Cutting, Death and Disturbance

Wasps – Predators who have nothing to do with today’s topic…

Carolyn Wrote:
Walter, your blog gave me real comfort. So much heart mixed in with practicality. If only all farmers were as compassionate towards these living creatures as you! I have no connection with any farming or live-stock but came to this blog because of trying to find out the “Why?” of chopping off piglet testicles (and tails) and without any anesthesia or wound-care. I’ve been tormented by seeing a video taken in an industrial pig shed, about signing a petition to end gestational stalls, done by I was in tears watching it, those poor piglets shrieking in unimaginable agony, and couldn’t shake it from my mind for days. Reading here that it’s not necessary and can actually ADD cost, makes me hope for a day it will end as common practice.

What finally sent me to sobs in that video was how they destroy the little piglets that are “not growing well” or somehow deemed unfit. The man literally held them by their feet, swung them back over this head, then slammed their heads repeatedly into the ground. Tossed them aside in a heap, while their traumatized bodies still trembled. I wanted to ask: is that common practice too? Surely there is a *kinder way to extinguish life from these “inferior” little critters than bashing their brains in like baseball bats. * I loved where you ended your blog saying that creature’s deaths should be instant, clean and without seeing others killed first (because of the fear). Something that takes repeated hits, or leaves them suffering while dying, is just unconscionable, as you seem to agree.

You are a farmer “hero”,Carolyn Oosterlinck

I suspect that in the near future we are going to see castration without anesthesia banned. My understanding is that some countries in Europe are already banning it and requiring that it be done by a vet. This will increase the cost dramatically which means people will look for alternatives such as breeding, feeding and managing away from taint. Best to be ahead of the curve.

I do not think that the online petitions are generally all that effective. My understanding is the politicians ignore them. So while, yes, I sign such petitions at times I do not expect them to result in much. In any case, rather than having government legislate what we do I favor seeing it market driven. Better is to vote with your pocket book, buying from farmers who produce food according to your values. This in turn will drive the industry and reward those who do good by helping them to well.

I have not seen the video of the piglets being euthanized by hitting their heads on the wall. However, and you may not like hearing this, properly done that may well be 100% humane although it is rather unappetizing. The recommended humane kill is a quick single stunning blow to the head so that the animal loses consciousness. The twitching you are seeing after that is probably involuntary nerve twitching and not suffering – hopefully the animal is already dead at that point. As the animal’s blood stops flowing and breathing ceases the CO2 levels in the blood rise causing the pH to change and then muscles jerk involuntarily, thus the kicking, twitching and jerking which can be quite disturbing to see if you don’t understand the physiology and chemistry of what is happening. Dr. Temple Grandin has written extensively about proper euthanizing and slaughter methods. She has set the correct standards which have been adopted by the big buyers such as MacDonald’s thus forcing these humane standards into the industry through market driven demand. This show-me-the-money effect has done more than the long standing USDA regulations.

On the topic of seeing other animals’ death there is research showing that animals are not disturbed by seeing another animal die but are disturbed by seeing another animal dismembered, particularly beheaded. Up until that point they may simply think of it as sleeping but when the head is missing then it becomes a wrongness.

As to the destruction of ‘inferior piglets’ I do think that is most unfortunate. It sounds like this is in an industrial factory concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) where they do not have the margins or tolerance to deal with anything out of the ordinary, everything must maximize profits. This is one of the many problems with CAFOs. I feel fortunate to not be in that situation – That is by design since I had the misfortune to see my cousin’s CAFO up close and personal as a child. I vowed never to journey down that road. Here on our farm if an animal is growing more slowly or benefits from additional care we are able to hold it back or otherwise give it what it needs to continue life.

In the end, yes, all the animals go to market, however in there time here on Earth in our care I want them to live good lives. Ultimately that is what all of us hope for in our time.

Outdoors: 76°F/56°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 69°F/67°F

Daily Spark: All play and no work makes Jack and Jill very dull indeed.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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15 Responses to Cutting, Death and Disturbance

  1. Carolyn says:

    Hi Walter,
    I recently found your blog and wanted to thank you for all of the helpful information you’ve so graciously shared. I’ve spent all of my spare time this past week reading your posts and have learned a great deal. So, once again, thank you. If I lived nearby, I’d be a customer. I currently live in northern California and get our pasture raised meat & eggs from Marin Sun Farms. We also grow vegetables in our own garden and recently took a class on raising backyard chicken, but that will have to wait until we can find a larger peice of land. In the future, I hope to raise a flock of hens, tend a much larger garden and possibly raise rabbits and a pig or three. Reading your website has been informative and inspiring. Thank you!

    If I may ask, are you familiar with the fight taking place in Michigan (my home state) between the DNR and small family farms that pasture raise heritage pigs? If not, please check out whats happening at

    Thanks again,

    • Do get a few chickens. They don’t require much space, don’t make a fuss and are easy to care for. Three chickens could give you about 20 eggs a week in their prime and they’ll eat insects in the area. If you have a dog or cat, extras can go to them. Cook the eggs for the animals too as it doubles the available protein. In the fall, put the hens into the garden to help with cleanup and pest control. A great starter animal.

      I’ve read about the Michigan issue. Sad. Too much government. Too little sense.

  2. Daniel says:

    The sad thing that consumers don’t understand is that the current methods of livestock farming have developed because of the consumer demand for cheap food. While what you do in your operation is noble and ultimately a superior method of rearing, the reality is that most of the pork in North America is produced to the price points dictated by Walmart and the like. My guess is that you would not be able to come anywhere close to the low cost of production that would be dictated by those markets. Until consumers en mass are willing to pay more for their food the production methods will not change, no matter how much consumers pay lip service to higher welfare conditions.

    • Not really. The government specifically pushed farmers to get big or get out by subsidizing big farms. We’re very competitive with the large farms. Take away their subsidized energy, feed and make them responsible for their wastes and they’ll wither up and die. They can’t compete on a level playing field so they demand subsidies to support Big Ag. Unfortunately they have the payola to keep their lobbyists in the capitals bribing our public officials. Just look at the Farm Bill. We on the other hand compete quite nicely without their subsidies and in a sustainable manner, improving the land. Fortunately, there are many people who do appreciate this and vote with their pocketbooks choosing not to support the Big Ag industrial complex.

  3. So far we’ve castrated all our male piglets ourselves. While I would rather not do it, it doesn’t seem to me like it really bothers the piglets. They seem much more concerned about being picked up rather than the actual two small cuts. Not sure an all out ban would be a move that I’d want to see.

    • I too would rather not see government making these decisions, e.g., a ban, but given the continued divorce of folks from their food and nature I foresee there will come a time when the urbanites legislate this as they are doing so many other things. Unfortunately the city mentality is that “we ought to have a law” for everything.

  4. Holly says:

    I can attest to the effectiveness of a hit in the head done well. Once upon a time, I stepped into the path of a swinging backhoe and was knocked out cold. This may sound awful, but you could have bled me out and strung me up and I would not have felt a thing. Ever. I did not feel the pain of getting hit until after I came too again. I woke up wondering why I was lying on the ground looking up at a beautiful blue sky, fluffy white clouds and Walter, with a most anxious expression on his face. I didn’t have any memory of being hit or falling. None. A most interesting, serendipitous, experiment in slaughter techniques.


  5. nance says:

    I’m a small time gardener, not a farmer, hopeful chicken keeper and come here to be educated. I learn something, each time I stop by. Thanks, Walter and family

  6. nance says:

    and nothing to do with this blog, but I have a wasps’ nest like yours hanging in my Missouri cabin, found in Mo and stays in Mo. They are just amazing works of art, aren’t they?

  7. Snowballs says:

    It is the kill methods that bother me the most, I think. We have rabbits, and I haven’t found a way I “like” to do them in. My husband is strong enough to bop them in the back of the head with a hammer, not me. He hates doing it, however. I used to use the method I found on Youtube about snapping their necks. That worked well until we got the bigger rabbits. With the bigger rabbits, I don’t always get it on the first try and then they scream after we hang them. Not humane. We had to shoot a few that got out, decimated my garden, and refused to get into the live trap. I don’t really like this method either, since from far away they wouldn’t get a clear shot to the head, and no matter what, they didn’t know they were dead yet, would take off running, and flop around a bit. I know they don’t know they’re dead yet, and their brain is already gone, and it’s just muscles twitching… but it’s still gross and it still seems cruel. Sometimes they scream like a child when they are shot, too. Horrible.

    With bopping them on the head with a pipe or a hammer, they are at least knocked out cold, if not killed then, and then we bleed them upside down. Gross, but least traumatic for all concerned.

    With the males, when the rabbit is traumatized at death, there is that “buck” or “pee” smell on them when we open their insides. With the bopping or neck breaking, there is no pee smell. When shot, there is the mess inside made from the bullet, which makes the meat less easy to deal with, and broken rib bones, etc. Pretty much a large section of meat is discarded because it’s got tiny bone fragments and congealed gross blood and bruised meat that is undesirable for the stew pot, for us. On a small rabbit carcass, that kind of matters.

    For a bigger animal, like a pig, or a goat, cow… the only option for your average person seems to be a shot. We’ve seen a pig shot with with a .22 and will NEVER do that again. It just made him mad, 7 shots point blank to the head, in between the eyes, and he was still alive and still comin’ at me. NOT FUN. However, a 12 gauge to the head put him down in one shot and he didn’t twitch, he didn’t move. His head was unsalvageable, however. It was a mess inside.

    What is humane? Is it humane when we aren’t seeing the “gross” factor, the twitching and whatnot. Or is it humane when scientific knowledge dictates that the animal is not alive, even though it’s thrashing around? It would be nice to find a method that takes care of both of those problems and isn’t quite so traumatic for us. It’s hard to raise a cute, furry animal and then carry it trustingly to the butcher place and then…. kill it. It’s getting easier, though. There’s no meat in the fridge and I’m on top of the food chain. LOL

    • The definition of humane has to do with the animal not being upset or feeling pain. You want it to remain calm. In addition to being more humane for the animal it also prevents the release of stress chemicals in the animal resulting in higher quality meat that tastes better. See Humane Slaughter by researcher Temple Grandin.

      With rabbits, which we raised years ago as our first livestock, I did a stunning blow to the head which worked every time – no screaming, the rabbit never saw it coming and didn’t feel any pain. They were instantly rendered unconscious.

      For pigs on-farm I use a .22 rifle using copper jacketed hollow point .22LR bullets roughly between the eyes to penetrate the brain. It has always work perfectly, even with very big sows. A larger caliber bullet risks passing through into the body and a shotgun, as you noted, makes a mess. See Box of Death which describes the bullets and gun, Kindest Killing Blow and The Second Pig for discussion of humane slaughter. If the person you saw do it did not have good results then I suspect they were using the wrong type of bullet or missed the brain. It should be a single shot and the pig drops instantly unconscious.

      For pigs at the USDA butcher they use electro stunning or a captive bolt stunner – both of which are very humane and effective. There are captive bolt stunners available that cost about the same as a rifle, roughly $350. These are used on beef, sheep, pigs and I would imagine that they would work well on rabbits too.

      I would strongly suggest not doing a body shot. Besides wasting meat, it does not humanely stun the animal so the animal releases stress chemicals tainting the meat.

  8. Brittany G. says:

    Hey there, I am so grateful for having found this website. Today I witnessed 3 pigs be slaughtered. They were shot in the head with a .22, had their throats slit right away and were dragged to the chains, hung up by their tendons, skinned and then beheaded. Seems pretty typical I guess? I find myself now seeking answers because at the time when each pig had been shot (only one time each and in the head, almost perfectly between the eyes might I add) they would instantly drop and start convulsing, seizuring and flopping around like a fish out of water. My question is.. Is this them hurting? Are they still alive and trying to run? Is this humane? We’ve got another 3 pigs to kill and I’ve gotten emotionally attached to her and made the number one mistake with raising live stock… I’ve named her. My huge concern is waffles*the pig* goes the most humane way possible. I don’t want her to be scared or feel any pain. I just want her to peacefully go to sleep and not wake up. How do I a lid the graphic convulsions? Please help! Any tips or advice so I don’t walk away crying again!

    ~ Brittany

    • From what you describe your three pigs were done properly and humanely. They were stunned and unconscious. They were feeling no pain nor were they aware. They were instantly rendered unconscious by the .22 bullet which scrambled their brains so they could not return to consciousness. The thrashing is caused by the hypo-oxygenated state of the remaining nervous system. This is not conscious activity. It is simply muscle twitch. See the post, the “Kindest Killing Blow“.

  9. Brittany G. says:

    Well that makes me feel a little better about when it comes time to slaughter waffles. My other question/ comment was.. My brothers are doing the pigs in my eyes too early. The pigs are only at most 6 months old. They’re convinced that this is when the meat is best. As the pigs age is the flavor or tenderness of the meat compromised in any way? When is the best time in a pigs life to slaughter?

    • You can eat a pig at any age. Some people like suckling pigs but I personally find that they are too tender for my tastes. Most people are familiar with eating pigs at about six months of age. That produces the size cuts that they are used to getting in the super market and the pigs weigh about 250 lbs live weight which yields about 180 lbs hanging or about 120 lbs of commercial style cuts (there’s a lot more good food on that hanging pig though!). Personally, my favorite cut of pork is the Boston Butt steaks known by some as Country Ribs off of big sows, 400 to 800 lbs live weight. I’m also quite happy eating big boars. Both are more flavorful and the sows are incredibly marbled. Six months is a pretty standard age for slaughter. Part of the reason is that pigs being raised in confinement start putting on a lot more fat at that point. We don’t have this problem with our pigs on pasture but pigs on grain diets end up overly fat and reduce their rate of conversion of feed to meat. So part of the reason is simple economics. However, if you want larger, more flavorful pork with more marbling and more back fat then take it to an older age. To control the back fat from getting too thick just keep the calories in control.

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