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Maisie's Story

Mon 4 March 2024

We met Maisie in the holding pens at Benalla slaughterhouse. Out of the dozens of pigs and piglets crowded together in the mud and filth, Maisie stood out because of her distinctive markings, which looked like someone had drawn a line down her middle and painted one half pink and the other black. Over the course of three nights, we spent time with Maisie as she awaited a violent death. While most pigs are killed the day after they are transported to the slaughterhouse, for some reason Maisie and the other piglets she shared a pen with waited for days, likely without food, before being killed in Benalla’s gas chamber.


We don’t know exactly where Maisie came from or the details of her short life. Here’s what we do know.


Around three months before we met her, Maisie was born on a pig farm in Victoria or NSW, along with approximately 10 of her brothers and sisters. 


Maisie’s mum had likely given birth to multiple litters before her, in a cycle of forcible impregnation, pregnancy and birth which wore down her body. There is a high chance that Maisie’s mum spent much of her pregnancy confined to a sow stall; a metal cage where pregnant sows are forced to live during pregnancy. The stalls are not much larger than the sows, only allowing approximately one step forward or backward, and no room to move from side to side at all or turn around.


At just 2-3 years of age, mother pigs, like Maisie’s mum, are sent to the slaughterhouse. 


Like over 90% of piglets in Australia, Maisie was likely born inside a farrowing crate. A farrowing crate is a small metal cage in which sows are confined while they give birth and nurse their piglets. A farrowing crate affords mother pigs little room to do anything; generally they can take one step forward or backward or lay on the concrete floor so their piglets can nurse from them, but they can’t turn around. The legally accepted amount of space for sows in farrowing crates is 0.5 metres wide x 2 metres long. Sows will be kept here for approximately 6 weeks until her piglets are weaned, at which point the sow is re-impregnated, and this cycle begins again.


At least one of Maisie’s siblings would have been born sick, deformed or stillborn. If they survived the first couple of days, they would have been killed by blunt force trauma, most likely by being picked up by their back legs and swung into the concrete floor or a metal bar. Others may have been accidentally crushed by their mother in the confinement of the farrowing crate. 


Within a few days of her birth, Maisie and her siblings would have had their tails cut off with scissors and their teeth cut. These routine, legal practices are performed without pain relief and lead to significant suffering for the newborn piglets as well as distress to the mother. 


While most pigs killed for food are sent to the slaughterhouse at 5-6 months old, Maisie would have been alive for no more than three months. Pigs of her age are known as ‘sucker’ pigs and are usually sold whole for spit roasts. 


At six weeks old, Maisie would have been sent to a ‘weaner’ pen where she would have shared an open pen or cage with other piglets of her size. When she reached a certain age or weight, she would have been loaded into a truck or trailer with paddles and electric prodders. She and her siblings were driven, potentially for hours, with no food or water, terrified and exposed to the elements. When they reached the slaughterhouse they were unloaded into pens, in a large space full of hundreds of other pigs. 


It’s at this point that our paths crossed with Maisie, past midnight on a dark night in January this year. We sat with her and her friends in the dark, getting to know her and seeing the way the piglets huddled and played together. Every night when we returned we felt a wave of relief that she was still there, even as other pens around her had emptied of the pigs we had come to know the night before. 


One night, we returned to find Maisie’s pen empty. We weren’t there with her for the final moments of her short life. But our cameras followed as she was herded into the gas chamber where she took her last, agonising breath. Later we watched the footage of her being killed, along with dozens of other piglets and we knew that we had to tell her story.


Maisie, we are sorry we couldn’t save you. We will never stop fighting for you.

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