I Watched a Hog Get Slaughtered

The process was described to me before I walked onto the kill floor.

Jim Wood, owner of Palmetto Creek Farms, gave me the rundown. "They can't see anything. There's nothing to hear. I don't think they have any idea what's going on."

I was handed a long lab coat and a hairnet. I could feel my heart beating inside my chest. Please don't faint. Please don't faint, I repeated over and over in my head. For the first time in my life, I was about to see a mammal die.

It's a pretty good life for a pig — until the end.
Sara Ventiera
It's a pretty good life for a pig — until the end.

Palmetto Creek is a natural-pork farm in Avon Park, in Central Florida. Back in 2001, Wood and his family began raising a few pigs to show at a county fair. One day, Wood was invited to a dinner where he sampled pork from Sam's Club as well as pork raised at the University of Florida's swine unit. Tasting the difference launched him on a mission to produce "the best pork you have ever had on your fork." Friends helped the family build barns, and the more they learned, the more natural they went. They evolved from a labor-intensive operation (injecting shots, cutting pigs' nails, assisting in piglet births) to a largely natural operation, where pigs just do their piggy thing: give birth alone, grow claws, and roam free.

In 2007, after a magazine wrote an article about the farm and its hormone-free, chemical-free pigs, chefs came calling. Today Palmetto Creek has about 500 pigs on 30 acres, and it supplies high-end restaurants including Market 17, Michy's, Michael's Genuine, and Pizzeria Oceano. Chris Miracolo, the chef at Max's Harvest, gave me Wood's number.

Many factory farms would be hesitant let a reporter witness their behind-the scenes operations — in fact, after animal-rights groups exposed cruel farming practices, several states, pressured by big agriculture, have instituted so-called "ag gag" laws that make it criminal to take photos on farms without the farm owner's consent; one such bill was introduced in Florida in 2011 but failed. Wood, however, told me to come on up for the once-a-week slaughter.

We — Wood, myself, a few workers, and a USDA inspector who witnesses every slaughter — entered the barn through a screen door. To my right, there were two pens with about ten pigs — the unfortunate victims of the day. I could feel my heart drop as a couple of them walked over to check me out.

Keith Faust, the farm and plant manager, began opening and closing the wooden fences to corral the animals into the slaughter area. A pig strolled out and made its way around to the "knock box" — a three-sided metal box that is placed against a wood wall and is just large enough for the pig to fit in. The door slid down behind him.

Keith quickly and carefully put his weapon, called a captive bolt stun gun, to the pig's head just above his eyes. The gun looks like a pistol or a drill, but instead of bullets, it has a heavy-duty bolt in its barrel. When the trigger is pulled, compressed air forces the bolt out at tremendous speed; then it springs back in. The force will knock livestock unconscious.

Boom! The pig quickly dropped to the rolling cart on the floor of the pen, its muscles spasming violently. The men slit its neck. Blood gushed out. Holy shit, I thought to myself, I cannot believe I just saw that. My nerves stood on end. Travis Gibson, another farm worker, rapidly lassoed the foot of the flailing animal. It was hoisted up and pulled to the next room. The pigs in the pen across the room paid no attention, ignorant to their impending demise.

Keith pulled a clipboard off the wall to check off some boxes. Now that I had witnessed my first kill, he explained the process in more detail. "As it's falling, I close its eye to check for eye movement. I look for rhythmic breathing and vocalization. If it blinks back, breathes, or makes any noise, the animal has not been stunned properly. If that happens, we have a backup gun already loaded."

Killing the animals, he said, "is my least favorite part of the job. If I never had to do this again, I certainly wouldn't miss it. I live on this farm. This is my life. The rest of these guys go home at the end of the day. I am with these pigs from the day they are born until the day they die. I don't like to see them die. You have to compartmentalize it."

I walked into the next room to see the rest of the process. Still worried I might pass out, I found a piece of wall and leaned against it for added support.

The hog was dunked in a scalding bath, then placed on a "dehairer," a large, medieval-looking device that flipped the pig around, steel cleats on rubber paddles removing its hair. Once the majority of the hair was removed, the workers scraped off the rest with knives. The body was then hoisted, hung, and singed with a torch to make sure no remnants of hair remained. It was then rinsed with 180-degree water. Sanitation complete, it was time for trimming and cleaning.

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3 comments
Danielle
Danielle

bacon is my favorite food in the whole entire world BUT if I had to kill the pig (or other animals as well) I would totally be a vegetarian. I like my meat coming to me in a package and have NO desire to ever witness the killing, or actually do it. 

primetime
primetime

I am a meat eater in the truest sense of the word. I have never seen an animal slaughtered and have no desire to do so. Witnessing an animal being killed and prepared for human consumption would not turn me into a vegan. What a person decides to ingest or not is their own preference. From the beginning time, man has openly killed and eaten animals so his family, tribe or village would be fed. That is the way it has always been and will always be. Don't call me I am a murderer because I choose to eat meat and enjoy it and I won't make fun of you because you look gaunt and pale from a lack of protein.

J
J

I am guessing the writer does not eat any meat nor pork ? Or is this just the 1st time she's seen an animal get slaughtered ?  My grandfather grew up in el campo ' the country' in Cuba. Growing up I saw him kill chickens, slaughter pigs, it is not fun nor does anyone take pleasure in it, but it has to be done if you want to eat. Since the majority of people now days do not live on a farm or in the country they do not see the ugly side. 

 
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