How we experienced slaughter

The unpleasant cold and dark of an early winter morning await us as we leave the house. It is January 28th 2010 and we are on our way to document X15 on his final parade – to the slaughtering block. With a queasy feeling in our stomachs we get into the car and set off. Hazy fog lies covers the streets. The pig-fattening hall (or, “farm”), where X15 lives on a slatted floor and with no chance to stretch his legs outside, is a good distance away.

X15 is one of two brother pigs who we have been observing since their birth in June 2009. We have documented their lives through photographs and video films. Two lives which could not be more different. X11, whose name has meanwhile become “Jackpot”, only experienced the standard life of intensively-reared pigs for just the first three weeks of his life: a slatted floor, no access to the open, never to root around or bathe in mud. After 3 weeks Jackpot was brought to an animal shelter, where he continues to live a happy life till this day; he has everything that a pig should be entitled to as part of his nature.

X15, by contrast, has gone through everything that a pig goes through as part of the industrial production of pork, bacon, and ham. Everything that happens to him also happens to over 98% of the 5.3 million pigs, who are bred, fattened and killed every year in Austria alone. X15 spent the last seven months in a hall. In this hall with a slatted floor his sole activities were eating, drinking and sleeping. And it is from this hall that X15 will be chased out of today, packed onto a truck and brought to the slaughterhouse, where he will be killed.

When we arrive at the pig farm, we briefly greet the owner of the factory, the assisting veterinarian and the slaughterman, who in this case will be driving the truck to the slaughterhouse himself. We put on sterile clothing. After all, we want to enter the main hall, but in so doing we should not endanger any pigs through the introduction of germs.

The employees themselves do not put on any sterile clothing as we walk together the pens. They told us the pigs would be immune to their germs.

X15 is in the same bay where he has been fattened for the past four months. He does not know what is happening and so he does not run to the truck outside straightaway, so he has to be chased. He pauses at other bays and snuffles his fellow sufferers through the grates, who, unlike X15, have to stay there a while longer. But there is no time for such curiosity. The employees chase the pig onward. They force X15 on using a plate, which is about as wide as the aisle between the bays, and by continually beating him on his lower back. He walks on. When he arrives outside he is irritated by the bright sun and fresh air; he is afraid of the truck’s loading ramp and jerks to a halt. Initially, no amount of pushing and pressing seems to help – but with enough force X15 is brought onto the trailer.

The truck is secured and the journey to the slaughterhouse begins.

Of course these people use every individual pig to their own advantage. No matter whether the pig runs onto the truck of his or her own free will, or whether it must be assisted either gently or by force: it seems that every pig, just like any other creature, has an fixed purpose from the moment he or she is born.
Around half an hour later we arrive at the slaughterhouse. It is a small operation in rural surroundings. This slaughter room is only used once or twice a week, and so X15 is at least spared the chaos and noise of an industrial slaughterhouse.. The slaughtermen prepare the slaughter room and then go to fetch X15.
But X15 has something different in mind. When they open the truck X15 is busy with a small heap of straw that he found in the trailer. He is seeing, smelling and tasking straw for the first time. He does not want to let it go. He keeps on grabbing it, turning around again and putting his snout back in the straw.

But this time the slaughtermen are also stronger. A rope is knotted around the pig’s upper jaw. With a similar constant pressure against his sides and from behind as when he was shoved onto the trailer in the first place, he is now forcibly removed.

The closer we get to the place at which pigs are regularly brought to their deaths by human hand, the more X15 struggles. He does not want to enter the room. Whether it is fear of the unknown or whether he already suspects something, we do not know, but we observe his panicked expression and the foam running from his mouth.. He jerks to a halt, but two men are stronger than this pig, still not yet an adult.. He is almost still a child – totally alone against two fully-grown male humans.

They do their utmost to push X15 in the middle of the slaughter room. His head is being secured. A man stoops over him and attaches the captive-bolt pistol to his forehead. A final terrified glance, a rapid breath and the struggling of his legs against the floor. But resistance is futile. The bang echoes loudly the bang echoes against the walls. The shot of the bolt sends X15 literally hurtling to the floor. His legs struggle. Immediately a chain is put around one leg and he is pulled in the air. Animals are killed whilst hanging with their heads to the ground. This is so the blood drains more quickly from the body.

But at half height X15 suddenly starts to wriggle again. He slides out of the chain, banging down on the floor with his 120 kg weight. He lies on one side and starts kicking in the air as if mad. He throws himself all over the place. Blood smears over his face.

So this is what is meant by the “swift and painless” killing of an animal. If mistakes that dramatically increase the suffering like this one were only to happen to just one pig in every thousand, then this would mean that 5,300 pigs would die in such an agonising manner every year in Austria alone.

A slaughterman secures X15’s head again by stepping on the rope, which is fastened to his upper jaw. This presses his head against the floor. The second slaughterman takes a sharp knife and stabs X15 in the throat.
A gargling noise. Blood spurts out his throat to the rhythm of his heart. A puddle of blood is slowly forming around his head. As his breath rattles, X15’s legs continue to jerk wildly. X15 is neither stunned, nor is he killed painlessly. The faces of the slaughtermen express a mixture of shock, uncertainty and embarrassment. Because we are have cameras watching? Or do such situations just remind them too strongly that this is not a mobile mass of flesh, but a feeling, conscious being? We do not know.

Over the course of one long minute the rattling breath and leg movements become increasingly weak. In the end, they stop completely. Now again the chain is put around X15’s leg and his body is hoisted up. The remaining blood is to be drained from his body. Whilst he is hanging and breathes a rattled breath for the last time and cleaned with water spray, X15 dies.

A long and most certainly painful death. A single individual. Everybody, who has known pigs in an environment where they are free to develop their own personality, knows that every single one is different. Just like dogs, cats and human beings, they have their own character. A feeling conscious being with his or her own consciousness. Executed. For the crime of being a pig? A young pig. Seven months old and weighing 120 kg. No pig is allowed to get older than these few months in this cost-effective system, if humans what to consume them. This is because after 120 kilograms every further kilo requires more feed – and therefore costs more. Consumers demand cheap meat.

Somehow we cannot really be mad at the slaughtermen – at least, not in this moment in the slaughter room. We are more disturbed, because the two slaughterman in our conversations before and after were – in their own way – nice. Yet periodically they simply switch their compassion off, blanking out the fact they are dealing with sensitive creatures and just kill a few pigs. Just as they have always done it. They perform the greatest act of violence possible – the taking of a life. Something no-one can give back.

But X15 is more than this pig who had to die today. X15 is a symbol for all pigs who are bred on behalf of all meat-eaters, who are castrated without anaesthetic, fattened, transported and killed. X15 stands for the 5.3 million of pigs in Austria, the 50 million pigs in Germany, 250 million in the EU and 1.2 billion of pigs on this planet that are bred and killed every year.

Around the world, our habit of eating meat kills more than 55 billion animals. Every year! X15 also represents this. Do you think this sounds terrible and cruel? There are many ways to spare other X15s from such a life. By buying meat you create a market demand for meat. And so more X15s are killed. So what is the solution? We will leave the answer to this question up to you and wish you a great deal of compassion and the courage to act. For we owe this, and a whole lot more, to all our fellow animals.

Michael Hartl
Head of the Pig-Vision campaign
Robert Kresse
Pig-Vision Campaign Team

Category: News, SLAUGHTER  |  Tags: , ,

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