Katya Surveys Pigs
The photo above is the answer to last Thursday’s Mystery of “Where is Katya?” Several people spotted her. In the above zoomed in version it is a bit easier although she’s still working at blending as she watches over her charges. At four and a half months she is already well on her way to becoming an excellent livestock guardian dog (LGD) as well as demonstrating herding skills.
On that day Melissa asked: As a city girl who’s never seen an animal slaughtered, I can see how a properly run slaughterhouse would give a totally non-traumatic experience for the first pig of the day – it’s poked into a funny building, gets one last scratch behind the ears, loses consciousness, and doesn’t wake up. What about the second pig of the day? Is there blood, body parts, and odors left from the first pig when the second one’s brought in? Do you clean between each one? Can animals outside the building smell what’s going on inside, and if so does it upset them? I have no doubts that you do right by your animals, I’m just not sure what that looks like when it comes to a butcher shop.
It is a very interesting question. The answer isn’t politically correct – the pigs simply don’t care. They will stand around and watch you slaughter all day long without showing any signs of stress or upsetness. Death doesn’t bother them in the slightest. You can slaughter a pig in front of other pigs and they just go about their business, socializing, grazing and even wonder if perhaps they can get some of that delicious meat.
Realize that pigs are naturally omnivores and will eat anyone given the chance, including each other or you. Keep that in mind. Don’t fall down and lie still in the field. If you have a pig pen don’t fall and bump your head. They’ll nudge you. If you don’t move they’ll take an experimental nibble if they’re the least bit hungry. If you don’t object, they’ll take a healthy bite. If you still don’t object then you are dinner. This is recycling and conservation of resources in nature. Chickens are the same way. With sheep, they’ll just gradually walk you into the ground. The pigs do not have enculturated squeamishness about the dead that modern humans have developed. Death simply happens and is not such a remarkable event to them.
Despite the pig’s desire for meat we don’t feed them meat at our farm. Their diet consists primarily of pasture plus dairy with the addition of various vegetables we grow, apples and such. Meat scraps are for the dogs and in the winter the chickens get a little to make up for the lack of insects in that season.
The key for the animals is how you slaughter, how you behave. Is there stress and fear or are things calm and relaxed? Animals worry not about death but about pain. Death is an abstraction that is beyond their ken.
This was particularly well demonstrated long ago when we would have someone come to our farm occasionally to help us slaughter pigs and sheep. We would go out into the fields and show him which we wanted slaughtered. To give him the best shot, we put treats, a little bread or apple for example, down on the ground to attract the pig’s attention. As he shot and bled the pig, the others did not show any anxiety. Their focus was getting at the treat that was still left on the ground. Other than that they continued to graze and be mildly curious about us, wondering if there were more treats to be had or if maybe we would offer pets and ear scratches. Interestingly, even the bang of the gun didn’t disturb them.
The pigs also ignore hammering, clanking of boards and sheet metal, power tools, chainsawing and the tractor when we’re working in the field such that I must drive very carefully and slowly less they literally walk under the tractor wheels. Why would they ignore these noisy machines? Because they are familiar so there is no stress, no fear.
We are gradually getting our farm is setup so the animals move from field to field as they get older in addition to the smaller rotational grazing between paddocks within the fields. This is called All-In-All-Out management coupled with Managed Intensive Rotational Grazing – Technical details. From the pig’s point of view they simply continue to get fresh new grass, always being close to where they were last and with their cohort, their sub-herd members. This keeps things calm and familiar. Everyone knows who they are, who their mates are and what their rank is – issues that pigs are very concerned about.
Our abattoir, that is to say the slaughterhouse, is at the end of the last fields – it is laid out in a circle of growth and life. Pigs of the appropriate size will simply get sorted in with a special treat to stay overnight in the lairage, the holding area. There they find hay bedding and water along with other pigs they’re familiar with. Since we are so small, only doing up to ten pigs per week, each pig will be slaughtered and processed individually before the next enters the building. After each pig is slaughtered there is cleanup however the sensitive nose of a pig would know the smell of blood – it just doesn’t bother them. They’ve smelled that smell many times before out on the farm. When two pigs fight over rank they will smell blood from a cut or scratch. When a sow gives birth there is the smell of blood from the placenta, the afterbirth. If a newborn piglet dies the sow will eat it unless the livestock guardian dogs cleanup first – She does this to prevent scavengers and predators from coming by and to recycle the protein. The smell of blood is not an issue. Death is not what they fear. They fear pain.
In slaughter what is very important is that everything remains calm to minimize stress. The more familiar things are the better. This is part of why on-farm slaughter is so much better than off-farm. When animals are trucked to a distant, unfamiliar facility with many other animals and unknown people it takes extra care to achieve calmness. How well this is done is all matter of skills and setup. Temple Grandin has done a great deal of research on this topic and has some very interesting things to say on the topic. I strongly encourage people to read her book “Humane Animal Handling” which is full of excellent information about moving animals, how animals perceive and think and the design of farms, holding facilities, lairages and slaughterhouses.
What about other animals? Sheep, chickens and ducks all behave as the pigs do, not caring about death but rather pain, particularly personal pain. This appears to be a herd animal mentality issue. They are all very self-centered and me-first rather than caring about other individuals. They don’t do gift giving, something the dogs do. Pigs, chickens, sheep and other herd animals don’t do altruism, giving up something for the benefit of others. The closest they come to that is the Alpha males who are drugged up with hormones to fight for territorial boundaries, thus against intruders, and mothers to protecting their young. The first is not really altruism but about mating rights. The latter maternal link is amazingly weak – get a piglet a little ways away from the sow and she cares nothing about it. All of this can be observed in the way that herd animals flow and why they are so easy to move. They herd, flock and school because of the protection afforded to them by being part of a distracting group, a shoal but they don’t come to the aid of each other.
So the answer is no, the second pig does not get upset or care about the slaughter of
the pig before it even if it were to see the event, the carcass or smelled the blood and such. The second pig also does not worry about its own impending death. To be upset about such is outside its ken.
If, on the other hand, you were talking about dog pack, it is a whole other story. Should a stranger attack or even worse kill a member of a pack then the rest of them are likely to be at the outsider’s throat and flanks from all different angles. It is a totally different ken, a different mindset, a different way of being. This is the essence of herd versus pack. I have read that primates in small bands, like Katya’s Thumbkin, behave the same way as wolves although apparently this behavior can be lost when they become large herd groups. This similarity may be why Primates and Canids work together so tightly while other animals are livestock, our mutual food.
Update: There is scientific research that shows that animals like pigs, sheep, cattle and such are stressed by observing decapitation but not by observing the stun/kill nor slaughter.
Outdoors: 29F/11F Mostly Cloudy
Tiny Cottage: 68F/61F