as pigs are unloaded. Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur, July, 2013
Since that first vigil, I saw dozens and dozens of trucks go by and didn’t feel the need to cry, just an overwhelming sadness as I would pat as many pigs as I could and offer them water. The first time I saw a pig struggle to drink from my water bottle, I couldn’t help but see my dogs Stanley and Daisy doing the same thing when we go for walks. During the heat wave in Toronto, several vigils were held and many dedicated, caring volunteers came out to bear witness and offer water and watermelon to ease the suffering of the young pigs.
Giving water and watermelon to the pigs. Photo by Anita Krajnc, July, 2013
Many activists broke down in tears as they worked. One day the police were called when one of them threw a bucketful of water into one of the trucks. I guess it had been interpreted as an act of violence towards the truck or driver. We were told to leave the ‘island’ which we did for the day only to return the next day.
Offering a little relief. Photo by Anita Krajnc, July, 2013.
I began to spend most of my time on the other side of the street from “the Island” doing what we in Vancouver do best–holding a sign and waving enthusiastically at the drivers passing by! I stood in a place where I was the first person to get their attention and hoped that they would be alerted to the signs ahead. As in Vancouver, many people wave, nod, smile, or honk in response to the waving. When a truck full of pigs comes along I would just stop and point. I must admit it was hard to smile and wave right after a truck had passed…I had to talk myself into converting all that sadness and anger into reaching the public in a positive way.
Waving to cars in the early morning at Lakeshore and Strachan. Photo by Jo-Aanne Mcarthur, August, 2013.
I was asked a few times why I wave and how it helps the cause. Most basically I believe that sending any kind of positive energy to other human beings is good for the world. Who knows what it might inspire, whether it be for animals or some other issue? As far as spreading the message about animal rights, I hope that people will be able to relate to a friendly greeting and be open to at least hearing what we have to say. If they respond with a wave or a smile, I feel that we have a little foot in the door and the next time they find themselves confronted with the issue they might let us in a little further. If they don’t respond or respond in a negative way (as only a very few do) then at least they go away with an image of us as friendly, positive people, not irrational angry radicals! And lastly, every positive response reinforces my belief that we can reach people and make a difference. I am encouraged to keep working even harder to reach as many people as I can. A few people even blew kisses which brought tears to my eyes and hope for the animals!
My experiences at Cow Save and Chicken Save were mostly about bearing witness, as they are not located in high traffic areas where the public can be easily reached. St. Helen’s, Ryder-Regency, and Genesis meat packing plants are all located on Glen Scarlett Road, just a few blocks away from Maple Leaf Poultry Processors at 100 Ethel Avenue. Recently the group started splitting their efforts between bearing witness at the cattle and poultry slaughterhouses and leafletting at St. Clair Avenue West and Keele Street, the nearest main intersection. The first time I looked into a truck full of poor cows, I cried, knowing that at that moment there was nothing I could do to save them. As with the pigs, we offered them words and water. These particular cows were from a small, family farm. It made me realize that no matter where or how these animals are raised, their final days are spent in misery, fear, and confusion.
Afraid and confused, they have no idea what's ahead of them.
My sister Catherine accompanied me on a couple of occasions and was a great support (as well as feeding me great vegan food!) One day the police arrived in response to a complaint from a security guard that we were giving the cows something to drink and he couldn’t be sure it was water. My sister assured the officer that it was indeed water and when he asked her to drink some she agreed and took a swig! That was all he needed and they left.
The cows were covered in filth.
The Maple Leaf Chicken slaughterhouse at 100 Ethel Street, a few blocks from St. Helen’s, is unlike Vancouver’s in that the trucks full of chickens often wait outside, even in the winter. One day the door to the production line was left open and we were able to use out zoom lenses to get photos of the birds being hung up by their feet and then moved along to the throat slicer. It was heartbreaking.
Sweet little angel.
Video by Michael Sizer, August, 2013
I met many amazing people in attending the events here in Toronto. First and foremost is Anita Krajnc, the founder of the movement. She is amazingly dedicated and has built a powerful medium that has spread worldwide. Of course this is where the inspiration for our Vancouver chicken vigils. Anita and her team have done a great deal of research into the various slaughterhouses. They know exactly what goes on in each department, what each truck is for, and what each worker does. They have found this information through their own investigations (climbing onto the railway tracks behind the pig slaughterhouse for example) and through the book Slaughterhouse by Gail A. Eintz. They have made beautiful posters of the animals in transport trucks and created some excellent information leaflets.
The most important thing I have learned from Anita that can make our Vancouver vigils even more effective is to get as much photo and video footage as possible and post it after every vigil. The library of footage Toronto Pig Save has is incredible, and much of it–especially the footage of offering water to the pigs–has made the television news and gone viral on the internet. Anita does much of the photography herself, but is assisted by many of her team, including Agnes Cseke and Michael Sizer who is working on the documentary film Cow Save. Of course it doesn’t hurt to have Jo-Anne McArthur as a regular at the vigils!
Another special person I met here was Ross Tapp. Ross is a former worker at the Maple Leaf Poultry plant where his job was hanging the birds upside down in shackles. He received a leaflet from Anita on the street one day and has since become a powerful and dedicated animal rights activist! He is a great resource into what goes on inside a slaughterhouse and the minds of the workers.
Ross, in the middle, outside his old place of employment. Photo by Agnes Cseke, July, 2013.
One more episode had an impact on me. I stood across the street from the chicken slaughterhouse as several of the activists got into an argument with a couple of workers. Soon things got out of hand and insults were hurled. I spoke to one of the activists who had been involved and told her I didn’t support that kind of behaviour. She was very open minded and willing to examine the actions of the group critically. Then I spotted my sister speaking to one of the workers who had been attacked. He was very upset and said that he didn’t appreciate being called “fatso”, among other things. She told him that she did not support that kind of behaviour either.
My sister (R), Stanley (C) and me.
I spoke to him as well and what he said really hit home. He said, “You people preach compassion – I don’t see it.” I told him that we would do our best to encourage others not to repeat the incident. He thanked us and waved when we drove away. I spoke to a few other activists who had also not been comfortable with what had occurred. Later I received an email from a TPS member apologizing for her part in the incident. I found this very encouraging because I know how easy it is to get carried away by emotions and passion and how important it is to acknowledge this and take ownership for it.
The following week I returned with a letter for the worker and a slice of home made vegan banana bread (made by my sister!) He was not there when I arrived, so I asked an office worker to deliver it to him. She was very pleased when she heard what it was for. I came back when he was there and asked if he had received our little gift. He smiled and said he really appreciated it. A few other guys were with him at the the time and overheard our conversation. Obviously, I do not like what this man does for a living but I don’t believe we can win respect for the animals if we don’t show respect for humans. I worry that antagonizing workers could lead to them taking their anger at us out on the animals. I can only hope that by treating this man with respect there is a better chance of him making compassionate choices in the future. Who knows? Maybe there is another Ross Tapp inside him!! And hopefully he and his coworkers will share this story with others.
On my way back across the country I saw many transport trucks full of animals, one day 20 trucks full of cattle. I saw a truck pulled over at a rest stop and turned in to visit with the 1000 lb steers inside. Just as with the driver of the truck I met on my way east, this one was somewhat sheepish and very friendly. He admitted that he has been ‘put off beef’.
Now that I’m back in Vancouver I miss all the wonderful people I met through Pig Save and I look forward to seeing them again someday. I learned a great deal about the power of bearing witness. As an activist I believe it’s important to remind myself exactly who I’m fighting for and to be able to describe the situation to others from first hand experience. For the animals, I think it is important that they experience at least a tiny bit of love and compassion in their short lives. For the public, we invite them to bear witness, through our signs and literature, and hope that they, too, will choose compassion. Thank you Toronto Pig Save for everything you do and for inspiring me to keep the spirit alive in Vancouver!
On the heels of our Cow Ribbon campaign, comes this bizarre video from a company called AnimartInc. It features their device, the UdderSinge. It’s pretty much what it sounds like, believe it or not:
Udder Singe uses a low temperature flame to remove hair from the udder and belly to aid in reducing mastitis incidences and somatic cell counts, thereby increasing milk quality.
Udder Singe is designed to remove hair quickly and painlessly, using a 6″ cool flame, eliminating the need to clip udders. The Udder Singe wand should be held about 2-4″ below the udder and belly to make a quick pass to singe off hair that can trap in mastitis and high somatic cell causing debris and bacteria. (link)
A dairy cow suffering from mastitis. (Photo: British Veterinary Association)
First off, yes, mastitis is a painful and potentially fatal disease. Though not seen exclusively in the dairy industry (for example, human moms can get it too), it is incredibly common in dairy cows, who are exposed constantly to bacteria as a result of milking machines. What the cheerful ad copy fails to communicate is the industry’s primary concern in regards to mastitis: it is an expensive disease. The National Mastitis Council estimates that it costs farmers more than $200 per cow, and in Canada, it is the second most common reason for culling. In the U.S., mastitis costs the industry between 1.7 and 2 billion dollars a year. It’s no surprise that they’d be looking for a way to reduce it.
Back to the first part of the text, which claims that the flame is “painless”. What an assertion! Udders are sensitive and filled with pain receptors, and the idea that it doesn’t hurt to expose them to fire is absurd. Some people shave–perhaps they should consider taking a low temperature torch to their faces, legs, etcetera. Hey, apparently it’s painless!
You can watch a video of the UdderSinge in action here:
Freefromharm.org points out that though the video says that the audio is turned off because it’s used at trade shows–which I guess are held at places with no volume control?–it’s entirely possible that there’s no sound because it might reveal how the cows really feel about having their udders “passed over” with a butane torch.
On Mother’s Day 2013, we headed out to Georgia and Granville again to spread the word about the cruelty of the dairy industry. (Check out our 2012 Mother’s Day event.) We had our cow ribbons on hand for people to purchase.
You can still get your own cow ribbon here for a donation of $5!
This year, we had a special guest: Emilia and her mom, Fabiola, and dad, Trent.
Unlike calves in the dairy industry, little Emilia gets to stay with her loving parents. Dairy cows lose their children year after year, one after another. Male calves are raised as veal–an industry that began as a way to make some money off of all the extra calves created by the dairy industry. Females are kept around and raised to be dairy cows themselves. It’s a vicious, horrible cycle and one that too few people are aware of but many are grateful–and disgusted–to learn about.
Richa (as the cow with the snazzy matching umbrella) and Sophie hand out leaflets.
Emilia with her parents
The cool, rainy weather wasn’t the best of timing as it cut down dramatically on foot traffic, but with the help of our amazing volunteers, we still gave out so many leaflets that we totally depleted our supply.
That means that between our May volunteer night on the 8th and our leafleting on Mother’s Day, we gave out 1500 leaflets about the dairy industry! Great job, guys! If you’d like to distribute some of our leaflets yourself, you can download and print them here.
Emilia meets her much larger counterpart.
Our cow makes friends wherever she goes!
Even animal heroes get sleepy sometimes.
Our gratitude goes out to the wonderful volunteers who came out on a rainy Sunday to make this a better world for all moms!
As we approach Mother’s Day (May 12th), it’s time to spread the word about compassion for all mothers with our Cow Ribbon Campaign. This is part five in a series of stories about mother cows and their babies. Have you gotten yourcow ribbon yet?
Sweet Dylan lives at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in New York now, but he was born on a dairy farm in 2005. When he was discovered, he was tied to a post and lying in his own feces, a day away from being sent to auction as a veal calf. This is the fate of most male calves born into the dairy industry, but Dylan was lucky: two caring people, concerned about the mistreatment of the newborn calves at the farm, talked the farmer into giving him up.
Dylan is just one of the countless male calves considered a nearly worthless byproduct in the dairy industry. (Photo: Derek Goodwin)
Dylan arrived at Woodstock just one week old, and though he was frightened at first, he very quickly became a fearless troublemaker, even following his caregivers into the house!
One year and 800 pounds later, Dylan enjoys a birthday cake made of fruit, bread, and carrots. (Photo: Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary)
We have some very exciting news! In one week, Liberation BC will be partnering with Mercy For Animals Canada to mount an ad campaign on the Vancouver Skytrain which promotes vegetarianism and veganism!
The “Why love one but eat the other?” ad series took Toronto by storm in 2011. Millions of people saw these ads firsthand in the subways, they were shared in the media across the country, and the video about the campaign was watched over 66,000 times on YouTube.
Many people reported going vegetarian and vegan because of these ads. That’s how important and effective they are!
Now these ads will run on the Vancouver Skytrain for the month of May as part of a cross-Canada transit ad campaign that will also include Calgary, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax.
Here’s a look at the three ads that will be running in the Skytrain as poster-sized ads:
(Just click on them to see a larger version.)
Right now, Mercy For Animals Canada needs to raise just $5,000 more to run this comprehensive ad campaign in Vancouver. If you’d like to help bring the “Why love one but eat the other?” message into the hearts of Vancouverites, please donate now. (Choose: “Why Love One?’ Transit Ad Campaign 2013 from the drop-down menu below the donation amount.)
Oh, and if you’re on Facebook, you can join the event pages for this campaign in English or in French.
Please be sure to spread the word and keep your eye out for the ads starting on the Skytrain May 13th!
As we approach Mother’s Day (May 12th), it’s time to spread the word about compassion for all mothers with our Cow Ribbon Campaign. This is part three in a series of stories about mother cows and their babies. Have you gotten yourcow ribbon yet?
The newborns, some not even a day old yet, were visibly frenzied and could be heard bawling for their mothers…their terror was only met with frustration from the workers who forcefully unloaded and moved them into holding pens by hitting them with canes or shocking them with cattle prods.
The scene turned even grislier when she came across the poor babies who were obviously very ill. She found one – a little calf who couldn’t even stand – collapsed and left freezing in the less than 20 degree weather near a loading dock. The other two she would rescue that day were shoved into the auction ring when the sale began. One was so sick and weak that his legs kept buckling beneath him as workers prodded him to get him on his feet. The other, weighing only 37 pounds, was so small that the bidders made a joke of him – calling him “trash.” Treated with the same indifference as all the others, these little ones were only mocked in their distress and ultimately deemed as being worthless when they failed to sell for even $1.
All three calves needed intensive care for renal failure, pneumonia, cysts, and a host of other conditions brought on by neglect and a lack of basic medical treatment as well as the fact that they were denied their mothers’ colostrum. But now they will be taken care of for the rest of their lives. Most are not so lucky.
As we approach Mother’s Day (May 12th), it’s time to spread the word about compassion for all mothers with our Cow Ribbon Campaign. This is part two in a series of stories about mother cows and their babies. Have you gotten yourcow ribbon yet?
Maybelle lives at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in New York now, but her origin story is a bit unique as compared to most dairy cows. She was born on a large-scale farm in Pennsylvania in 2005. When she was three years old, however, she was transferred to a New York historical site where people dress in period costumes and do demonstrations for the public to give some impression of life in 18th century America. One such demonstration involved Maybelle, who was displayed for their milking exhibit. Of course, she needed to give birth in order to produce milk, and as a result she was impregnated four times in the four years that she lived there. One calf was born prematurely and died, and the other three were taken from her and sold. Pretty standard stuff for dairy production, even in circumstances such as these.
When the staff at the historical site decided to end the milking demonstrations, they fortunately contacted Woodstock, who gladly accepted her.
Maybelle (left) and Kayli (Photo: Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary)
One of Maybelle’s lost babies was sold to a petting zoo, and Woodstock has been attempting to reunite the two…but so far, the petting zoo has refused to give him up.