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Inside A Slaughterhouse: 'The Pigs Never Watch'

By Kareem Mohni
On January 23, 2007

The following is a graphic depiction of a trip I took to a local slaughterhouse. The slaughterhouse was a small-scale, family-owned business that catered to local farmers. It is probably a very close depiction of the way animals have been slaughtered on farms for generations.

I had the interesting opportunity of going to a locally-owned slaughterhouse earlier this month in the northeast corner of Connecticut that forever changed the way I will think about domestic animals we raise and slaughter for food. Pulling into the parking lot, the building appeared to be a small white house with a small barn out back - there was no hint at all from the road that this was a slaughter house. Walking in, the building was very cold and anything but sterile. Boxes strewn around the lobby gave way to a back room covered with the blood of the freshly-slaughtered animals. After shouting "hello" several times, I ventured into the back room to find the owner and found myself walking into what I can only describe as a scene from a horror movie.

To begin with, the room was frigid and had all the typical supplies present in any traditional horror movie. There were large metal hooks, metal chains, knives of every size, a saw and several pieces of large equipment that I would later learn the uses of. To complete the picture, there was a large sheep hanging inverted from its rear legs in the middle of the room. The owner, clad in his black rubber boots and thick plastic black apron, was standing in a puddle of blood while proceeding to skin the freshly slaughtered sheep. I timidly entered the room as he invited me in to watch. There were several live sheep standing awkwardly in a pen in the corner waiting to be slaughtered. They appeared unbothered by the activities going on and oblivious to their impending fate.

I, however, had gone to the slaughterhouse for pork. The owner said he would begin working on the pigs soon and his assistant led the remaining live sheep from the room and corralled about six pigs from the barn into the pen the sheep had previously occupied. The pigs were very vocal and much more interested in their surrounding than the sheep were. As the employees were preparing the equipment to process the slaughtered pigs, the young assistant remarked, "I hope you brought ear plugs - the pigs are loud."

I was in fact, not prepared for just how loud the pigs would be. The young assistant wrapped one of the large metal chains hanging from the ceiling around the back leg of the first pig in the pen. It was then that the pig began screaming. The assistant began hoisting the pig from the pen. It slowly rose up by its hind leg until it was completely inverted in the middle of the room with its head about chest level off of the ground. All the while the screaming of the pig only intensified - the noise was deafening. In the cold concrete room, the screams only echoed even louder off of the walls until I was finally forced to cover my ears as the noise became painful to listen to. The pig stopped screaming when the owner placed one hand on the back of the pig's neck and quickly slit its throat.

The flow of blood from the neck of the pig was startling, to say the least. I had not anticipated the immense flow of blood that rushed onto the floor and splattered around the room. The pig was allowed to bleed out and, once it was dead, was dunked for several minutes into a vat of hot water to soften the skin and help remove the hair. It was then again lifted by the overhead chain and placed horizontally on the piece of equipment that appeared the most bizarre and foreign to me that was designed to remove the hair from the pig's skin. Without warning, the pig began rotating quickly and flopping around as dozen of razor blades scrapped at the softened skin to remove the hair. Meanwhile, the young assistant was hosing the pig off to remove chunks of hair and skin as the razor dislodged them. Caught completely off guard by this, I jumped back as the pig began spinning. I was trapped against the wall in the cold slaughter room between the spinning pig and the skinned sheep carcass that was hanging close beside me. After a chilling few moments, I calmed down as they finished removing the hair from the pig.

It was at this point that the owner leaned over towards me and pointed at the live pigs in the pen and remarked, "The pigs never watch." Glancing over at the pigs, I was startled to see the remaining five pigs crouching with their heads down facing the exit to the pen and away from the pig being slaughtered. It was this comment that had the biggest impact on me that day. It was at this point that I realized just how intelligent those pigs were, much more so than the sheep from earlier that morning. Those pigs knew where they were and what their fate was. It even bothered them to watch fellow pigs be slaughtered.

I recount this story not to convince anyone to become a vegetarian - far from it. I remind you again that this slaughterhouse is a small, family-owned business that contracts its services to local farmers who raise livestock. This is very reminiscent of how animals have been slaughtered for generations, even before the advent of factory farms. I do not claim that this slaughterhouse is representative of a factory farm, but I provide its description for you, the American consumer, to understand that this is where your meat comes from. To be an informed consumer, you must know where and how your meat is farmed and slaughtered. We have become very detached from this in our modern lives, but it is important to take the time and remember, or otherwise learn, just what is involved in preparing the meat we purchase from the store.

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