Hog heaven in peril

A former butcher and pig farmer has dedicated the past 10 years to saving pigs and other animals, but his sanctuary and petting zoo is facing hard times due to the government’s new pig policy in the wake of the African swine fever crisis

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Wed, Jan 30, 2019 - Page 13

On a good night, Lo Hung-hsien (駱鴻賢) used to make up to NT$60,000 by slaughtering over 300 pigs at the Taoyuan City Meat Market. He also raised about 700 animals on his farm to sell to slaughterhouses. He made a lot of money, but he wasn’t happy.

“The animals once saw me as their natural predator,” Lo says. “I needed money. Why else would I raise pigs? But now, I’ve gone from predator to guardian.”

Having been in the business since he was 16 years old, Lo gave up eating meat and abruptly ended his career about 10 years ago. He still owns pigs — 105 of them along with two dairy bulls, a handful of goats, a dog and a number of ducks, chickens and other birds — at his former farm that he’s converted into Pig Heaven (豬豬天堂), an animal sanctuary and petting zoo.

His family has been able to get by through selling vegetarian food and manure, but they’ve been hit recently by the government’s new feeding restrictions in response to the ongoing African swine fever crisis. They either have to switch to food pellets, which is expensive and less nutritious, Lo says, or spend NT$500,000 to bring their kitchen waste processing equipment up to government standards.

“If I can’t raise the funds, I’ll just let the government fine me,” Lo says. “I’m determined to see these animals to their end. What happens in the human world really has nothing to do with them. I’ll take care of it. All they should be doing is living well.”

PUTTING DOWN THE BUTCHER KNIFE

Lo is tossing feed at a herd of Taiwanese black pigs at one of the open-air corrals at Pig Heaven in rural Linkou District (林口), New Taipei City. On the other side, three more common tri-colored hogs are serenly waddling around, sharing food on the ground with several chickens and a dog. These three are the most outgoing “stars” of the farm that visitors interact with: Huei-huei (慧慧), Le-le (樂樂) and Beer (啤酒), who is the oldest resident at 17 years old.

Lo, a tanned 41-year-old with a dyed perm, stud earring and tattoos, trots over with a cigarette in one hand.

“Look, the expression in their eyes are different from pigs who are raised to be slaughtered,” he says. It’s hard for the average person to tell the difference, but Lo is convinced that pigs know their fate.

“They no longer live in fear about whose turn is it to die when the human opens the door to the pen,” he says. “Instead, its ‘daddy or mommy’ giving them food or playing with them. My wife thinks this is very romantic, even though life isn’t always easy.”

Lo says that he used to think nothing about killing pigs, and scoffed at the idea of karma. But he says bad things started happening to his friends who killed pigs at the meat market, such as one who came down with cancer at the age of 27.

He remained unconvinced until a few years later when he and a friend were loading a pig onto a truck bound for the slaughterhouse. Instead of the usual screaming and struggling, this pig just calmly walked out of the pen onto the truck before shooting him a brief glance.

“We were shocked. This is not normal. It was like the pig was telling me that he was my friend. My buddy who was with me is a third-generation pig handler. And he was shocked too,” he says.

Lo says he has not harmed an animal since.

NOT A PIG’S TIME TO GO

Since pigs are commercial commodities in Taiwan, Lo does not actively rescue pigs. Instead, he waits for calls from animal control or highway patrol about stray pigs who have usually jumped off a truck.

Once, he and his wife drove all night to Chiayi and back just to rescue a pig. They also have a uncanny knack for encountering stray animals while driving around.

“Once a duck just appeared in front of the car one day. What happens if we don’t save it? For most of the world’s population, a duck is nothing but food,” Lo says.

His favorite story, however, is when he was driving to pay his electricity bill and a white pig had just jumped off a truck and landed in front of his car. They were just a few hundred meters from the slaughterhouse.

“It was trembling so badly. I jumped out and hid the pig until the truck was out of sight. It was not meant to die,” he says.

The best part about saving animals, Lo says, is that he feels their gratitude.

“They can’t give me gifts, but they show me their appreciation through nuzzling up to me and other warm actions, and they also listen to me when I call them,” he says. “This is more valuable than anything else, along with sharing our experiences and expertise with visitors.”

Luo hopes to figure something out with the feed situation soon. The government only provides subsidies for food pellets, which he says is not good for the pigs in the long run, or incentives for pig farmers to cease their operations. As a sanctuary, that’s not an option.

“We’re stuck in a pretty hard place now,” he says.

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/pages/category/Personal-Blog/豬天堂有機護生農場-140823883307481 (Chinese only).