I’ve written about this before (see Introducing Haley), but feel the need to talk about it again. Last Thursday was slaughter day for my second round of pigs.
Raising animals is hard. I know I talk a lot about the negative side of having an animal farm, but I do that for a reason. So much of what you see/hear when you’re not in the farming community is animals froliking around in pasture living their best life. There’s a lot of that, but there’s also a lot of lost life.
Yesterday, a wonderful man named Darron came over and helped me slaughter my pigs. By “help”, I mean he did everything while I watched and kinda helped with their fence. I’ve been more involved before when they weren’t my pigs, but at this point, I can only really handle watching the processing of pigs I’ve raised.
So, Darron came over, parked his big ol’ truck in the pasture and got out with his gun and tools. We talked for a bit (he also slaughtered my first round of pigs so we’re old pals) and then he got started. Once looking at the pigs, he commented on how healthy they looked, and then told me how much harder it is to shoot pigs that were clearly loved. He said this the first time he was at the farm and I really appreciated both statements. First, because Darron’s father owns a butcher shop and he’s been around livestock his entire life, he knows what he’s talking about. So a compliment from him goes far. The second is that this day is so insanely hard for me and it helps to know that it’s difficult for him, too. Misery loves company and all that.
Darron shot two pigs in the head, with a .22 rifle, pulled them out of the pig area, and cut their carotid arteries so that they would bleed out while their hearts still beat. Honestly, this is the hardest, hardest part. I know that they can’t feel what’s happening, but the process is very physical and they move a great deal. It’s hard to watch.* While they bled out into the ground, he shot the other two and repeated the process, and just like that, I had no more pigs. That realization is never a fun one. I don’t love our field or property as much when pigs aren’t on it.
Next, he positioned them just right on the ground and started skinning and eviscerating them. While on the ground, Darron cuts off their feet, takes off most of their skin (except their back), and opens up their body cavity with a knife and then with a super intense saw. After this, he suspends them on a hook (I’m sure that’s not the technical term) to finish skinning and eviscerating. Side note: I’ve done this before, and it took about 2 hours to do one pig. All said, Darron was on my property for maybe 2.5 hours. He’s very fast. While he went about his work he talked to me about the pigs. Most of what he said was complimentary, some of it was things to look out for in the future, and some of it was just tips he’s learned over time. I will forever value his point of view and his ability to help me get through his work.
Lastly, before cleaning up, he separated out the organs for me. I usually keep the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, ears, and feet while everything else gets composted. This time, a part of Darron’s truck wasn’t working so I kept all of it. The parts that I haven’t brought myself to eat (or feed to Jason) yet will go to the dogs, chickens, and turkeys. If there’s anything left it will be buried on the property to enrich the soil.
Slaughter day sucks. It’s constantly in the back of my mind when I’m with the pigs. Watching them die and know that I orchestrated it affects me for weeks, if not longer. But I also know that I need to eat meat to be healthy. I know that most farms don’t raise meat the way that I’d like them to. I know that most restaurants don’t serve meat that was raised the way I would want them to be. So there’s the age old adage here that “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself”. If I want to continue to eat meat, I have to keep raising it, giving the animals the life that I want them to have, ensuring that they’re as healthy as they can be, and living their best piggy/chicken/turkey life. It also means that I have to keep putting myself through trauma everytime there’s a slaughter day. I’ve come to accept that, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
*The day before slaughter day, I spend even more time with the pigs, soaking up their piggyness. I thank them for the enjoyment that they’ve given me, remind myself of the frustrations, and give them lots of belly and butt rubs. The morning of, I do the same thing and they get an all you can eat buffet of juice scraps and grain. Then, as they’re bleeding out, I come over one more time and thank them for the nourishment they’ll give me, Jason, Max, Minion, the chickens/turkeys, the soil, and my customers.