'Are you drunk, or can’t you reverse a trailer?"
It may sound harsh, but this is the voice of the local abattoir owner, David Stephens, and he’s actually come to the rescue. My missus, Sadie, was, for the first time ever, trying to reverse a trailer. Having spent a week trying to entice the last porker into it, and truck it the 10 minutes or so to the cutting shop, the last thing she needed was to be learning a new skill.
David’s droll sense of humour covers the soft heart of a man who has made killing his trade. He may’ve made a joke of Sadie’s reversing, but he was the one who backed it up for her and helped get the sole pig out of the trailer and into its pen. You’re lucky to get that level of personal service at a greengrocer these days, let alone at a privately run abattoir where they’ve got their hands quite full of the job most of us don’t want to do.
David and Rita Stephens are the owners of our local, family friendly abattoir. I, too, learned to reverse a trailer at their Cradoc slaughterhouse with David yelling instructions from in front. The Stephens see any number of smallholders and serious farmers each week at the stockyards that grace the grim end of their business. You drop your animals off at one corner of the bunker-style concrete building, and pick up the meat from the other, with personal service that epitomises all the good businesses around here.
It’s having a local abattoir that has helped engender a certain type of farm and smallholding in the Huon Valley. There used to be small abattoirs all over the country, though consolidation and amalgamation and economies of scale have changed all that. Where I was recently in Queensland, they had to truck their animals at least four hours, often six, to be processed.
Transport, for any animal (including me, quite often), is a stress. The more stress, the worse the quality of the meat.
From an ethical perspective, the longer an animal travels, the worse their quality of life. Where possible, a short distance and time from the paddock to hanging from the butcher’s hook is a good thing.
This, however, may be about to change. Cradoc is due to close at the end of the month. A ripple of fear is running through many local farmlets. What will we do to get our animals to market? Will anybody take single animals at a time?
With the concentration of killing in big abattoirs, many of which have a halal licence, who will want to do the processing of small numbers of pigs? The nearest cutting shop is about four to five hours away. It may be the unseen side of the food industry, the unwatchable act, but having an abattoir in a region means a great deal to landholders and consumers alike, even if they don’t always recognise it.
I make no secret that I eat animals. What’s worse is pretending meat comes not from a soft-eyed cow or a once-cute piglet, but from a plastic tray in a supermarket. Animals do die at our command. Even if you’re a vegetarian, even if you’re a vegan, animals will die for you to eat.
We have no choice because our impact on the land will always be felt by other creatures.
Crops are pollinated substantially by bees that are kept for honey. Bees die in the process of pollination (and in the art of beekeeping and honey collection). Netted cherries will kill birds (small birds often die in my netted garden after flying in to eat the blueberries). Every paddock, every silo, every truck has an impact on animals. I think vegans probably tread lighter upon the earth, and I admire them for their strength of conviction, but I have chosen to eat meat – good meat, and not a lot of it, but meat nonetheless.
What matters to me is how an animal has lived and how it may die. If we have to truck our pigs five hours to the north of the state, will we still be living the dream? It may only be a matter of time before we have to decide.