A Visit to the Kill Floor

http://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/killing-floor.aspx

Before you delve into this blog, let me warn you the content may not be appropriate for some viewers. As the subject implies, this article has to do with killing — the killing of animals raised for their food value. The reality is, for any of us to live (vegan or otherwise) others must die.

Close to Our Food

Where I now live, we are close to the source of our food. While I studied self sufficiency in the '70s through the pages of Mother Earth News, Organic Gardening, Shelter, etc., my wife and I are now living what we only read about in the past.

In those days, we had a large, suburban garden and practiced “edible landscaping.” My wife “put food by” in our basement shelving and freezer. We grew as many as 60 tomato plants in one season; in addition to keeping honeybees; growing grapes, blueberries, strawberries, asparagus, raspberries, apples, and a myriad of other standard vegetables. We had a dual bin compost system and instead of raking our leaves and having them hauled to the landfill, we asked the township to deliver truckloads of other folks’ leaves to us, and we used them for mulch.

We were working full time, and there were many times when we wanted to do things outside the house, but everywhere we looked in the yard we saw work. That’s ultimately why we moved to a home that was basically work-free.

Now we’re back on the land — with ten acres of cornfield, which we had plowed and disked after we moved in. We’re expanding our gardens from the house south, into this treeless expanse. This year (our second year here), we tripled the size of our gardens. This means two-thirds of our beds are first year beds.

With the cost of everything on the rise due to the dramatic increase in the price of oil, we feel fortunate to have this opportunity to “grow our own,” and now associate with local folks who have been doing so for generations.

Really Close to Our Food

We are in meat and dairy country. We enjoy the occasional lowing of the neighbor’s Angus from our back deck. Dairy and beef farms are only a short walk away. A few miles away, an ex-urbanite is raising lamb for distant markets. And we live among dozens of Amish families. In addition to our experimentation years ago, we are learning from those who have been doing.

While we don’t have a Whole Foods Market or Trader Joe’s nearby, we do have family owned meat markets. One is a country market that sells more than meat, but it's one of the few in the area that is USDA approved. USDA is involved anytime meat is sold to the public via a retail outlet.

In addition to great bacon, steaks, jerky, roasts, ribs, ground meat and ham balls, our market sells the honey and blueberries we produce.

We’ve gotten to know many of the folks that work at the market, including the owner. Never one to miss an opportunity for learning, we asked and received permission to see how the meat was processed … beginning on the killing floor.

The Killing Floor

Three men work on the killing floor. One has been there 23 years; another, 13 years; and the third, for only 30 days. They say it’s difficult keeping good help; there isn’t much joy in this work.

The animals are kept in small, indoor pens until it’s their time. They are then prodded along a narrow walkway that leads to the killing floor. A quick death follows a steel rod that is “shot” into their brain. The movie No Country for Old Men made this device famous.

Immediately after death, the animals are hoisted by their rear legs, their throats are cut, and the blood is drained from their systems. A blood sample is taken and checked for brucellosis, which is not harmful to humans who consume the meat, but is of concern to the kill floor workers and other animals that are exposed.

bleeding a cow
BILL HAKANSON
A five-gallon bucket captures the blood of a Scottish Highland cow.

The first step in tenderizing is underway: an electronic shock is administered which causes its muscles to flex.

skinning a cow
BILL HAKANSON
After the animal has been killed, drained and shocked, it is laid on its back on a
movable rack and its hide is removed.

 

gutting a cow
BILL HAKANSON
They start by severing its hooves at the first joint. The hooves remain with the hide.
After the hide has been stripped, the animal is hoisted by its rear legs again and its
innards are removed. This is one point where the USDA inspector steps in to check
the condition of the liver, etc. He looks for contamination and disease.

The liver and heart are the only organs retained. Following the removal of the innards, the animal is sawn down the middle, hosed down, sprayed with lactic acid to prevent bacteria growth and moved into a cooler for the meat to age. My wife refers to the cooler as “Rocky Land”.

Following aging (which dries the meat), the carcass is cut into the steaks, roasts, and burgers most of us enjoy.

The men on the killing floor are professionals. They take their jobs seriously. They were gracious and hospitable, and told us we’d be welcome to return anytime. Next time, I’d like to see exactly where the steaks, roasts, chops and bacon come from.