Two rare breed Large Black pigs, like those at Jonai Farms

This is an open letter to Tammi Jonas of Jonai Farms in relation to a project recently launched by ABC Radio National’s Bush Telegraph program.

The letter was prepared by Paul Mahony on behalf of Melbourne Pig Save and co-signed with MPS co-founder Karina Leung. It first appeared on the Facebook pages of Melbourne Pig Save and the ABC’s Bush Telegraph program, and in the comments section of the article “Why we will be castrating Wilbur 101” (refer below).

The program’s web page introduced the exercise this way:

RN’s chronicler of all things rural – Bush Telegraph – is staging a bold experiment, raising a pig to start a debate about free range farming and animal welfare. Over the coming months you can decide how to rear Wilbur 101 by voting in our Facebook polls

Here are links that provide some additional background:

Should we castrate this pig?“, Bush Telegraph, 16 May, 2013

Wilbur’s Woe’s“, Paul Mahony, 21 May, 2013

Why we will be castrating Wilbur 101“, Tammi Jonas, 22 May, 2013

Farmers choose to castrate Wilbur 101“, Bush Telegraph, 23 May, 2013

Bush Telegraph Facebook page

Bush Telegraph Facebook voting page

Humane Choice “True Free Range” Standards – Pigs – 2011 – Version 1.1 (Refer to Section 15.2, page 12)

129 Morgantis Rd, Eganstown, Victoria, 3461
4th June, 2013

Dear Tammi,

We’ve been following your “bold experiment, raising a pig to start a debate about free range farming and animal welfare”.

In the article dealing with your decision to castrate Wilbur, you said that you had asked omnivores to vote, not vegans. However, we could not see where the voting was intended to be limited in that way. We are vegans, and feel that we have a right to respond to a question asked by our national broadcaster, the ABC.

You have mentioned that you’ve been farming free-range rare breed Large Black pigs for a year and a half. You have also indicated that you had not previously used anaesthetic when castrating piglets, and initially did not intend using it for Wilbur. We note that you subsequently decided to use it for him as a result of feedback on Facebook.

We are concerned that it took the Facebook discussion for you to eventually decide on that approach, particularly when the Humane Choice “true free range” standards for pigs stipulate that anaesthetic should be used. However, the discussions on this topic in Facebook and on the Bush Telegraph forum have highlighted the lack of uniform, legally enforceable standards for free range farming.

Even the Humane Choice standards appear to allow ear notching without anaesthetic, provided it is “shown to be necessary”. The standards refer to the practice as “surgery”, rather than “mutilation”, which is not permitted.

Whether it is “surgery” or “mutilation”, we would like to think that anaesthetic would be used.

We understand from your radio interview with Cameron Wilson that ear notching occurs at Jonai Farms.

If you had intended from the beginning to use anaesthetic for Wilbur’s castration, the outcome of voting may have been different to that which eventuated.

Although vegans generally seek to avoid all forms of animal exploitation, when dealing with a situation where an animal is to be exploited regardless of their actions, they will almost invariably aim for the approach that involves the least suffering. If they could have been convinced that the castration option represented such an approach, then they may have supported it. Many voters may have been unaware that you changed your position on the use of anaesthetic, or may have voted before you did so.

Despite being treated better than pigs in factory farms, Wilbur is clearly a commodity who was brought into the world to be killed and eaten. His full name, “Wilbur 101”, appears to be consistent with that understanding when one considers the fact that all male pigs on your farm are named Wilbur. Each of the pig’s name is distinguished from the others’ names by a number, so each “name” is effectively just a number.

You’ve suggested that your pigs have only “one bad day”. But what a bad day it is! Here’s how Patty Mark of Animal Liberation Victoria described her experience of seeing a free range pig awaiting slaughter:

“The most prolonged suffering I’ve ever had to witness was in New South Wales when a free-range pig was approaching the stunner. She was hysterical, frothing at the mouth. Her chest heaved and caved as she struggled valiantly and continuously to escape. I ached to yell out, ‘Stop, enough!’ and hold her in my arms, soothe her, give her a drink of cool water, then take her to a safe place. Smoke rose from her temples as the man held the electric stunner firmly, longer than normal, to both sides of her head.”

Apart from the terror experienced by that poor pig, any day when your life is taken from you in order to satisfy the unnecessary culinary habits of humans would represent an unjust and horrific experience.

Besides, we believe the day of castration or ear notching (or other relevant procedures) without anaesthetic would have been another “bad day” for your piglets.

You have said: “Unfortunately, while the omnivorous public might have wanted to discuss the practicalities and ethics of castrating boars, a significant number of those opposed to eating meat joined the discussion and turned it into a rant against us, farmers generally, and meat eaters specifically. We were called ‘sick freaks’, ‘Neanderthals’, and ‘animal abusers’, to name some of the milder insults.”

Please note that we have not used terminology of that type in any comments. We simply aim to inform people of the facts behind their animal consumption, to assist them in purchasing in an informed manner.

We would be pleased to discuss these issues with you at any time that was convenient.

Kind Regards,

Karina Leung and Paul Mahony
Melbourne Pig Save

Image: Two Black Pigs © Nigel Baker |