Kill It, Cook It, Eat It, Part 4: Traditional butchery in Spain, and chickens

In the fourth and final episode of Kill It, Cook It, Eat It, they reviewed and summarized the previous 3 episodes, visited a small poultry 'processing' plant, and showed how a pig is butchered in the traditional way - no stun guns - in Spain.

(Warning: potentially disturbing details follow)


The conventional-method poultry farm they showed was fairly small, but the chickens were still grown in what I thought were very crowded conditions. The chickens had a little room to move around, but not much. They said that it wasn't nearly as crowded as at larger farms...which a disturbing thought. The farmer said that he preferred this enclosed method of rearing chickens to free range since he was afraid of the birds picking up unknown viruses if allowed outside.

Since the 'red meat' abattoir where the big animals were slaughtered doesn't do poultry, the members of the public who participated in the show took a field trip to a small poultry processing plant. The killing process is similar to the bigger animals, but the whole process shown was more mechanized. The chickens are hung upside down on a conveyor-belt type contraption, then, according the the government expert vet/commentator, basically killed when their heads pass through an electrified water tank. Then the most disturbing part to view: the chickens are bled by slitting their throats. The birds are then passed through some hot water that loosens their feathers, passed through a contraption that sort of massages off most of those feathers, then the cleaning is finished by hand.

Personally I'm rather traumatized by chicken heads and feet, ever since an incident when I was about 12. My mother was buying vegetables and things directly from a farm cooperative, and once time they delivered some chickens to our house. She told me to cut them up since she was delayed at work. Little did I know (and she didn't know either) that the birds would come with the heads and feet still intact. It still gives me shivers just thinking about those beady eyes looking at me.

Yet...I love to eat chicken, and we have it on average at least twice a week. I still can't handle chicken feet at a dim sum though. (Max loves then however.)

In any case, I was glad they showed the chicken slaughtering process as well. But I can see why chicken is the cheapest kind of meat we can buy, since even at a small plant the 'processing' is quite automated. A lot of things can go wrong I think when they are processing so many chickens that you can barely tell one bird from another. (This page from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Structural change in U.S. Chicken and Turkey Slaughter, states as of the year 2000 that poultry plants are growing bigger and bigger. I'm sure that hasn't changed much in 2007.)

(Sidetracking a bit - the standard size to which chickens are grown in Britain is 2.2 kilo, or about 5 pounds. I think they are even bigger in the U.S. though I can't find any document online that specifies standard sizes. In Switzerland, the whole chickens we can buy at the supermarket usually around 1 kilo in size, at the most 1.5 kilo. Farm-grown chickens from the open markets are around that size too.)

Traditional butchery

In another segment, they showed how a family-reared pig in Spain is butchered. In rural parts of the country, many people still rear their own pigs. To cut to the chase, the pig is not stunned before the throat is slit - it's bled alive while being held down by several people, and takes about 3 minutes to die. It's not pretty to watch...but that's the way it's been done for hundreds of years. It's possible that coming EU regulations will put a stop to such methods. I'm not sure if this is a shame, or a good thing. (Chef Antonio Carlucci, who was in the audience, mentioned that maybe 40-50% of the pork sold in Italy is still butchered in the traditional way. Something to think about when buying proscuitto or pancetta.)

The blood that is bled from the pig is turned into blood sausage, using the intestines from the same pig as the casing. Later on, the family was shown tucking into it with gusto. The kids cheerfully said that the killing of the pig didn't bother them at all since they've seen it being done all their lives.

Summing up

I am really glad that this program was made, and I'm glad I watched it all too. It may have turned quite a few people towards vegetarianism. The one way it's affected me, is to make me resolve to only buy meat and poultry from reputable sources, with the full realization that it's going to cost more. No more stocking up on frozen chicken pieces from the Budget section for me. If we choose to continue to eat meat, and I think for now we will, we'll do that and buy less quantity to compensate for the more expensive prices.

Filed under:  books and media tv ethics education chicken meat

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Thanks for writing that up - I missed the final episode and was really curious about it!

Never saw this post :)

Well about the chicken killing, I don't know about it so i can't tell a thing.

About the pig slaughtering, well i must confess i love spanish ham and blood sausage and all of that. I have a friend at work whose family owns a spanish ham traditional factory. He invites friends every year and i always refuse because i can't endure the killing of the animal (it's called "matanza del cerdo", literally "pig slaughtering"). I've been told that this tradition comes from our muslim past, and has something to do with the "halal" food of the muslims (even though they do not eat pig meat).
I don't think it's cruel anyway. I mean, those pigs live happily in family farms and are killed in a rather painless way. Bleeding does not hurt, they say. I don't really know. But you know, to eat animal meat you have to actually kill the animal.
Do you think it's crueless for the animal to be killed by a human or by a machine?? o_o

Anyway I didn't watch the show but it seems to be something made to put down spanish products (i'm talking about the pigs). My friend says it is indeed very difficult to get inside the US market because of the excessive controls they have on the hams. He says that most of the people in Spain has eaten spanish ham somewhen in their lives and no one ever got food poisoned. It is a way of making food that has been active for hundreds of years, and a tradition we are very proud of. I repeat... the animal must get killed before eating it.

Also, this tradition is made to eat everything. Not even the blood is spilled because this tradition comes from times when people actually died of hunger. It's just food. Some people may see disgusting the fact that some people holds a spanish ham in their kitchens (that is a pig leg, with the hoof included), but it's just a cultural thing. I mean... well japanese people do eat raw fish (which was unbearable for spanish people until the japanese food fashion broke in), and it's just ok! :D

Great article. Well said. I have given up buying meat from a supermarket long time ago. Thankfully, I am lucky enough to have access to 3 small farms in the area where I can buy meat from. They are raised outside and treated humanely. Yes, more expensive but has helped us consume less meat and also, support the local farms. I would love to see factory farms become extinct but unfortunately I don't think it will ever happen in my life time.