A Sow’s Tale by Hannah van Es

Hannah, a current Brain Bunny student, has written this brilliant story, which she is sharing with us today. If your child has attended a Brain Bunny class or holiday programme, and would like to see a piece of their writing featured here, please contact us and let us know.

A Sow’s Tale

I remember a place where I lived in misery. Where I was always cold at night. Where I was always ill, or hungry for a decent meal. Where I saw the pain, the false hope in my mother’s eyes.
I’m glad I’m not in that place anymore.
The tale of how I became rather lucky in life is a great one. I’m quite happy to retell it, again and again to all those who wish to sit and listen.
It’s good to tell stories of old memories to those who have the ears to listen.
So here is my tale.

I was born in a crate. Yes, it’s true. A farrowing crate, to be exact. A crate is one of the worst places to be born in. Especially if that crate is in a factory farm. Which was exactly where I was born.  A factory farm is, above all, the worst place for a pig, especially a sow like me to be born, for numerous reasons. For young boars, it’s alright, most of them will slither their way out soon enough. But a sow has to spend her entire life in a crate, day and night, having many, many litters of unfortunate sickly piglets. And the only time a sow in a factory farm will ever see daylight is on the way to slaughter. My life was an entirely different story, thank goodness. And on top of it all, I recall factory farms being dark, dank, depressing windowless sheds. Sounds ‘heavenly’, doesn’t it? Anyway, I strongly recall the pain, the depression of having to be separated from my mother in the farrowing crate. I could see her, but I couldn’t interact with her. She was so close to me, yet the metal bars that separated us made us seem so apart. I also recall the floor that me and my six siblings had to share being concreted, and terribly uncomfortable, and definitely not ideal to lay one’s head on. This area was bordered by a high wooden wall, which made the tiny, cramped area in the farrowing crate feel much smaller. The wooden wall left the most minuscule amount of space at the bottom for who knows what reason. I recall getting myself into the habit of stimulating myself by peeking underneath it, although there wasn’t much to see outside the crate. My world looked like an unnatural, metallic shade of grey, if you want the appearance in a nutshell. Once we opened our eyes, my siblings and I often got ourselves into scuffles, because there wasn’t much room in the farrowing crate, and we all wanted our fair share of floor space to stretch our tiny trotters in. Our poor mother wanted her fair share of floor space, too. She couldn’t stand up in her minuscule confined space, and she couldn’t turn around. Hardly a life for a mother. She often had glimmers of pain, anxiety or false hope in her dark gaze. As for my sire, I never did meet him. But I have always presumed that he was somewhere in the factory farm, most likely with other boars.

After a while in that dump, it was ideal (for me, at least) to remove myself from there. However, there are very limited escape routes in a factory farm. It was a miracle that I escaped. I recall that I was barely nine weeks of age when I made my daring escape. Quite young, too young to face the world on my own. Yet, if I hadn’t survived, would I be sitting here, telling you this tale? I think not. Anyway, it was very early morning. The first shards of golden sunlight had only just begun to appear in the sky, and shine upon the countryside. This factory farm, of course, had not acquired any windows for the sun to stream through. I woke up, feeling quite groggy, and sore all over. I grudgingly got to my feet, and decided, out of the blue, to escape the wretched torture chamber. Pausing a few moments to ponder, I surveyed the crate, and thought of possible ways to remove my body from it’s confines. So, with not very much ease, I attempted to crawl underneath the wall.  A very unsuccessful attempt. So, instead of crawling, I decided to lay myself down on my belly, and with my trotters, create enough friction to move myself across the floor. I just, only just managed to shimmy underneath the wall. I landed with a plop, outside of the crate. A successful attempt. I got myself to my feet, and stared at my surroundings in curiosity, mixed with fear. I wandered past cages and cages of sleeping sows, unsure of where to place my trotters. At last I reached an unfamiliar-looking part of the factory farm. There was a door, that was partially open. I slipped inside, and lo and behold: I saw daylight. I was in another room, of which didn’t appear to be a  part of the factory farm at all. The room was bathed in a heavenly, warm glow. Shards of precious, golden sunlight streamed through the window, and shone upon my face. I squinted in pleasure. I resisted the nagging urge to curl up and let sleep overtake me in this comfortable, warm room. I recall myself combing the room frantically, searching for an exit, because my nose could scent a fresh human-scent in the air, and it was progressively becoming stronger. Thank goodness I did find an exit. Yet, because the only door in the room was the one that led back into the nursing room-for mother sows and their piglets, the only visible exit was the window. Clambering onto a wooden stool with little ease, I pushed the window with my snout, praying to the Divine One that I could access it, as it seemed to be a potential way to exit the room. Surprisingly, it swung open. I jumped back, not expecting the window to do something like that,  as I have had no experience with windows in my life, and wasn’t sure what a window would do on certain occasions. It just seemed to be a potential exit, seeing that I had a vision of the outside world from it. With much difficulty, I clambered onto the windowsill and slid out the window, which I then learnt was an extremely unwise action to take. It was quite a high fall, and I landed with a thud on the dew-laden tussocky grass. I could feel a searing pain coming from my left flank, and I could tell I was injured. After a while I managed to get myself to my feet, despite the pain, and gaze at the alien world around me. There were many, many colours. So many colours I had never seen before. There was so much plant life, and unknown objects scattered all over the place. There were rolling hills as far as the eye can see, many, many pastures bordered by wooden fences, some housing cattle, some housing horses. Small brooks ran among these pastures, providing a source of water to all those who thirst. Birds sang merrily, announcing the arrival of the ‘new day’ to all those within earshot. The sun was rising above the hills, bringing the world light. The sky was a brilliant shade of blue, dotted by the occasional white cloud. This was my first sight of the ever-beautiful countryside, the place I grew to know and love.

I glanced around, awe-striken. The outside world had opened up in front of my eyes like a greeting card. After a few seconds, I realised that I had minimal knowledge of the outside world, and I was going to have to learn to survive. I realized how much danger I was in, and franticly searched for a safe haven, so I could take the weight of my immense dilemma off my shoulders. I chose a large bush to shelter under, and rest my flank, hoping that the pain would let it be. There I spent many-a-day and many-a-night, feeding on the juicy, delicious berries that grew on the bush, and anything edible that I could dig up. I spent many days ill, as I didn’t know how to take care of myself in the outside world, and was constantly consuming poisonous or inedible things. Eventually, I developed a few strategies that most free-pigs develop, such as digging, mud bathing and a keen sense of smell and hearing. I also learnt more about the world around me, and it became more and more familiar. I began to define the countryside not as an overwhelming, immense place filled with many unknown, dangerous things, but as a beautiful, vast place, with many things to discover. I began to expand my horizons more, and navigated my way across the countryside. I was about four months of age then, and was a much larger piglet. I was at the stage of a piglet’s life where one becomes less and less dependent on the things one’s mother provides. Most piglets would still need to depend on their mother at this age, and, because of the time I spent fending for myself, my independence was above average for my age.

I had presumed, when I escaped the factory farm, that soon the farmers would find out about the missing piglet, and begin hunting me down like a cat hunting a sparrow. I was confused, you see, because the factory farm housed numerous young sows. Why did the absence of myself mean something significant to the factory farmers? I decided that human beings, particularly factory farmers, are greedy, and have not acquired the virtuous ability to be grateful for the things they have already acquired. I feared the worst when I encountered a factory farmer, clutching a rather intimidating tranquilizer rifle. I could tell he was a factory farmer, because of his scent, and his uniform. Pigs have excellent memory, you know. He pointed at me with his bony fingers, shouted to his colleague, and began shooting tranquilizer darts at me, his eyes gleaming with triumph. My own eyes grew full and round with terror as I bolted, my heart racing, frantically trying to remember my knowledge of the countryside, the terrain I had mapped inside my head. My face was a display of sheer horror as I realised one shot the farmer had made became dangerously close to piercing my neck. I squealed and ducked, insuring that my freedom wasn’t going to slip away from my grasp, and indeed insuring that I was to die of natural causes, not by a knife-wielding factory farmer. My heartbeat rang in my ears as I ran, every thud seeming to cause my body to vibrate. I seemed to fly past time itself as my feet pounded on the man-made path. Thank goodness I escaped, swerving around a corner and disappearing out of sight. I found out, whilst living in the factory farm, that human being’s dominant sense is their sense of sight. That’s all very well, because if it was their sense of hearing or, worse, their sense of smell, then they would have tracked me down in no time flat. What you see in front of you doesn’t reveal all. Unfortunately I realised, my heart sinking, that I was running so fast, that I couldn’t halt in a safe way. I skidded to a halt, my trotters flailing this way and that. When I halted, I could feel excruciating pain coming from my right hindleg. I gazed at it, and saw an immense graze. Liquid scarlet was trickling out of it, and onto the dusty path, staining it red. Sheer horror was displayed on my face, and I felt like crawling into a hole and dying, as I was so overwhelmed, in pain and bewildered. I knew that my graze wasn’t going to heal for a long time, so I lay down in despair. I also knew that, with an injured hind leg, I wasn’t able to find food, or escape from any creatures that I don’t wish to be near. I wasn’t able to walk to the brook, and drink it’s cool waters. I wasn’t able to fend for myself.

I had spent approximately five sunrises hungry, thirsty and helpless to whatever the countryside decided to hurl at me. I spent the majority of those days reflecting on how beautiful, how precious the countryside had seemed only days ago. Now, I realised, how dangerous a beautiful place could be. I could drown while drinking from the brooks and the streams. There are many  creatures that could hurt a piglet as easy as I could squish a berry with my trotters that lurk in the countryside. There were the humans, and then the stoats, the foxes, the cats. I had learnt, from my experiences, that it’s easy to become ill, or injured. In the pastures, I could be squashed flat by the sleepy-eyed cattle or the proud, aristocratic horses , or by a human machine. I was in a very good mood for my luck to change. Or more specifically, I was in a very good mood for Madeline to cross my path. Madeline was a young, female human being who lived in a cottage nearby. She was the sort of human being who was empathetic, and cared about the health and safety of others.  At first sight of me in my poor state, she ran up to me, making exclamations of surprise. Madeline knelt down, and carried my flank, reassuring me with human words. I knew that I could trust her, so I laid my fate in her hands, deciding to bravely take whatever Madeline had in store for me, may it be ill or well. She scooped me up, a new, and slightly frightening experience for me, and placed me in a wicker contraption called a basket, lined with woolen, hand-knit blankets. Madeline carried me off, gripping the basket tightly. The air was filled with the scent of pollen, and the sight of bumblebees flying about like birds on migration. Being aloft in a basket gave me a brand new sense of perception of the countryside. It looked even more beautiful, even more precious. I savoured each moment, every view of a stream, tree, pasture or hill. At last we came to a high hill, where the path came to a sudden end. A human dwelling appeared in front of me. It was small, quite small, with only one storey. It was a wooden cottage, painted cream white, with a blue-gabled roof. A front porch stood in front of it, adorned with all sorts of human objects. The dwelling was frilled with vegetable patches and flowerbeds. A cluster of house sparrows were crowded over a birdbath that stood grandly near the front porch. My gaze filled to the brim with curiosity, as Madeline turned the doorknob and stepped inside the human dwelling. At that point, I was ready to withtake whatever fate had in store for me.

So, that’s how I came to be here now. In a beautiful cottage in the vast, breathtaking countryside which I can still explore to my heart’s content. With Madeline, and her gorgeous, adoring family, who gave me a lovely name: Hope. With three other pigs like me, two sows and a boar, all three of them very dear friends. I still have every single piece, every single particle of liberty I had ever dreamed of. I live in a place of happiness and serenity, where I know I am loved by my friends, and my human family. I’m also happy to say that I am the proud mother of five lovely piglets, two young sows and three young boars. Beautiful as angels, every single one of them. I’m happy that I am able to share the countryside with my loved ones. And I thank Madeline each night for not acting as selfish as most human beings, and giving me the life that once was further away than the stars in the sky, that I could only live in my wildest dreams.

By Hannah van Es (age 12)