A day at the slaughterhouse

I grew up in the rural village of Borculo, known among other things for its huge dairy factory. In the shadow of this enormous building was the meat factory of Hoi smoked sausages. When the wind came from the east, our street would be filled with the stench of death. But that wasn't the only way in which the factory made its presence felt. In the morning I would take the dogs out for a walk, and often trucks drove past me, containing closely packed pigs. These trucks wouldn't always exactly stick to speed limits, and sometimes came ripping around corners at high speeds. The sound of screaming pigs that would panic at such moments chilled me to the bone. When I was 15 I'd get my very first real (holiday) job, and by coincidence I got a job through a temp agency for Hoi. I knew how the pigs were being transported, and at first I didn't much like the idea of working in a slaughterhouse, but the pay was pretty good. With fresh courage, but a little nervous nonetheless, I went to the slaughterhouse on Monday morning. With a number of my peers, who also started that day, I was received and shown around the cold building. We then each got overalls, shoes and a hat and we could start work. Once I entered the slaughter hall, I smelled the penetrating and unpleasant smell of death, but I would get used to that soon enough. The great speed with which pig cadavers on meat hooks moved through the hall startled me. Although it was a strange experience, I was really witnessing animal mass production. Everyone had their own task. Some were assigned to removing entrails or skin. I was given a hose to remove lard from between pigs' ribs. Not very clean, but definitely not hard work. We also had the opportunity, despite the noise, to talk amongst ourselves and to make jokes. The morning went by quickly and I thought I could probably do this holiday job at Hoi. After lunch I was about to go back to my work, but my supervisor ordered me to come with him to another department where someone had called in sick that day. I followed him to my new destination, and as we got closer, the screaming of pigs got louder. I was starting to feel worried when I got an idea of where we were going. We came to a large stable where pigs were chased through a maze to finally be driven together through hell's gates to be electrocuted. I was given a cattle prod and I had to chase the pigs into the electrocution machine. A bit further there was a man to slice the pigs' throats after they were electrocuted. The pigs were driven in my direction with cattle prods and if they were reluctant they got kicked. I had to 'process' 15 to 20 pigs each time. To make sure the pigs wouldn't run back, a gate was closed behind them and they were all literally packed together in a pen of about two by three meters. There was just a small opening the pigs had to go through one at a time. Once inside that opening the pigs landed on a conveyor belt, and there was no way back. I had to chase the pigs that tried to escape their fate with a surge of current. It was no simple task to lead 15 pigs, struggling in fear and panic, to their end destination in an orderly fashion. I hardly dared to use my prod and that's why I was assisted by experienced colleagues now and again, who seemed to have no trouble at all in helping these animals to their cruel ends. Even worse, they liked their jobs and seemed to think my reluctance was funny. One of my colleagues said 'it may not be the greatest job, but you get used to it'. How could I ever get used to murder? Time passed and all kinds of thoughts were in my head. I most wanted to flee that place or release the pigs if nobody was paying attention. It was horrible, but still I did my job. I was too ashamed to just up and leave without telling anyone, and I knew it was useless to try and free the pigs. The thought that the animals were better off with someone who would try not to hurt them, made me continue my job. I also thought that it would be more just if their executioner would suffer like them, instead of having fun like my colleagues. I even entertained the ridiculous idea of crawling into the electrocution machine myself, to die like a sort of Jesus for the outrages done by my colleagues and me. Now and then I could get some rest. Unfortunately some pigs needed more than a surge of current from the electrocution machine to kill them. They tried to escape and had to be stopped by several men, and then got administered a final surge of current with a clamp. But one pig was so resistant that they had to give it four or five jolts before it finally died. The animal screamed a lot and I tried not to watch because it was just too awful. During an afternoon coffee break a colleague told me that when you have to support a family, you accept your job when you can get no other work. I could understand that, but in the end I thought his attitude was cowardly. My ears had gone deaf from the screaming of the pigs and I wondered how many I had killed. I estimated around 200, but maybe it was a lot more than that. After some rest I realized that I only had to hold out for another hour. But that was the longest hour I ever lived through. Every time I approached a pig with my prod it would look at me with fearful eyes, begging me not to hurt it. I often didn't even have to touch them. At the least movement from me they would crawl away from me and flee into the narrow opening of the electrocution machine. Once when I was all alone I tried to stroke one of the pigs to show it that I didn't want to hurt it, but it cringed in fear. I didn't try that anymore. In their fear and pain the pigs shit all over the floor and it became very slippery from their thin manure. In their panic and hustling they kept slipping. One pig held its leg in a funny position, and I could only conclude that it was broken. The poor animal would not and could not go into the machine. One of my colleagues picked up a long hook, stuck it inside the pig's rectum and lifted it. It was then pushed and kicked toward the opening. I didn't understand my colleagues' cruelty. In the meantime I had driven a couple of hundreds of pigs to their deaths, but fortunately it was finally five o'clock and I could go home!! Crying and completely upset I arrived home, and I didn't eat meat that night. It took another six months before I became a vegetarian. It was hard for me to explain this to my parents. On my conscience are the deaths of a few hundred pigs, and I hope to settle the score in some way by doing everything in my power to ban factory farming. I hope that readers have gotten an impression of how factory farming is operated and that they see that such barbaric wrongs have to be stopped. I must admit that my story happened eight years ago, but when I look at images on TV now, nothing has changed. Mea Maxima Culpa! - February 2001.
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