Today I watched the slaughter of more than a ton and a half of pigs.
The slaughterhouse was one of the many small so-called “official” processors across Iowa. Here, I watched the butcher stun, stick, skin and split five 280-pound hogs and three 700-pound sows.
It was a simple routine. The butcher drove each pig into the slaughtering room’s 3-foot by 8-foot pen, looked each pig head on before shooting it between the eyes.
Convulsing followed but no squealing. In just seconds, the butch returned the gun to the rack by the eastern door, picked up his curved 8-inch knife, stuck it into the pig’s throat and opened its neck. Surprisingly bright red blood flowed into the circular floor drain a couple of feet away.
When the pig was reasonably bled, the butcher wrapped a chain around its hind legs and used a winch to lift the carcass and lay its back on to a stretcher-like table for butchering.
First, he severed the pig’s spinal cord. Next, he removed each foot, taking with it skin from the chest and belly. The head was then removed completely. These pieces all went into a 60-gallon or so gray bucket labeled “inedible.”
Then the butcher began skinning the pig, starting in the middle. With the skin removed from the pig’s belly and sides, he took a saw — it resembled a chainsaw — and cut through the breast plate and pelvis with two quick strokes. A knife through the midsection opened the hog’s body cavity, exposing the steaming organs. These were scooped out, inspected and put into the gray “inedible” bucket. The butcher hoisted the pig up, this time by a metal hanger hooked through both hams, fully removed its skin and sawed the pig in half.
Finally, the butcher transferred the hog halves to meat hooks hanging from a rail on the ceiling. Another cutter weighted the carcass and the state inspector stamped in the pork in purple before it was moved into the refrigerator.
The whole process was quiet, really. Besides the sound of the gun immediately followed by the sound like a water-filled balloon as the hog hit the concrete floor, the loud whirr of the saws and the spray of a hose to rinse everything, the butcher worked quietly.
The sows, which nearly filled the pen and required two men using an enormous bone saw to split in half along the spine, thrashed the most. One flipped from one side to the other and kicked the wall for a couple of minutes. Another, hoisted by its back legs attached by a chain to a wench on the ceiling, jerked around so much I was afraid it would fall the three feet back to the floor.
I don’t know what it says about me that I don’t feel disturbed by the ordeal.
Even seeing a headless, skinless, split-in-half lifeless carcass’s muscles still twitching didn’t bother me (though at first I thought I was seeing things).
The only lasting effect is that I can’t get the scent of pig shit out of my nostrils.