The Christmas Tree Trucks
Highway 163 is a 4-lane highway that runs approximately 60 miles from the west side of Des Moines east to Oskaloosa. A heavily traveled road, Highway 163 doesn’t look like a conventional highway with big green signs announcing well-marked exits. Instead, Highway 163 has thoroughfares (both paved and dirt) that link directly to the highway allowing drivers to enter and exit onto roads that surround crop farms and those that raise livestock – particularly cattle, hogs, chickens, and turkeys.
When I visit Iowa, I travel along Highway 163 all the time because it gets me to where I want to go. This past Autumn there were an abundance of trucks outfitted with shiny metal crates lit up with bright yellow and red lights on the exterior from corner to corner. These trucks stood out even in the daytime and the first time I saw one, I remember thinking they looked like Christmas tree trucks but they turned out to be something entirely different.
As a 16-wheeler started to speed by me one day, I realized the truck was transporting pigs (or what most people call “hogs” in Iowa) and I naturally gravitated closer to the truck..it’s that strange phenomena of looking at something and being pulled to it like a magnet. I locked eyes with a pig who had his/her snout sticking out of the small grate opening in the truck and felt sad and full of shame. This animal with spray painted lines on it’s back would be dead in a few hours and there was nothing I could do about it because the truck was delivering the hogs to one of the many slaughterhouses or what Iowans call “hog processing plants.”
I spent several weeks in Iowa and a day didn’t go by when my car wasn’t passed by several hog transport trucks that looked like Christmas tree trucks. Since then, I’ve learned a few things which we are insulated from:
1. Most hogs are kept in gestational crates or overcrowded conditions. Recent headlines reported that Governor Christie in New Jersey vetoed the law that would get rid of gestational crates but he didn’t do it because New Jersey has an abundance of hog farms. Most political analysts think Christie’s move was politically motivated to gain the support of Iowa farmers, who count the hog industry as a huge part of their economy (a $4 billion dollar industry in Iowa – the top pork producing state with 27% of total US production).
2. In 2013, more than 112 million hogs (300 thousand per day) were slaughtered – nearly four times as many cows.
3. Most hogs are slaughtered at 5-6 months of age when they have reached 250-275 pounds.
4. Most mother pigs are placed in a farrowing crate: a cage that places the mother pig on her side and restricts her from moving so that the piglets can nurse whenever they want. Litters range from 8-12 piglets and most sows (mother pigs) will birth 3-5 litters in her lifetime before being sent to a slaughterhouse. Advocates claim farrowing crates protect piglets from being rolled on by their mothers and therefore saves lives. Seems more like a stay to me.
5. Piglets are removed from their mothers at 5 days to 4 weeks with most weaned at 2-3 weeks of age.
6. To produce 1 pound of pork, approximately 600 gallons of water are needed (compare this to a pound of wheat which requires about 25 gallons of water).
7. Iowa is the largest pork producer in the United States with approximately 21 million hogs (in small contained filthy penned areas) on farms and feedlots.
The pork industry is huge in this country and although most animal activists have no illusions that people will stop eating pork, there is hope that consumption will decline if the public – who is largely insulated from the horrors of the hog industry – knows the truth. Highway 163 should be renamed “Slaughter House Highway.”