Understand how the meat you eat is harvested. The slaughter process is more humane than most people think, but it is still disturbing for most. Many people wonder, “Can it be more humane than it currently is?” Well, many countries are working on that. Read the article to learn more.
In the last year, I’ve talked started to talk and explore animal agriculture, meat production, and consumer views of the meat we eat. When it comes to the meat we eat, more consumers are wanting to know where their meat comes from, what the animals ate, and ultimately understand the quality of the life the livestock lived before it died. These are great questions, and now people are starting to ask, “How did the animal 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
Three 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.
What Does Farm Kill Look Like?
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).
When it’s time to slaughter our animals, we work with a USDA approved mobile butcher unit to harvest the meat on our farms. Once the animal is put down, skinned and dressed, it’s taken back to the butcher shop to be processed. What’s left over is composted.
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 extremely biased documentaries about them. Not all of the claims and portrayal that the media and activists show is entirely true. In fact, most of what you read, when you really pay attention, is written to push their own agendas.
That leads me to say: The slaughter process is a topic in animal agriculture that needs to be clarified.
Slaughter Houses and Meat Processing Facilities are Required to Minimize Animal Stress
In the U.S., 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 ways that minimize 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.
Grandin’s methods became the gold standard in animal agriculture; even so, harvesting, slaughter, or the end of life process isn’t something easily processed by most people (as you can watch in this video). 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, reputable 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.
- In the US, the USDA has been working with many smaller meat processors on creating more and more USDA mobile slaughter units (my photos feature it). These allow the butchers to harvest animals on the farm versus having them transported to larger processing facilities. This further minimizes stress on the animals and gives smaller producers the ability to sell USDA approved meat to local customers.
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.
- Falling Rivers Meat
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 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.