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What you do when the cow just won’t go November 27, 2009

Posted by Angelique in Animal welfare.
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Let’s say you’re in a slaughterhouse, and you’re trying to kill a cow. Well, what you’re trying to do first is stun it so that you can bleed it out, thus simultaneously killing it and getting it ready to be skinned and eviscerated and on its way to being somebody’s hamburger.

Unfortunately the cow has to cooperate somewhat in this endeavor by entering what those on the kill floor call “the knock box.” This is the closely-fitted metal cage which prevents the cow from balking, rearing, backing up, or otherwise moving around so that the stunner can position and fire the stun gun properly. But what do you do if your cow is particularly stubborn, or has some cowish sixth sense that “the box” is not a cozy, feel-good kind of place? That is, what do you do if your cow just…won’t…go?

I got the answer to this question firsthand at visits to a couple of slaughterhouses in Minnesota. These are both small facilities that prepare cuts mostly for local farms selling meat through CSAs, farmers markets, and local restaurants. Each slaughters about 30 animals a day, and one only performs slaughter one day a week. So I should clarify that I got the answer that the little guys give. And the answer wasn’t, as you might think from watching any number of PETA videos, that they stuck an electric prod in places it was never meant to go.

They banged on the metal sides of the track where the cow was standing to jolt it into motion. They called and crooned and clucked. They whistled and waited. They shook rattle sticks at it and flicked its sides with them. One man even proffered the cow his hat, as an intriguing object to sniff and hopefully follow inside the box. The cow was having none of it.

So at Lorentz Meats, which those of you who’ve read my profile of it will remember, the knocker had to crawl halfway into the knock box to reach the cow over the threshold, and stun it right there. He managed it, and the cow collapsed, but the problem was far from solved. The cow still had to come through the knock box to enter the kill floor and be processed. So even though it was now senseless, the problem of how to get it into the knock box remained. It took four men – every worker in the room had to leave his station – to drag some 1200 pounds of dead weight by the forelegs into the box and thence the room. As one of the owners, who was standing beside me as all of this took place, noted, this was a hell of a lot more work for the crew than it would have been to just “buzz it” – i.e., use an electric prod.

At the other slaughterhouse I visited, which prefers to remain unnamed, the reluctant animal was a buffalo, not a cow, which entirely changed the game. Following the rather prudent policy of staying as far away from the kill floor as possible, it wouldn’t even get off the truck. If it were a cow, the stunner (who in this case happened to be the slaughterhouse’s owner) would have gotten in there with it to do the job, but as he said, you don’t get in a pen with a damn buffalo. So since he couldn’t get close enough to it to stun it, he brought along a Magnum and shot it. Never having seen anything or anyone shot before, I wasn’t sure what to expect – though luckily I’d been indoctrinated with enough TV violence to know to cover my ears. I couldn’t tell if he’d hit it with his first shot; the only visible reaction from the buffalo was a whitish fluid flowing from the inner corners of its eyes. But the second shot fulfilled its intent, and the animal crumpled as if it were nothing more substantial than a buffalo-shaped balloon. Then they got the stun gun out (yes, the buffalo was incapacitated, but that’s no guarantee that it was insensible, so they couldn’t skip that step) and once it was stunned, attached it to a chain and dragged it in.

So that’s the answer to what you do when an animal won’t go. If you have the time, and the conscience.



1. Guillaume - November 28, 2009

Good article. It shows that the slaughterhouse world is not as homogeneous as PETA and other sensationalist organizations want us to believe it is. As in every industry, there are the black sheeps and there are the ones who really try to do things right.

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