Meat Tour

I have been determined to discover where meat comes from before the grocery store. This led me to a meat market called Black Earth Meats that offers one on one handling during the butchering process. Many of their products come from local farms across southern WI that raise the animals with the highest quality and humane treatment.

It was early morning when I began to drive west of Madison. Slaughters occur 2 days a week, I hoped to go only 1 of the 2 days to see the whole process. I was welcomed by a friendly staff that provided me a hair net and a white coat.

Quickly I followed the plant manager behind the meat market, where there was packaged tenderloin and other select meats ready for sale, past the cutting room and then farther down the hallway beyond 2 doors. As I walked through a foot bath and another large door, I entered the slaughter room. There were four butchers, each individually and skillfully eviscerating  the animals. There appeared to be blood everywhere. I was asked if I wanted to see the actual “kill.” I replied, “yes.” I slowly made my way past an exsanguinated pig which led me to a narrow, boxed off section that held one pig.There were 1/2 a dozen pigs lined up inside an even narrower, steel isle 15′ away. Screams and squeals from the pigs chorused loudly through out the room. I was asked if I was ready and watching, I was. There was a man in the box area preparing for the “kill.”  The pig was stunned in the neck by an electric current and then once more under his leg. His heart rate slowed down, color faded from his face as a pale white set in, tongue hanging out and then collapsed to the cement. The stunned pig was silent.

Then the pig was dragged just a few feet to a hanger where it was hoisted up to hang upside down by its hooves. It was then exsanguinated, by the use of a pointed knife that was inserted behind the jaw and below the neck bone. This then severed the jugular vein, carotid artery, and trachea. Blood then flowed freely, pouring into a large barrel. The carcass was then removed,  and placed on a hook for a USDA Inspector to examine for signs of disease or pathological illness that would cause the carcass to be unwholesome for human consumption. The inspector also has to complete other health regulations before, during, and after the slaughter. For more information about USDA inspection you can learn more at the Food Safety & Inspection Service website.

During this time the slaughtering staff was often using watering hoses to remove blood and sanitize the carcass. The pig was laid down on a steel table to have its hooves removed by trimming the main tendon and then removing the hoof. Its genitals were cut and placed in a steel bin for the inspector to examine. Two hooks were then placed through the pigs hind legs to be hung to complete the process. It was eviscerated by removing the intestines, kidneys, stomach, and liver for inspection.

Once the pig was raised high it was cut in half by the use of a hand chainsaw. It was then rinsed with water to remove any remaining bacteria. Weighed. Then transported from a hanging shaft into a large walk in cooler to help with the process of cutting and deboning. Before leaving the “kill” room I noticed a large banner with these words, “WE HONOR THESE ANIMALS, FOR BY THEIR DEATH WE GAIN LIFE.”

After seeing the slaughtering process, I moved to view the cutting and deboning room. There was  a larger amount of staff, they were listening to music and enjoying conversation with each other. A group of three were individually cutting an already cooled pig while others were processing beef, packaging, and cleaning. One man said the cutting room is their graduation from the kill room.

Image taken from the web of what our beef looks like in the grocery store, following the slaughter/cutting process

Overall, I saw what I wanted to see. Many workers at the meat market asked what school I was from and why I was there. I said, “I want to know where the meat I eat comes from, where it is before looking nicely packaged at the grocery store.” I often heard the reply, “people think their meat comes from the grocery store, THIS is where it starts.” I am thankful I was able to receive a tour of Black Earth Meats, they encourage people to visit. I discovered a link, by experience, to where the meat comes from before the grocery store or farmers markets. This summarizes the slaughtering process at only one meat market. The food chain is one giant wheel that holds various beliefs among different cultures.


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