All the anti-meat fervent has me questioning if fuller disclosure would help any or not (from the perspective of the meat industry). Without a doubt, the slaughterhouses of today are much, much closer to humane than they have ever been, but is it enough for consumers to face the basic idea of killing animals for food?
The next cow, the cow I watch die, is quiet. It is black. It comes casually down a walkway. It steps into a squeeze chute, the metal hugging cage that closes in on the cows’ sides to calm them. Scott Towne, the guy in charge of the killing, hits it with a CASH Knocker, a blank shell shooting from a metal apparatus at the end of the long, wooden-handled device and into the front of the head above the eyes, denting the skull but not penetrating its brain, rendering the animal insensible. Instantly the cow’s eyes close. Its neck is lax and its mouth open, easy as a child asleep at the dinner table, or a businessman asleep on a plane.Like most farmers of my era, I have killed animals, dogs, cats, cows, even helped my friend put his horse down, but did not come away from the process with anything but regret and a sense of duty accomplished. I have seen suffering animals as well, and those memories still haunt me more powerfully, though. Maybe there is no way to harvest other animals without an emotional toll, and maybe we ought to acknowledge this and appreciate those who process things we obviously like to eat a little more.
Stopping at a bar on the way home to bourbon-gargle the lingering deathiness and nausea from the back of my throat, I ponder the cow’s existence. Whether or not farmers should torture animals, or keep them in disgusting and overcrowded and shit-filled conditions, or murder them slowly, are not even questions. Prather’s Northern California grass-munching herd is obviously as well treated as any in natural life, but “good” death is not so easily codified.
“Can you make a slaughterhouse perfect?” Grandin asked in Iowa. “No, nothing in this world that’s a practical thing can be made perfect. That’s just impossible.”
For those who kill animals for a living, making peace with those imperfections is a daily affair. Sure, Prather’s Towne looks tough enough to kill you in a bar fight, but he smiles easily, giggles sometimes, even. He tells me it makes him sad when the cows aren’t stunned on the first shot. He says that that can happen anywhere, even when a small farm hires him to kill one cow in a field. At Prather, it happens about twice each slaughter day. And the cow that was mooing on our way in isn’t the last one we hear that morning; another starts mooing in the squeeze chute. Because its skull is too old, too thick for a stunner, Towne has to use a 9 mm instead. It moos and moos until Towne yells, “Fire in the hole!” and shoots it between the eyes.
Two cows mooing and two cows having to be shot twice out of 21 is below Grandin’s standards of acceptability, and a higher percentage than at her usual McDonald’s plant audit. But even if I did believe a cow possesses a level of consciousness equal to a human, having seen Prather’s cows living and dead, the Rickerts do live up to their oft-stated goal to “Give them the best life possible.” [More worth reading]
More humane immigration laws would be a start.