A blast from the passed

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It was almost a year ago now that Kevin and I, with the help of friends, slaughtered our pigs. It was a brutally difficult day.

Shooting, bleeding, gutting, and de-hairing a 300-pound animal is an indelible experience, and that day encroaches on every other memory I have of Tiny, Spot, and Doc. Death looms larger than the way they ran to the fence when they heard us coming, or how they learned to press the button on the waterer to fill the bowl, or the fun they had in the shower.

This morning I was cleaning off some old SD cards, and came across a video of Kevin, on a hot day last July, turning the hose on them.

There’s a limit, I think, to how finely we can tune our understanding of what goes on in the mind of an animal. If pigs could tell us how they’d like to live, I’m sure even people who know pigs well would be in for some surprises. But you can’t spend time with animals without getting some sense of what they like and what they don’t, what makes them suffer and what brings them joy. If we’re going to keep animals, for pets or for food, those are important things to know.

For the record, pigs like showers.

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Comments

  1. What’s not to love about pigs? They have a great sense of fun.

  2. I can raise things and I can kill things, but I have a hard time combining the two. That’s why I had a mobile kill guy when I was responsible for dispatching family farm animals. Much easier (and better at the task than I could be, given my size).

  3. Accidental Mick says:

    I think that Stephanie has the right way to go. Among other reasons, if you are only rearing animals in a small way you don’t get enough practice to become good at the dispatch act.

  4. Holly — I swear they can laugh.

    Stephanie and Mick — I wish we had someone around here who’d come and help with slaughter. I think a lot of people would be more inclined to try backyard livestock if they didn’t have to do the deed. Mick, your point came home to us on slaughter day. We’d seen videos of professionals, and it was clear this was a skill like any other — you get better with practice. Had there been a mobile slaughter, we definitely would have used it.

  5. We are trying to make these choices now. Can we raise and kill? Would you, are you, planning to do it again when you need more pork?

    • We’re not sure what we’re going to do. It’s not just a decision about keeping pigs, but about mobility. Our real jobs (and we do have them) make demands on us that are sometimes hard to fulfill when we have livestock.

      That said, if there were a slaughter professional who made house calls, the decision would be a lot easier. We loved having pigs, and we have a good property for them. Killing them is tough, particularly if you go into it without experience. All in all, though, I’d recommend the whole experience.

  6. I’m going with my theory: If it has a name, it’s a pet. If it does not have a name, it may be food. In extreme situations, pets may become food (i.e. stuck on a roof in a flooded city for days with nothing to eat. By day 6, something is looking for a way to die.).

    • Greg — Have you kept animals that are intended for the table? If you have, and have chosen not to name them, I’m sure you’re in good company — I think lots of people feel as you do. I don’t, though. I think we have the same obligations to all our animals, pets or food. We owe them a good life, and part of that is sociability. We didn’t want to distance ourselves by not giving our pigs names. We wanted to enjoy their company, and we wanted them to enjoy ours. We’re going to kill them one day, but we want all their other days to be good ones.

    • We name many of our pigs. Thing is, when you have 400 pigs you need to name some of them to be able to communicate about them. Names are often descriptive like BigRed, Blackie, TanBlackSpot, Archimedes, Angela, etc. I would use numbers but the rest of my family finds names easier to remember. It tends to be the breeders who get named as they stick around longer, but they are definitely not pets and in the end they do get eaten. That is their purpose and there is never any confusion on that. There is no cognitive dissonance with naming one’s food. :)

  7. Had a friend who raised sheep and goats. I remember there was a lamb with the name Easter. As in dinner.

    Also recall she hired someone to do the slaughtering. I believe it was one of the mobile slaughter setups. I think that sounds like a good idea.