It's been a very long time coming, but after seven months of living on an abattoir in southern Tasmania, I finally spent the morning on the slaughter floor, watching a dozen or so sheep being dispatched. It was a pretty visceral and intense experience but I'm really glad I did it. The process is relatively quick and simple. Animals are walked to a holding pen and one at a time, they are taken up a run and held in a small stall, out of sight of the rest of the group. A bolt gun is administered to the head and the animal is rendered immediately brain dead. The animal is then moved through the stall into another room where it is then bled, and then hung by the foot on a rail so that it can be gutted, skinned and then sent to the chiller.*
The guys who make this possible do so with a seriousness and considerable sense of respect, giving these animals the best possible send off. It's quick, efficient and (witnessing it happen in an abattoir that subscribes to a low stress, ethical philosophy,) imparts peace of mind, knowing that these animals were in good hands till their last.
My sojourn to Tasmania happened because I felt it disingenuous to continue working in the food industry without really knowing how difficult the processes are so that we may have such easy access to the best quality food in the world. This experience is still a work in progress, but today I feel a little bit more connected. If you eat meat and you have the opportunity to see how it goes from being livestock to meat, I highly recommend that you take the time to witness it for yourself.
*A note on ageing meat. Depending on the animal (smaller animals for less, cattle for more), they can be held whole in a chiller for a week to several weeks, to allow the proteins to set and the process of tenderisation to occur through ageing. Read: unlike seafood, livestock killed today shouldn't be eaten that day, or even the next. It won't be nearly as tender or tasty as one that's had enough time to age and dry before being butchered. This is something I didn't really understand before I took this learning curve, and is something I think more people should know about.