A Slaughterer Speaks
We received a great question that we felt deserved a longer answer.
Hello, I came across your farm in my search for a meat CSA. Your website is very informative but I find some important specifics missing regarding slaughtering and butchering, would you be able to tell me more information about the processing please. Also, I found your photograph above, that of two individuals butchering a dead animal immediately adjacent to living pigs fearfully watching the entire ordeal vexing, is this how you normally butcher the CSA meat?
Any question related to slaughter can be uncomfortable to ask, so we are glad for head-on questions. We’ve detailed the on farm slaughter of our beef cattle in this post, but we haven’t done a step-by-step blog on pig slaughter yet.
This may appear paradoxical, but we slaughter on-farm because we find it to be much less stressful on the animals. Pigs are social animals, but they are not sympathetic animals. Except for a brief instinctual period of fierce guardianship of their piglets (and that only lasts for the first two or three weeks), pigs really don’t care what happens to each other. Pigs are entirely selfish, although they are selfish without being malevolent. Pigs value being in the herd, but unlike the more benign mutualism among cattle, stronger pigs push themselves to the center of the herd and force the smaller weaker ones out to the edges, presumably their survival strategy in dealing with predators.
We’ve found that the pig being slaughtered is much calmer if it can remain near the other pigs and if it can remain in a spot it is familiar with. Pigs get agitated when they are moved into a new place alone. When pigs are scared, they hold their heads low to the ground, looking for an escape route. They avoid direct stares and instead make furtive side glances. Their breathing gets more like panting and they will often let out a sustained vocalization that sounds more like a high pitched humming rather than their normal squealing noises. If pigs sense danger, they run away. The pigs in the picture below are actually approaching the fence, with heads up. They would only do this if they felt confident that they were safe.
When we slaughter pigs, we bring them to a small enclosure just outside the area where the rest of the herd is. However, we have had the need to put down injured pigs when we judged it would be better to kill them in place rather than trying to move them out of the herd. The reaction of the other pigs is very predictable. They will run a few paces away when they hear the bang from the rifle, but within a minute a few pigs will approach the dead one, bump it with their noses to figure out what’s up, and then walk off to eat/sleep/mate or do whatever else they were engaged in moments before.
This is impractical, but it is a pity that we all can’t be involved in the raising and the slaughter of farm animals. It might result in more people being vegetarians, but it certainly would clarify much in the minds of those who continue to eat meat. On the one hand we need to improve our commitment to understand animals and to structure our husbandry in ways that give them good lives, and on the other hand we need to be careful that we don’t assume that human emotional and social values are shared by our four legged friends.
written by Dave