2014: The biggest secret of the Cage Age
During the summer of 2014, Compassion in World Farming’s Investigation Unit went undercover to visit 16 rabbit factory farms in 5 countries – Italy, Greece, Czech Republic, Poland and Cyprus.
What they found is the unknown face of factory farming: millions of animals stuck in the Cage Age…
It is 2015. We do not live in the dark ages. It is high time we evolved past such cruelty and put a stop to the, frankly, medieval practice of keeping farm animals behind bars. Help us End the Cage Age.
Please take a moment to watch our short film. If you are easily upset then you may find this film distressing. In that case, please click here to sign our rabbit petition.
Undercover investigation: exposing the biggest secret of the Cage Age
Please be aware this video contains scenes of a distressing nature.
A dirty business
Our investigators documented appalling suffering, with rabbits confined in tiny cages of bare wire, causing injuries and stress, and leaving them unable to express their natural behaviours of hopping, moving freely, digging or hiding.
In many farms the cages were coated in the fur of rabbits long gone, and in some cases dead rabbits had been left to rot outside sheds in digger trucks, in the walkways between cage rows, on top of the cages or in the cages with other young rabbits.
Underneath the cages, there were mounds of faeces that in some farms generated horrifically overpowering ammonia smells and made it hard to breathe. In one farm our investigator had to wade through the waste just to check on the rabbits' welfare, so long had it been since a clean out.
Just a machine
Rarely documented, our Investigation Unit filmed farmers grabbing does - who were still nursing their kits - from their cage to be artificially inseminated for their next pregnancy. These fleeting, brutal moments are the only times female rabbits ever get to ‘leave’ their cage during their 2-year production cycle.
Some of the farms visited were heavily reliant on antibiotics to treat the animals and prevent disease spreading like wildfire through the cramped cages. Other farms didn’t even attempt to treat the sick and injured rabbits – and there were many falling victim to eye and fungal infections and respiratory conditions.
An industry wide problem
The conditions found in all farms visited were similar. It is unlikely that these conditions are limited to these farms but highly likely that these conditions are the same for rabbits farmed in cages across the EU. What we know for certain is that there are more rabbits farmed for meat in the EU than any other species, except meat chickens, and the vast majority of those rabbits (around 99%) are shockingly kept in barren cages all their lives.
Below are eyewitness accounts from our Investigations Unit, focusing on some of the key welfare issues that affect caged rabbits.
The scale of the trade in Italy is immense and the factory farmers are united in talking about their business in terms of ‘products’…not creatures. When you see mothers and baby rabbits being hurled from supermarkets trolleys into cage after empty cage, it’s not difficult to imagine the same scene in a supermarket where products are grabbed off shelves and tossed into trollies racing through the aisles to keep up with our fast food culture.
Space was at a premium – several farmers were breeding more rabbits than they were capable of housing – but they knew this would happen when the genetics they ‘bought into’ only produce ‘super does’.
Cages were either side of me and ran into the distance where a small shaft of light could be seen. The walkway looked like fresh snow – except it was rabbit fur – a white carpet, save for decomposing rabbits and an army of flies marching over them.
Many of the farms were filthy – fixtures and fittings were coated in dust, grime and fur. Dead baby rabbits were left to rot on top of their cage – providing a chilling form of enrichment for the rest of its cage mates. Or they would lie motionless in the waste pits below, coated in droppings that fall through the wire mesh of the cage.
My heart sank as I looked down at a bundle of new-born rabbits at the front of their mother’s cage. Their little pink toes twitched as they slept. Were they dreaming? With their eyes yet to open for the first time, they had no idea where they were or what lay ahead of them. Looking around the factory at the vast sheds filled with hundreds of miserable rabbits I could see their future only too clearly; a life defined by extreme confinement.
In one shed there were several rows of double-decker cages. The rabbits in this shed were just a few days from slaughter and had outgrown their cages long ago.”
The owners tried to get me to avert my gaze from the piles of rabbit waste that had built up to such a degree under the rabbit cages but it was hard to ignore. It covered the whole area and it would not be possible to check on the welfare of the rabbits without wading through it. I didn’t see a farm as dirty as this in any other country and I’d already seen some appalling farms.
Before I left I watched one lifeless buck in a barren cage. There was nothing for him to enrich his life at all – just wire mesh to gnaw against. I could see the owners had no interest in this buck, just the reproductive mega bucks it could earn them.
A typical rabbit factory farm – doors are opened and flies buzz around your face. They are evident on all the cages and on the lens of my camera. Beyond that are the faces of thousands of rabbits packed in caged rows with zero enrichment and no hope.
The farm was very dark and dank – a typical factory farm. I was surprised to learn that some of the breeding does here started life in the UK and were then flown here to these pitiful conditions. It was wall-to-wall wire – barren cages that offered the tiniest of spaces for rabbits to shuffle position. No normal behaviour was allowed but then that’s what a factory farmer seeks from a barren cage system.
Just a machine, each doe is pulled from its cage for a few seconds to be inseminated artificially. She’s still rearing her un-weaned young but the next litter is already being planned out. By the end of the investigation I realised this was the only time the does spend outside of their cages. Their production charts show they’ve been here for 2 years –across the shed the males have been cage-bound for 4 years.
They produce big litter sizes but with an inherent ability to be unable to look after them all – resulting in as many as 6 baby rabbits being culled from a litter of 16.
To keep ‘these machines’ going they need regular servicing. For rabbits – it takes the form of a prescription. They are ‘hooked up’ to a stream of antibiotics– like Terramicina to treat pneumonia. One farm was spending €25,000 per year on treatment alone to keep the production line alive long enough to reach the slaughterhouse.
Even with the routine use of these antibiotics in this industry, I could only see rabbit factory farming resulting in mass pain and suffering. One farm, tucked away in a plantation forest had a mass outbreak of fungal infections in the rabbits. It was awful to see the baby rabbits with bald patches on their bodies. The infection had jumped to the workers too - rashes ran the length of their arms and legs. Before I left to find a pharmacy the owners told me they were too lazy to have treated this before it became an outbreak. They just didn’t care…….. but then ‘care’ is the key ingredient missing from factory farming.
For these rabbits, it’s a life encased in wire. But I shouldn’t call it a life really. It’s a three-month existence. An existence that takes away from these young animals everything that makes life worth living. What brief moments they get outside of their cages consist only of rough handling as they are moved between cages. The only fresh air they will ever breathe is on the drive to the slaughterhouse. The last time they’re lifted out of a cage it’s by a worker at the slaughterhouse; grabbing them by their ears and shoving them head first into an electrical stunner before having their throats cut.