Death at the Abattoir

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Death at the Abattoir

The first time Professor Marx mentioned that we would be given the opportunity to witness a pig slaughtering, I immediately decided that I would do it. I chose the Abattoir because I wanted to be informed about the process. As I walked down the path to the Abattoir I tried not to think about what I was about to witness. After passing through the huge metal doors, stepping in the soap water to disinfect the bottom of my shoes, putting on the hair net, the apron, and hard hat, I felt like I was about to walk on to the production floor of a large factory. The room was an obsessive-compulsive person’s paradise. Everything was spotless and in top condition. On the ceiling were a series of wheels on rails that connected to hooks, which moved the pigs from station to station. Other than an assortment of carts, a monstrous machine in one corner, four butchers, and an inspector, the room seemed empty.

The pigs were kept outside the abattoir in a little pen area. The eldest butcher opened the door, and the first pig hobbled in on its arthritis-crippled legs to the first stage. The pig did not seem to have any idea what was going on as the butchers attached a chain to one of its hind legs. The pig was hoisted upside down, and the butcher punctured a gaping hole at the bottom of the pig’s throat. Blood immediately started gushing out. The pig barely struggled as its waning heart pumped out its blood onto the cement floor below.

After the pig died, they moved it into a vat of steaming hot water for about ten minutes to help loosen the hair from its skin. The carcass was then shifted onto a giant contraption which removes most of the hair from the now lifeless body of the pig. The machine is a giant metal basket that literally shakes the hair from the pig. As the pig violently rolled over and over, it resembled a hamster whose wheel had not stopped turning after it died.

I was taking a few steps back to escape the hair that was flying off the pig, when my finger brushed against burning hot metal. I looked down and saw a small tub of hot water that I later observed the butchers used to sanitize their knives in between slaughters.

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"Death at the Abattoir." 18 Mar 2018
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Throughout this whole process everything was being cleaned immediately after the pig was moved on to a different area. I looked back to where the pig had been killed, where no more than five minutes ago the floor and walls had been splattered with blood, and saw nothing but immaculate white walls and a gray floor.

After most of the hair was shaken from the pig, the workers removed the hooves and hooked the pig up to the assembly line by using the tendons on the back of its ankles. This kept the pig suspended upside down for the next stage, and the butchers did not need any accessories except the pig’s hind legs. Several butchers gathered around the dangling corpse and finished shaving the pig using their knives and a blow torch to sear off any hairs they missed. I watched in awe as the head butcher, with the help of one of his students, began to meticulously cut off the head of the pig. I only understood how difficult this process was because of the flurry of instructions that the butcher was giving the student.

Just as the butchers removed the head of the first pig, the other butchers opened the back door to let the next pig in. It immediately smelled the death in the room and started screaming, trying to fight off the butchers with all the energy it could muster. More butchers rushed over to try and stun it with electric shock but that seemed to have no effect on the enraged pig. After a few minutes of grappling they finally got the pig pinned against the wall. The head butcher came over and placed what looked like an oversized pistol to the head of the pig. A large bang reverberated through the room as the bolt from the gun pierced the pig’s skull and retracted back into the gun. This subdued it enough for the workers to get the chain around its ankle. It was then swiftly lifted off the ground and had its throat carved open. It screamed, kicked, and twitched for five long minutes. Each breath got softer and softer, until every drop of life had utterly left the body and it went limp.

It was distressing to see the butchers kill the pig, because to them it was just another stage on the production line. The task was performed just the same as any of the other tasks. It felt wrong that the killing of another living being should be viewed as just another day to day task. But then again, maybe this is the only way the butchers can complete the job over and over again and still show up for work the next day.

Still stunned by what I had just witnessed, I moved back over to the first pig where I saw one of the students tying a bag around the rectum so that no fecal matter would spill out. The head butcher sliced open the belly of the animal and yanked out the inner organs. I no longer saw the pig as a pig; it was now taking the shape of something I would see in the meat section of a grocery store.

With a giant power saw, the butcher expertly cut the spinal chord in half, splitting what was left of the pig in two. It weighed in at 217 pounds, and was moved into the refrigerator. The student who was spraying the meat with a disinfectant explained that it will stay there for a couple of nights until it reaches 38 degrees. After that it is shipped down to a building behind the Campus Market where it is quartered and sold to students, faculty, or anyone else who wants to buy some meat at bargain prices.

I feel fortunate to have gotten to witness this process. If anything, it made me more confident about eating meat because of the cleanliness and strict guidelines the butchers have to adhere to. The butchers know exactly what they are doing, and are true masters of their craft. Humane or inhumane, I feel much more informed now that I have witnessed the process.

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