We recently published an open letter to Tammi Jonas of Jonai Farms regarding the exercise she is conducting with ABC Radio National’s Bush Telegraph program, involving a piglet named Wilbur.

Here’s Tammi’s response to that letter, which she posted on our Facebook page on 6 June, 2013:

Hi Karina and Paul – Thanks for the ‘open letter’ (though I stumbled upon it by accident – perhaps you could have pinged me at least?), and for addressing me (and presumably my husband Stuart and children who are partners in our farm) respectfully. I’m happy to discuss our farming practices with you or anyone, hence our involvement in the RN Bush Tele series. I’ll be brief here though as I already invite this engagement across two blogs and now the ABC sites.

My point about asking omnivores, not vegans, was that we wanted to discuss farm animal management, which is difficult to do with a group whose stock position is ‘don’t farm animals’. Of course you and anyone has a right to comment, just as we have a right to ignore you if we choose. You’ll note we have not chosen to ignore even the abolitionists, though as time goes on, I can’t promise I will remain willing to respond or engage with that particular group of people when they attack us.

On anaesthesia – it’s not true that we hadn’t considered it before the Fb poll, nor that the vote and discussion there are the only reason we’re using it now. This was part of a long conversation here on the farm, one that farmers have all the time, and for us, one that always encompasses the well being of our animals (who, yes, are commodities, but also living creatures whose lives we want to be as good and ‘natural’ as possible while they live – unlike you, we don’t think it’s contradictory to believe it’s okay to eat animals but still want them to live a life without fear or pain insofar as possible and within our control). We will continue to revisit this discussion and practice, and I’ll keep the public updated on our farm blog. Regarding anaesthesia for ear notching – we have no intention of using pain relief for this very minor physical intervention. It’s the equivalent of piercing your ears.

On abattoirs, I am well on the record with concerns about the treatment of animals at some abattoirs, and approached that part of our decision to farm free-range pigs with trepidation. What I can say about our abattoir (Diamond Valley), is that we are very happy with their practices as we have observed them. The Animal Liberation quote you provided in no way represents the experience of our animals, and I will be writing a detailed account of our abattoir’s practices (eg they don’t stun, the pigs are lowered into a carbon dioxide chamber and are rendered immediately unconscious). Obviously, I cannot speak for other abattoirs, but I’m aware of many in Australia using the CO2 method now. I could not in good conscience call myself a transparent, ethical farmer if I didn’t believe the slaughtering process was as quick and relatively stress-free as it is.

I’m not entirely sure what your objective was in writing the ‘open letter’, but I hope I’ve answered some of your questions, such that they were. If your objective is for us to stop farming in what we firmly believe is an ethical manner, I’d recommend that you not waste your time. Like you, we don’t believe that intensive farming is ethical. But perhaps unlike you, we think that the work of people like us is critical to improving the lot of pigs and poultry in Australia and elsewhere.

We want people to have all the information to make ethical choices – whether for them that means they’ll be vegan, vegetarian, or omnivore.


Tammi and the Jonai [Team]

Here’s our response of 13 June, 2013, prepared by Paul Mahony and co-signed with Melbourne Pig Save co-founder Karina Leung:

Hi Tammi,

Thanks for your comments. We provide some further comments below.

Our objective:

We’re aiming to create some balance by providing a voice for animals in addition to the voice of those who breed them for food.

Anaesthesia for castration:

You said “it’s not true that we hadn’t considered it before the FB poll, nor that the vote and discussion there are the only reason we’re using it now.”

Your comments imply that we indicated you had not considered using anaesthesia for castration before the FB poll. That’s not so. We simply said that you had not used it, which we understand is an accurate comment.

You said in the interview with Cameron Wilson that you would not use it on Wilbur if he were to be castrated.

Subsequent to that interview, you said on FB:

“Thanks for the comments, everyone – we’re investigating Tri-Solfen, which was developed for mulesing sheep, actually. A topical anaesthetic would be our preference. Note that we’ve only castrated one litter so far – this will be our next batch, and we’ll see about sourcing Tri-Solfen or similar from our vet.”


“Again, thanks to those who have engaged respectfully on this important issue with significant animal welfare as well as management implications. We’ve certainly taken the feedback regarding anaesthetic seriously and are talking to our vet about our options, including Tri-Solfen. If Wilbur 101 and his brothers are castrated, it will be with anaesthetic.”

Anaesthesia for ear notching:

You have said, “we have no intention of using pain relief for this very minor physical intervention. It’s the equivalent of piercing your ears”.

We assume that your piglets are less than a week old when their ears are notched.

We note that the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals – Pigs (2007), states: “Ear notching should be avoided where possible. Where ear notching is performed, it should be carried out before the piglets are 7 days of age”

We also note that the Humane Society of the United States has released a report titled “An HSUS Report: The Welfare of Piglets in the Pig Industry“. Here’s an extract:

“There has been very little research assessing the painfulness of ear notching, but two studies report behavioral differences between piglets who were ear notched and piglets who were similarly held and restrained, but did not undergo the actual ear-notching procedure. The piglets who were ear notched displayed more grunting vocalizations, head shaking, squeals, and escape attempts.” [References provided.]


You have said, “the pigs are lowered into a carbon dioxide chamber and are rendered immediately unconscious”.

We understand that the reaction of pigs in carbon dioxide chambers is very breed-specific, so we assume from your comments that rare breed Large Black pigs react more favourably than some. However, we are concerned that other factors may also play a part.

This is how the process has been described by Anita Krajnc, co-founder of our sister organisation, Toronto Pig Save, based on information from former abattoir workers in Canada:

“The carbon dioxide chamber takes about two or three pigs at a time, and then they’re lowered into the basement because carbon dioxide is heavier than air, and so they’re stunned there, and it takes about 20 to 30 seconds and is excruciatingly painful, and they’re trying to escape and they’re jumping on each other, and then by the time the elevator comes back up, they’re stunned, they’re not dead they’re stunned, then they’re shackled and hung upside down on one leg, and then they’re bled with a big hollow knife stuck in their throat as they’re upside down, and as their heart is then pumping out the blood, and then they’re thrown into a scalding tank, that’s boiling water in order to loosen their hair. What happens with these carbon dioxide gas chambers is it works differently for different pigs, depending on how healthy they are, depending on whether they took a big breath before they went into the gas chamber, so some of them will wake up sooner, will be alive while they’re being bled and also in some cases when thrown into the scalding tank. These kind of atrocities happen every day in slaughterhouses.”

Ethical Farming:

You have said, “Like you, we don’t believe that intensive farming is ethical.”

We believe that all animal farming is a form of exploitation, and therefore unethical.

Kind Regards,

Karina Leung and Paul Mahony, Melbourne Pig Save


The following comments were added by veterinary student Julian Forbes on 14 June, 2013:

Can I also add something about carbon dioxide stunning: when animals die of suffocation, it is actually the elevated CO2 levels in their bodies that cause the sense of suffering and panic. This is mediated by central chemoreceptors in the brain (and to a lesser extent, carotid and aortic bodies). This explains the levels of suffering noted by Anita Krajnc. Here is an independent study of the effectiveness of different stunning methods, including CO2, which is described as inducing “severe respiratory distress prior to loss of consciousness”. It is very clear that there can never be a guarantee of “humane slaughter”.

Image: Large Black sow feeding on grass | © whitemay | iStockphoto