thoughts on a trip to the meat factory
Yesterday was thursday, I used to look forward to lunch on thursday. I got up earlier than usual to load 2 bulls in a trailer and take them to the slaughter house. I had no problem sorting them out from their comrades, one of them used to love having the back of his head scratched. I call it the ‘toledo’ spot. It’s where those spannish bull fighting bastards stick in the sword after they’ve finished torturing the bull to end his life by severing the spinal chord. Toledo is a spannish city and I think they still make swords there for tourists, it’s also afaik the spannish word for sword. Any way back to my bulls, got them out of the pen and into the crush. One of them needed an eartag. First blood of the day I thought as the spike on the tag pierced a vein in his ear.
It’s about a 45 minute drive to the slaughter house from my yard. I drive at about 45 mph. If I can, I pull into the edge of the road to let cars pass. If the road is too narrow, tough shit. Most of the way I drive in 4th sometimes 5th. I think about ringing the miller where I buy bull ration to ask can I weigh in so I can find out what the kill out % is, but I don’t bother, there is no tax on the land cruiser, one of the tyres on the trailer is bald, I don’t want to meet any cops so I stick to the ring road avoiding towns. I pull in at a wide part of the road to let a bread van pass, but the prick pulls in behind me and never passes. Fuck him, by the time I get to the slaughter house there is a string of cars behind me.
At the slaughter house there is a que of trailers in front of me, the security man asks me to wait at the barrier until there is room ahead. It’s half eight and raining. I sort of listen to the radio and dry my hat with the dashboard heater. Soon the barrier is lifted and I join the que. When I get halfway up I take the bull’s passports up to the office and do the paperwork. He asks how heavy they are, 350 maybe 360 kg, I tell the guy there see you in 10 minutes. I help the guy in front of me back in his trailer, he says he’s a bad driver. Easily half the farmers there have a land cruiser and ifor williams trailer and have of those have a dog in the passenger seat. He tells me how he backed in the wrong jeep and trailer and loaded it with cattle he’d just bought at a mart one day, I asked was it dark and he said ‘No’.
I back up my trailer at the lairage, the guy behind me backs up beside me and is able to get his cattle off first, but I don’t care, nobody panics at a slaughter house, just the cattle. My bulls walk off to their deaths easily enough. I go wash out my trailer, the guy who skipped ahead of me has an attractive red headed daughter in the front passenger seat instead of a dog. She is in her early 20’s hair tied back in a ponytail. She doesn’t talk much, me and her old man talk farming for a few minutes, they have suckler cows same as me, pissed off with the price of cattle, got 4.60 a kg last year, 3.60 a kg this year, that’s roughly €400 euro less a head.
It’s my turn with the power hose. I put on my raybans to keep the bullshit out of my eyes as I powerhose it out the back of the trailer. My foot gets wet because there is a hole in my welly, fuck that’s nice, but they’ll have to wait, my son needs a new pair of shoes.
I park the land cruiser and trailer beside a 40 foot fridge trailer, lock it and head back to the lairage, the manager says my bulls are gone up the line. I feel a bit sad, time was I used to give the lairage guys a hand to run my cattle up the chute. Back then perhaps 20 years ago I’d say a prayer, something like thank you, hope these provide a decent dinner for lots of people. Or tell Queen maeve I was asking for her, with a tear in my eye. But not anymore, not when I’m feeling screwed by all the meat factories.
I wash my wellys and head round to the payment office ‘joke’ and get a banin coat and a head protector. Head up the steps to the slaughter hall. I wash and dry my hands, there’s an automatic scrubbing machine with two rotating brushes for my wellys, I think as they come out as new (except for the leak) that’s one of the best things about seeing your cattle being killed. I push through the stainless steel doors, what you see first is sides of beef moving slowly to the left to the cold room, there is a wall to the right and straight ahead is maybe 30 cattle hanging from the ceiling in various stages of processing. There is a smell of hot guts but I don’t notice it anymore. My cousin who is also a farmer says he hates that smell. But to me it’s one of my favourite smells, it’s the smell of money, the smell of a clear overdraft, the smell that pays the bills, puts food on the table, new shoes on my son’s feet. I love that smell, when the weather is hot the smell is stronger, maybe because it’s cold I don’t notice the smell or more likely it’s because the price of beef is so bad I don’t notice it.
I walk past the scales and at the automatic grader I have to stop because it takes a photo of every second side and I don’t want to walk past, the lights go off for a second before the photo is taken. There is a low wall running down the middle of the slaughter house. The line is ‘U’ shaped. The cattle come in at the top of one side of the U just after slaughter, and at the top of the other side of the U is where the door is and where they turn left to the cold room. The low wall where I lean on and watch the whole process runs up the middle of the U. My bulls are hanging up, bleeding, I can’t really see them. At 10 am everything stops for breakfast, they’ve been working since 7am. I go with them to the canteen, tea and coffee is free but food has to be paid for. I remember the irony of having a free roast beef dinner in a slaughter house canteen the very first time I went to see a bullock being killed.
There about 4 long white tables in the canteen with room for perhaps 20 at each table, I just get a mug of tea, fishing out the teabag with my fingers. I sit at the first table beside a man with a tattoo sleeve, I say hello but he doesn’t talk much, I suspect he doesn’t speak english. A big brazilian guy and a paki sit down and we chat a bit, where are you from, Sao Paulo. He offers me a date from the paki’s lunch box, and I take it. After about 15 minutes everybody heads back to the slaughter hall. Slowly one of my bulls moves along the line, the brazilian who I had breakfast with 5 minutes before chops the front legs and makes a few cuts at the throat of my bull. I wonder does he enjoy his job, he is standing in 2 inches of blood with a blank expression on his face, I don’t think so. He has been here 11 years, he probably has most of the price of a farm or a decent house in brazil saved by now. My second bull appears, there are 8 other cattle on the line between them. It is hard to keep track of them, when the hide comes off the first one there is a small red patch where the fat has been pulled off, it helps me identify him. I chat to a vet, who says he is the hardest working man on the floor, yeah says I and the best paid. I feel I am the worst paid in there. My bull’s guts empty out on to a low sized stainless steel table with a conveyor belt top. I ask if there is any fluke in the liver, the vet makes a few quick cuts and pronounces it ‘perfect’. My second bull is being skint and I ask him to look at that one as well. My first bull gets a label with a carcase number, 7770 and his ear tag number on it too, it’s easier now for me to keep track of him. He moves around the bottom corner of the U and is sawn in half down through the spine, next an eastern european woman removes bits of nerve. It must be a tough place for a woman to work, especially when she’s on the rag looking at blood all day. The second bull has his liver out on the table, ‘Fit for the pan’ says the vet. I walk up to the grader and watch how cattle are grading and weighing as I wait for my 2 bulls. U and R mostly 2 and 3 for fat cover. My first bull is a U-2+ and weighs 360 kg, I’m happy at that, no deductions for being overweight or short of fat, the next bull moves slowly on, R+2+ and 380kg, I’m pleasantly surprised at the weights, I’m doing mental maths multiplying 38 by 3 and a half. 2.6 or 2.7k it’s ok, will keep the wolf from the door for a month.
Tagged: , Aubrac , Tipperary rural farming