In the last year, I’ve talked a lot about meat. When it comes to the meat we eat, people want to know where it comes from, what it ate, and ultimately understand the quality of the life it lived before it died. These are great questions, and now people are starting to ask, “How did it die?” The answers aren’t as easy to find. So I updated the original article I created on this topic to have a more factual account of how your meat reaches your plate.
I Raise and Slaughter My Own Meat
Two years ago, I began raising my own meat. I started with Berkshire/Yorkshire pigs that I purchased for food for myself and to make food for my dogs. I rented space on a farm, raised them in open pens (but not on pasture), fed them quality grains (no corn or soy) and whatever grew on the farm they could eat (apples, vegetables). The time to raise pigs isn’t a very long window, as the end of their lives drew nearer, I prepared myself for harvesting them.
The butchering process had me fascinated. For me, a butcher with a mobile unit came to the farm, put the animal down, and took it back to their shop and turned it into cuts I want. My hogs didn’t leave the farm to go to a facility to be processed, they died on site. Unfortunately, USDA regulations don’t currently allow for farm-killed meat to be sold to the public; meat sold in stores is sent to USDA-approved facilities to die.
As of 2019, you if you buy a whole animal from a rancher, you can ask it be farm killed (it could be done before but many producers were wary of it; Trump’s deregulation laws has led to more ranchers doing it because people will buy a whole animal).
How Most Meat Is Slaughtered
Your meat dies – it has to if you want to eat it. Is it pretty? Probably not to the average person. It’s pretty hard to watch for most people. Many of you hear about terrible conditions and a stressful end of life for all the animals that enter a slaughter facility.
Popular food writers like Michael Pollan and Dr. Aysha Akhtar have written about slaughterhouses and animal rights activists have created biased documentaries about them. What the media and activists say isn’t entirely true (most of what you see and read pushes their own agendas). The slaughter process is a topic in animal agriculture that needs to be clarified.
Under the Humane Slaughter Act, all livestock must be treated humanely. They must be given water at all times, given feed if they are held at a plant for an extended period, and they must be handled in a way that minimizes stress. Federal veterinarians monitor animal handling continually and may take a variety of actions — including shutting a plant down — for violations. Reputable slaughterhouses follow the practices designed by noted animal behaviorist Temple Grandin.
Cliffs Notes On The Temple Grandin Method
Dr. Temple Grandin spent 30 years advocating for humane slaughter practices. She is well known for doing it through the “through the eyes of a cow.” In order to understand the end of life process, she used to lay down in muddy corrals, crawl through metal chutes, and even stand in the stun boxes where the cow met its send. She found several small ways that equated to large differences in how slaughter could be made more humane. Her discoveries included two inventions used in most slaughterhouses today: curved loading chutes and the center-track restrainer system. Grandin realized that curved chutes shield them from viewing what’s ahead, keeping them calm.
As Lewis Kahn and David Cottle said in Beef Cattle Production and Trade, “As consumers become more aware of conditions that animals are reared, and ultimately slaughtered, they are demanding to know those conditions [are].” Today, slaughterhouses do their best to minimize the stress on animals. One has even been bold enough to open its doors to show the public what it’s like in order to combat the negative publicity fueled by animal rights activists.
Making A Case For More Humane Slaughter
While the Grandin method revolutionized the slaughter process, some of you may wonder if there are ways to make the process even more “humane.” There may be, but we need to make the case for it and be willing to spend more on meat in order to see better methods become more commonplace.
While I know not everyone has the ability (or desire) to raise their own meat, there are farmers and businesses already exploring humane slaughter practices at scale that can serve as the foundation for better slaughter practices. For example:
- In the UK, Crowdbuterching moves cows to an artisan butcher’s facility and let the animal rest for three days before it’s killed.
- In the US, Porter Road (located in Tennessee) opened its own processing facility in Kentucky for the meat they raise on their farms to ensure humane treatment even at the end of any animal’s life. Prather Ranch in Northern California follows a similar model.
- In France, farmers are crowdfunding for a ‘humane’ abattoir. Instead of sending cows to traditional slaughterhouses, farmers plan to use the small number of cows to supply quality meat for 600 families, through a subscription plan, as well as providing meat for local restaurants.
As the demand for transparency continues to grow, producers, businesses and consumers need to ask themselves how they can change their ways in order to achieve “more humane” methods of slaughter. At the end of the day, the power for this ultimately lies with the consumers. If you’re willing to pay for quality, humanely raised meat, you can affect the end of the animal’s life as well.
Ranchers Driving Humane Practices & Developing Better Business Practices
There are some amazing meat producers out there doing some great things in terms of bringing better quality meat to families regionally, nationally and internationally. Here are a few companies to take a look at and buy meat from:
- Crowd Cow
- Mishima Reserve
- Grassroot Coop
- Thrive Market
- Cottonwood Ranch
- Double 8 Cattle Co.
- OpenRange Market
- Lostine Cattle Company
- Morgan Ranch
- Full Moon Cattle Co.
While they’re great sources to purchase quality meat from, their business models are also examples for other ranchers looking for profitable ways to grow their businesses.
Images: The images are my own, the meat processing photo is from the Huffington Post courtesy of the Vermont Processing Center, and also those of Cain Madrigal. He’s a feedlot manager in Northern Nevada who has been using Instagram as a platform to showcase how he manages feedlot cattle in hopes people better understand what feedlots are and aren’t like. I love how he approaches space, feed and animal quality of life.