"We must achieve the character and acquire the skills to live much poorer than we do. We must waste less. We must do more for ourselves and for each other. It is either that or continue merely to think and talk about changes that we are inviting catastrophe to make. The great obstacle is simply this: the conviction that we cannot change because we are dependant on what is wrong. But that is the addict's excuse, and we know that it will not do."
—Wendell Berry

Monday, 2 January 2012

The ethics of killing

I have been asked by several people now to discuss killing ethically on the farm. It seems this is often one of the most worrying things for folks new to the land.
Now I am not going into a debate over the morality of either the act of killing or eating meat here as it is obvious where I stand. Nor do I want a hundred letters from pasty vegans, instead I will refer anyone with a vegetarian disability to The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith. At the end of the day if you have any animal on your property then you will one day be faced with the question of its death. Thus our creed.

We will provide the best life possible for each animal here. It will be healthy and happy. It will live a natural life. Its death will be absolutely unexpected, sudden and painless. No exceptions to this rule are ever tolerated.

All very good you might say but exactly how, in layman's terms, do you go about this? I have listed below the method and process we use to kill the various livestock on the farm. I should explain that I take no pleasure in killing, in fact I quite dislike it, but I am proud of being able to kill painlessly and cleanly. Like it or not we are a meat eating species. I feel therefore we must make sure we keep our animals ethically and this includes the practise of killing.
"Biggest" One of our first beef steers.

Beef. We take great pains to tame all of our stock. Even when the animal is a steer destined to become beef in a few short months we will still take the time to train him to come for a treat of food each day. He will learn to allow us to approach him and eventually run our hands over him, brush him down or give him a nice scratch behind the ears. They come to quite like this and will usually come up to me for a scratch if I am working in the field. On the day of the slaughter he will come for a feed. The other cattle are herded from the area. When the steer puts his head down to eat he is shot through the head from a short distance with a rifle. This destroys the brain instantly. For anyone who doubts this I can assure you I have investigated the skull cavity afterwards and the brain is almost completely obliterated every time.
Wiltshire horn sheep with a meatmaster ram.

Sheep and goats. Much like the cattle the animal is shot through the brain at close range with the same result. When I was a younger man I used to slaughter by the slaughter mans method of sticking the knife into the animal behind the skull and out through the throat in one motion. It severs the spinal column if done properly. Nevertheless it requires the animal to be pinned down and there is too much chance for something to go terribly wrong so I no longer use this method.
Looking delicious already.

Pigs are also shot through the brain while distracted and then stuck to bleed out. Traditionally they were rendered unconscious by a blow to the head with a maul (large wooden sledge hammer) and then stuck. I have not ever used this method but I am told it works well.
"Pilgrim" geese. A bugger to pluck but very tasty.
Poultry. I find that it is best to sever the spinal column to kill cleanly. This entails either chopping the head off with an axe or breaking the neck by a quick backwards twist- this method needs to be shown first to be understood but I prefer it as it is very quick and clean with no blood to panic the other birds. If the poultry are used to being handled then there is no alarm at being picked up and the rest is very quick. The separation of the spinal column causes instant unconsciousness and paralyses the bodies motor functions which means the heart and lungs quit immediately. On very large birds such as geese and turkeys I will usually stun them before killing by delivering a blow to the skull with a wooden club known as a "priest" (it administers the last rites). This blow is usually sufficient to kill outright by crushing the skull and destroying the brain but at the very least it renders the bird unconscious before decapitation.
Sorry if this all sounds a bit gruesome. Many people, especially from an urban background, find it very difficult to understand the realities of life and death on a farm. I often explain that what we do is both a case of ethics and love. When I look at the life the animal has had I can truthfully say it was happy, healthy and that when death came it was absolutely sudden and painless. The animal had also fulfilled its purpose. It was born to be used for food. If this was not the case the animal would not have lived at all.
The end result. Mmmmmm

1 comment:

  1. Meat is murder, delicious tasty murder! (Thanks Lyle)