I took our two winter pigs up to the slaughterhouse on Wednesday, and the visit there renewed for me the question of our place in the meat production industry. Every visit to every slaughterhouse that I’ve been to has been a powerful reminder to me of the contrast between our animal’s experience here at the farm, and their experience at the slaughterhouse. I don’t think that there is any nice way to provide the service that slaughterhouses provide, and I am confident that the ones that we take our business to are doing the work as well as it can be done, but the nature of the work is certainly unpleasant. I think that the collection and short-term housing of livestock for processing will inherently involve a strong dose of indignity if it is going to be done in a way that the facility can afford. I can imagine an idealized facility that pampers every animal and gently ushers them onto the kill-floor, but that level of care would bankrupt any business attempting it, and would slow production to unacceptable levels. Because of the shortage of facilities in New England, there is a good deal of pressure on slaughterhouses in our area to process animals quickly and efficiently, and to work through the high level of animals being delivered to them every day. That pressure demands that their systems be efficient, in both time and staffing, and under that pressure there is not a lot of space left to consider the animal’s experience.
That stands in contrast to the attention that we pay here at the farm to the experience of every animal that we raise, where growth, health and comfort are really the three principal issues that we consider for all of our livestock. We invest a lot of time and effort into the day to day care of all of our animals, as well as thought in the design and implementation of the systems in which we raise those animals. We are committed to giving every animal as much opportunity as is possible to live out the character and
design inherent to them, letting pigs root in the soil, chickens peck through the grass, and cows graze out on the pastures. Slaughtering and butchering these animals on the farm, completing the final step in the cycle that takes them from birth to our freezer, would be the approach that would best honor the effort that we have put into their upbringing, as well as the innate virtue in each animal. Processing our animals on-farm would mean that they never left the farm, that they stayed in our care throughout their entire lives, including until their very last moment, that they could avoid the stress of travel and of spending time at the slaughterhouse. However, there is currently no practical way to achieve this on-farm processing within the USDA inspection system which allows us to sell our meat commercially.
Our extended winter weather held on a bit longer this week, with several days of off-and-on snow, plenty of cold, wind and rain, and limited sun. The ten day forecast seems to imply that the pattern will change a bit next week, with ample sunshine and temperatures heading up into the sixties. The pastures have been inching slowly up over the past few weeks, but I think a dose of warm spring sun might get things really going out there as we head toward grazing season starting in early May. I hope to move our broiler chicks out into their pasture houses next week to make room for the layer chicks coming in the mail the following week, and I think they are ready to get out there and to start scratching through the grass and hunting bugs. Twenty piglets arrived at the farm on Thursday evening, and they have moved into our piglet training pen across the yard from the greenhouse at Sentinel Elm Farm. They came from the same farm as last year’s, born from the same sows, but
with a different boar. They look great, and we have started work on their summer area in the hope of moving them out there before the end of May. Work has also started on our milk room renovation, with most of the demolition completed this weekend, in hopes that new cement, plumbing, walls and electrical can start this coming week. We have our first cow of the spring due May 8th, so we are eager to get the milk room back in as close to working order as is possible before the milk starts flowing again.