A Day at the Slaughterhouse

A carnivore gets the full-meal deal


| July-August 1999



When I moved to the country, I wanted everything—vegetable garden, fruit trees, flowers, and animals. Especially animals. Some of the animals arrived unbidden, like two half-tailed kittens that someone dumped across the street with an open can of cat food. Others I researched and then searched for.

I sought out a family whose sheep won top prizes at local fairs. These people were as crazy about animals as I was. I went back to their farm again and again. I asked a lot of questions—about food, shelter, fencing, bedding, types of wool, ease of lambing, veterinary care, disposal of sheep that get sick and die. Then I bought three sheep.

“What do you do with them?” everyone asks me about the sheep. I know they mean “You don't eat them, do you?” At first, the answer was no. I even stopped buying dog food with “mutton by-products.” And so my little flock grew, with new lambs each spring. I thought I could manage up to 20 sheep. But I soon realized that 5 or 6 was closer to what my pasture and energy could handle.

From the beginning I hadn't ruled out eating the lambs I raised. I had eaten meat all my life. Where was the logic in buying meat that had had God knows what done to it when I had healthy lambs in my backyard? In my third summer of raising sheep, with my two adolescent rams mounting everything that moved, the time had come to face the question dead-on.

Roger Jackson became my henchman. He kills animals for a living. On Labor Day weekend I took three sheep to his slaughterhouse. I made three trips, each time with one bleating sheep stuffed into a large dog crate. In the slaughterhouse, I saw carcasses hanging and guts spilling, heard animals screaming, smelled rusty blood and chain-saw exhaust. The place has just two rooms: a killing room and a cutting room. Nothing's hidden. No one asks “May I help you?” Customers are expected to pick their way among heads, pelts, and unidentifiable gore on the floor and interrupt the killing or cutting in order to state their business.

On my first trip, I found Jackson sawing a hog in half. He pointed me toward a young woman with bleached, permed hair and a Guns N' Roses T-shirt, who was making change over a carcass in the cutting room. “She'll show you where to put him,” he said.