Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Slaughter of Animals

The slaughter of animals was a regular ritual on the farm where I grew up in the fifties and early sixties. Chickens, lambs, pigs, and cattle--sometimes even a duck.

My mother slaughtered the chickens. She preferred a machete to a hatchet for lopping off their heads. She would let them bleed out briefly, flopping headless on the ground. After that she would plunge them into a bucket of boiling water. Plucking their feathers was an easier task for that.

The slaughter of larger animals required the specialized help of Darrell Lindley, who in his youth had been a skilled Golden Gloves boxer. Very nearly qualified for the trip to Chicago one year. Darrell would periodically come to the farm in his pickup filled with equipment to slaughter a pig or a feeder calf that we had chosen from the herds for our own consumption.
Darrell would drop a feeder calf with a close range shot to the forehead with his rifle. Then he would hoist the animal into his large tripod, suspending it by its hind legs so that he could strip out the organs and halve it for transport to the meat locker for further cutting.

With the hogs Darrell would suspend them while they were still alive in the tripod first and then shove his razor sharp knife up into their throats. There were a reluctant few that he had to stun with a hammer first. They would bleed out from there. In the winter time the snow all around him would be red with blood. Darrell himself would become bathed in blood.

Part of my job as an adolescent, in addition to helping sort out and pen up the selected animals in advance, was to scoop up the offal afterward and haul it to a deserted part of the fields for the carrion eaters.
One day Darrell was sitting in Don's Standard Station on the square in town. Men often gathered there to loaf and discuss world level issues. Old Doc Robinson walked in. He had been the area veterinarian for years. And years.
Darrell looked up and said, “You know, Doc. I think I'm the only man in the county who has killed more cattle than you have.”

Doc Robinson did not receive this observation well.
I visited the slaughterhouses in the area often, the abattoirs of my youth. I have seen electric cattle prods in liberal use and sheer, brutal beatings of animals reluctant to move from fear. I have seen cattle struck in the middle of the head with a sledge. Ideas concerning animal cruelty were less refined in my youth.
I have been inside modern hog confinement facilities. I have been in large chicken confinement facilities, too, where all of them had had their beaks clipped off so that they would not peck each other to death in their psychotic claustrophobia.

I know something about where my food comes from. Certainly, the cruelty of the slaughterhouse can be mitigated, and it has in many instances. It can never be totally eliminated. The fear of the animals is palpable in even the most humane of these places. While these domesticated animals are a product of highly selective breeding and therefore in a real sense the creation of men, fear has not been bred out of them.
Perhaps because I was hardened a bit at a young age, I enjoy the corrida. I attend. The bull, also a product of highly selective breeding by men, has had all fear bred out of him. He knows only rage at the hour of his death after having faced a man whom he has himself had a chance to kill. It is a better death than death in the slaughterhouse. I do not know how the chronically hungry poor of the city who eat of the bull's meat afterward view all that, if they even give it a thought.

I have seen another thing that bears on the subject at hand. I have seen groups of men gather at a long tables stacked high with meat, potatoes, and vegetables prepared by farm wives. These men had come to dinner, the mid-day meal where I come from, in the midst of back-breaking, punishing labor for long hours. They were working their bodies to the very limit so that others might eat.

As it so happened, they had been provided with omnivorous bodies, and they did not have the luxury of indulging in fine moral judgments. They desperately needed jolts of protein, fat, and other nutrients. They ate everything in vast quantities in preparation for continuing their labors, and the grease dripped off their chins.
But before they ate, they endured a long peroration by their designated spokesman of thanks to God for what was laid before them.
I prefer the approach of the indigenous people of the plains who thanked the buffalo himself. I thank the animals that have suffered and died so that I might eat. I thank the plants, too. It is my own way of making peace with a small part of the rampant cruelty of this cruel world.

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