There was a day I woke up at 5:35 a.m. to kill a pig.

My night's sleep had been short and I still felt exhausted when I awoke. How the pig slept, outside the abattoir, delivered for this fate a day and a half before, I don't know. Frightened? Cold? Lonely?

I called Doug Havel, the butcher, to confirm that we were still on for the slaughter. Yes, he said somewhat to my dismay and somewhat to my relief. Can you be here by 7:30?

The gray light of the rising sun through the clouds seemed appropriately ominous. So did the derailed freight train engine near the interchange onto highway that would take me to the slaughterhouse.

My muscles tightened and my heart rate rose when I turned off the highway and saw the white brick building. The drive was shorter than I remembered.

Inside it was a swirl of activity as the butcher’s ten employees broke down an entire side of beef; slashing, slicing, sawing. None acknowledged me as I stood by the cases of meat in the front, waiting while the another hog was finished in the slaughter room.

When it was my turn, I was waved back. Then Havel, in his olive-green boots and faded-purple apron, sauntered in. He handed me .22-caliber.

“It’s on safety.”

The bullet had to pierce the pig’s thick skull to stun it. The shot’s angle and position are everything. If you drew an X from each ear to the opposite eye, I was aiming for the small depression that lay in the middle.

Even at point-blank, getting in position to shoot a pig is a dance with an unwilling partner. I had the added trouble of working up the nerve to pull the trigger. You have to shoot the pig with it looking you in the eye.

Each time the pig looked at me, every time I had a shot, I was slow to act and the pig would look away.

“I know, I know,” I said, answering the pig’s imagined protests. “This is going to be hard on both of us.”

Admittedly, it would be harder on him.

I clicked my tongue to entice the pig to turn his gaze toward me. He obliged. I aimed. Deep breath. Safety off. I pulled the trigger.


Havel took the gun and ejected the misfired round and handed rifle back.

“It’s on safety.”

Again the dance. The pig turned around in his pen. I clicked my tongue. Havel reached in to push the pig back around to face me. He squealed in protest. Havel sprayed water on the ground and the pig turned, put his head down and drank. Aim. Safety off. Trigger.


Havel took the gun. I laughed at the ridiculousness of having worked up the nerve twice, and having failed twice. Havel cleared the misfire then opened the backdoor, aimed toward an open snow-covered farm field and fired. He closed the door and handed the gun back.

“It’s on safety.”

The pig seemed undisturbed by any of this. He just stood there. He looked at me. Aim, safety off, trigger.


The pig’s face went brain-dead blank and he fell to the ground. Havel reached in and cut its throat. The pig thrashed, kicking the wall and gushing crimson. Its movements eventually slowed and its life was over.

Suspecting that I would, well, butcher the butchering, Havel skinned, eviscerated and split the hog.

I was disappointed that I didn’t feel a profound sadness or emptiness. But the disappointment was overwhelmed by a feeling of pride and accomplishment. It was an act necessary for the eating of meat but a part that I usually give little thought to while I am eating.

Maybe I’m heartless — a monster — for not feeling sadness. But this pig was destined from the day he was born to die so someone could eat him. By participating in his death and dismemberment, I was no longer in denial. The pig’s blood was on my hands.