Goodbye Girls

This post contains graphic images of pig carcasses just after on-farm slaughter. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

This isn’t our first year having pigs, but it’s my first year being their caretaker. Their passing marks the true end of my season — and the beginning of whatever happens next…

When we got them they were just wee little things, six weeks: like this…

Cute as can be, two female Tamworths, $80 each from a farm I know from back in my WWOOFing days out near Sherbrooke, Quebec. We had to drive about 2.5 hours each way to go get them.

Between then and now, I visited them twice per day for feeding and watering until they went out to where we keep pigs on the property: a place by an old barn with a natural spring they can drink from (hauling water sucks).

We used old potato crates for fencing — which kind of works if they are in good shape and cinched up together.

Compared to what happens in so-called “factory farms”, I’m happy to say that we were able to provide them with a good life outdoors with sunshine, mud, fresh water, plants — the whole nine yards.

But all good things come to an end eventually.

There’s a guy from a neighboring village who serves a much needed role within the community: he comes to slaughter animals at your farm, and then transports the carcass (emptied) back to his place where he butchers it and packages it. You pay something like $25 for the slaughter, and then per pound for the butchering. I think last year we paid around $175 for each animal.

Part of why I began in the “adventure of agriculture” is because I want to know where my food comes from. Not just where, but who. I wanted that who to be me. And now it is.

I work a couple days per week during part of the season on the line in a local official government-inspected slaughterhouse, so these images aren’t all that shocking to me anymore. But I understand they might be for some people. I always wonder though: people shocked by real images of gore — are you less shocked when its simulated violence from Hollywood and when the subjects are human?

The slaughterhouse where I work only does poultry and a few rabbits. They aren’t equipped for what in Quebec are referred to as “betails” — big animals. I guess the word is probably linked to beasts: cows, pigs, etc.

So without someone like our neighbor, we would have to transport our animals at least two hours each way to the nearest certified slaughterhouse on the South Shore, that doesn’t offering butchering.

The big benefit there would be that if we went through a facility like this, we have the right to sell our meat. As is, we don’t. Probably you’ll have your own ideas about why and whether or not this is just or valid. I know I do.

As the first of our girls was being worked on, the guy gave me his gun and said I should do the other one if I got a good shot. I took it from him, and even ended up cocking it once, but I didn’t want to do the wrong thing and cause her more pain than necessary.

He shoots them inside the ear. The brain, he tells me, is between their ears. Another shot from the other side to make sure. Then they’re hoisted out with a tractor.

The first one never saw it coming. The second one was scared though. I felt sorry for her. It’s not like our pigs last year, who when the first one went, the others greedily came over to slop up the blood.

I was sad to see them go, but if you’ve never cared for animals on a daily basis over the course of an entire season, perhaps you won’t appreciate the immense relief from this responsibility either. I told them both last night that we loved them, they were good pigs and thank you. I put my hands on them each until I felt what I though was a response.

Hearts and livers

My best memory of them — though it was one of the worst at the time — was the few weeks where they were testing our fencing, which means escaping routinely. After a while I got pretty good at finding them and leading them back — but it’s easier said than done. And until you understand the tricks, and can kind of make a deal with them, one person rounding up two big animals to go back into their pen can take a while. One time it took me nearly three hours. I felt ridiculous. All I could really do was follow them. I cajoled, I shouted, I cursed, I pleaded, I smacked them with small branches, I asked them nicely. But in the end we just walked together over the fields and forest and streams of the neighbor’s place. They splashed in the water, gurgling happily.

And that’s how I’ll remember them.