The pig ark and run are now empty. On Monday Ivan and I took the pigs to the abattoir – the wonderful Ruse and Son. It is never an easy thing to do, but on Monday events transpired that got me thinking about taking a life, humane husbandry and the need to face and take responsibility for the implicit decisions about consumption that we make in life.
I was vegetarian for a long time, not because I believe killing animals is wrong, but because of the way in which animals were/are kept and killed. I don’t think it is really possible (or at least not for most people) to live a life that avoids all killing, if we are honest about it. Being vegetarian doesn’t help as there is death involved in dairy and egg production. Being vegan doesn’t help (although it does minimize the amount of killing) as animals are frequently killed in the growing of vegetables via pesticides and the destruction of habitat. Even being organic doesn’t help. I don’t use pesticides or chemicals but I do squash the bugs by hand! When we drive on roads, animals are killed, when we build houses, manage waterways, produce heat and electricity, animals are killed.
However, now is not the time for an in depth ethical discussion on the reasons behind vegetarianism, let’s just say we all draw our ethical line somewhere and return to the subject at a later date. The point is, is that I am not against the killing of animals, I just want to ensure that they are well treated and have a quiet, calm death. This is why I only eat my meat and I am obsessive about where my food comes from.
People often say to me that they don’t understand how I could eat my own animals, that they couldn’t do it. But for me it is the reverse, I can’t see how you could eat an animal when you don’t know how it has lived and died. I couldn’t eat an animal that has suffered. I want to take responsibility for my decision to eat meat. I want to know what it entails. I don’t want to hide away from the more unpleasant consequences of it. This for me is the right choice – other people make different choices and that is fine. If I am being honest, I really don’t understand people who only eat meat that doesn’t look like a dead animal. If you don’t like the idea of eating a dead animal, eat vegetarian sausages (or ideally be vegan – see discussion above!)
Our Large Black pigs were big – more than 80kg. Although they were quite fine with meeting new people they were not hugely fond of new things or experiences – they liked routine and the familiar. It took us 2 hours to lure them into the trailer on Saturday afternoon/evening. At dinner time we put their food in there which they ignored, we threw apples in, and they ignored them. Finally and painstakingly we lured them up with tiny bites of apple until all of them were in and eating their dinner. After that we let them out and slap-marked them (they don’t even flinch when we tattoo them with our smallholding number so I don’t worry about that – they have tough skin – and they were busy eating even more apples). On Sunday evening, as the trailer wasn’t ‘new’ they quite happily wandered in and ate their dinner.
Ivan and I left at 5.15am for the abattoir. I drove slowly as we had a precious cargo. The pigs slept. We were lucky and we were the first to arrive at 6.30. The abattoir kill a handful of their own pigs first on a Monday morning for sale in the butchers that week, and then kill smallholders’ animals. I like to be first as I don’t want my animals to wait too long. Ruse and son are fantastic (I know I keep saying this, but they are). Everyone is friendly, calm and patient. It took me four attempts to reverse the Landrover and trailer up to the door of the small lairage (a largish shed-size brick room where the pigs wait for before walking down the little corridor to be killed) – I am rubbish at reversing trailers – but nobody complained or tried to hurry me up.
I opened the trailer and all four pigs were lying down in a row facing the entrance. The pigs were sleepy and were not particularly inclined to venture out somewhere new. I stepped over behind them and tried to push them out. I weigh less than 60kg, have arms like sticks, and as a result of lots of surgery do not have massive upper body strength. They didn’t move. Ivan tried to help, pushing at the pigs from behind with a borrowed pig board. All the time the staff waited patiently. Eventually someone suggested I grab their tails. I didn’t want to do that, but I did – it didn’t work. Finally the butcher grabbed one by the ears and with me pushing from behind and grabbing the tail we got one out of the trailer and into the holding room. I then grabbed the ears of another and Ivan pushed and we got another out. The last two were easier – after all their brothers had got out of the trailer, so it must be OK.
I peeked in on my boys once they were in the room and they seemed fine – no squeaking or shouting, but if I am honest I was upset by events. I wanted my pigs to walk calmly and happily into the lairage – yes, I know I live in a fantasy land! However, we had paperwork to do and a trailer to move so I got busy with that. I like to wait for my pigs to be killed. I want to know that everything goes smoothly and if I am honest I want to listen to make sure they are not distressed (they aren’t – the people at Ruse and sons do a difficult job very well with compassion and professionalism). I also like to wait for the blood from my pigs. While we wait we have a little picnic – cake and tea – hence the wholemeal apple and marmalade cake. We were standing by the Landrover eating our cake when a commotion occurred – a pig being unloaded had escaped. The abattoir is very small – you park in an orchard behind the butchers in a residential area. The abattoir itself is a couple of brick buildings. People tend to take 2-4 pigs for slaughter and/or a handful of sheep and they only kill on Mondays. They don’t kill that many animals – I think maybe there were about 10 pigs (not including the butcher’s pigs) and a maximum of 20 sheep. Quickly the butcher ran to shut the gates and I tried to block the pig who by now had discovered it was in an orchard and was sneakily trying to gobble as many apples as possible. Amid much cursing the pig was grabbed and shoved in the holding room. For me this was the last straw. I felt bad man-handling my pigs, I felt bad about the piggy making a dash for freedom and life. I left and took a walk in the early morning light down Long Melford High Street tears pricking my eyes. I had had the reality of killing animals shoved right in my face.
I started to think about why I was upset. It isn’t about the killing. This is the fourth time I have made a run to the abattoir and we have killed chickens, turkeys and ducks at home – I have also had some cats put to sleep. Notice that I use an entirely different word for this – I am aware of it and yet I can’t quite bring myself to say we have the vet kill our cats, as that sounds too gratuitous. And this is the crux of the issue. We have the cats killed when they are suffering, when they have come to the end of their life, we don’t kill them prematurely, we don’t kill them for our convenience. My problem and feeling of disquiet therefore arises from the question of intention and teleology. My feelings on Monday were a response to what I knew was going to happen and why. I knew they were going to their death so I could eat black pudding and this made me super-sensitive to their treatment.
I got upset that I had to manhandle them out of the trailer. However I wasn’t upset when we picked up 4 little piglets, shoved them in a dog crate and brought them to the smallholding. I wasn’t upset when we enlarged their run area and pushed them out into it. I am not upset when I corral the sheep, when I grab them and hold them to drench them to prevent flystrike, when I shove wormer down their throats. I am certainly not upset when the bullish, very badly behaved Suffolk sheep try and barge past me out of their very spacious field and I use all my strength to shove them back in. I am not upset when we have the shearers grab the alpacas and tie them to the ground in order to shear them and cut their hooves. I am not upset when I pick up my chickens and amid much squarking I treat them for scaly leg, or shove them into different coops. I am not upset when I shove my cats into little boxes to take them to the vet, and when I give them medication even though they protest vociferously. I am not upset when I hold my dog at the vets and they take blood even though it is quite clear that Daisy Dog resents not only the physical restraint, but also the indignity of being interfered with, but then Daisy Dog is a unique individual who also objected quite forcibly to being brushed at puppy class.
None of the animals want this to be done to them, but none of these things are cruel, none of them hurt the animal and all of them are designed to make life better for the animal. The difference comes down to teleology. I know what when I grab the chicken I am going to treat its scaly leg and it will feel better. It is this that makes it different from when I grab it to put it in the cone and kill it. The chicken has no idea of the difference. It displays the same amount of indignation. When I grab an escaped sheep I manhandle it in the same way as I do when I get it out of the trailer at the abattoir. The action of grabbing, pushing or restraint is the same, but the end result, and thus the the intention, is different. I feel differently because I know why I am grabbing it and what the future holds – the sheep doesn’t know. Being aware of the end result of my actions, knowing that the action is for the welfare of the animals or is ultimately to facilitate its death for my use causes me to view things in a different light. But while thinking about teleology or outcomes is necessary in certain circumstances, I am not sure it is useful in this case. With a little distance I think I over-interpreted and over reacted to events in the light of the specific telos.
The two issues that are at the heart of my dilemma and the dilemma of all animal husbandry are should you keep and kill animals for your own use or gain? And how should you treat animals? My answer to the first is yes (for reasons I have touched on above and will write about in more detail a later post). My answer to the second is as humanely and compassionately as possible even if this means that the price of meat and other products rises. Humanely keeping chickens, sheep, alpacas and other animals sometimes involves doing things to them such as preventing flystrike, shearing, worming, cutting hooves that they don’t want at the time, but which is in their best interests. I can’t explain to the animal why I have to do it, so I have to just grab it and do it. Given I have accepted that the answer to the first question is yes, teleology or the final outcome should not and does not have a role to play. Instead I should concentrate on humanely treating my animals, maximising opportunities for them to exhibit natural behaviours, and making their life as stress free as possible.
The little escapee pig at the abattoir didn’t run because it was scared of death, it ran because it could. My boys were reluctant to get out of the trailer not because it was an abattoir, but because they are cautious of new experiences and places. Once in the lairage they were settled, I peeked and checked. And when they were killed I didn’t hear any squeals or cries of fright and I wait just outside, because I have to know that it is humane, I have to know that they are not scared. I have heard the screams of pigs being transported in big trailers, and I imagine at huge industrial abattoirs the fear spreads around and animals are disorientated and possibly upset. But because I wait at this little abattoir, because I stand and face the consequences of my decision I know my animals have the best possible death. I am so grateful for Ruse and Son and all the people who work there for providing this service and for making it so that some people can produce meat in a compassionate way.
N.B Reflecting on the experience at the abattoir I think I will try and move my pigs around more while they are little (before they get to 80kg + ) so they get used to coming when called and being maneuvered around with a pig board. I might also think about getting smaller pigs.
N.B. Still eating veggies for dinner, but eating delicious black pudding for lunch!