Episode 27 – The Kill Floor

KevinBeef, Butchering Beef, From Local Farms, Kevin TV, Regional Food36 Comments

When I buy sides of pork and beef from local farmers, it is quite plainly illegal for them to be killed in an un-inspected environment. Consequently, farmers bring their meat animals to one of the local meat processors/abattoirs and for a very reasonable fee, the processor does what’s called a ‘kill & chill’. Under supervision of a provincial meat inspector, they do the kill, gutting, skinning [or scraping for pigs], and chilling of the carcass. It’s important work, and I’m guessing it’s work that most retail customers are oblivious to, for a variety of reasons. You don’t want to know. Industry doesn’t want you do know. I think we should know.

In the poultry industry, kill plants have been shut down by increasing regulation over the years such that producers must now drive their poultry to the plant in St. Paul to have their birds processed – even if it takes hours and hours to drive there. The result is highly-stressed birds and significant loss of life in transit. Ask your local poultry producer about it. For whatever reason our local red meat processors have [thankfully] not met that same fate. We need to keep it that way. We need to better understand their role in our local food supply chain. We need to support these people that do our dirty work for us – and make no mistake, it’s the consumer that demands the dirty work be done.

Another theme I wanted to address is the amount of food that goes in the bin at the processor – by request of the consumer. Stock bones, oxtail, heart, liver, tongue, kidney, caul fat, tripe, pig heads, and loads more go in the bin because we don’t want it. It’s wasteful, disrespectful, and I think we’re due for a culture change in this regard.

This episode is graphic and not for everyone, so don’t watch it unless you want to see how a cow gets killed and processed. It’s a far too uncommon look at a critical part of the process of delivering meat to the table. I will be moderating the comments liberally.

36 Comments on “Episode 27 – The Kill Floor”

  1. Ala

    Nicely done.

    There is never any easy way to watch or deal with death. Whether you are a hunter or a farmer we all hold connections to the will to live. When you practice humane measures and treat the animals with respect and dignity from start to finish you must be proud.. Kudos to you for teaming with this very articulate and well spoken individual who expresses both the joys and difficulties within the process. Unfortunately our society is so insulated from this reality that education or should I say re-education is a slow and arduous journey. As for the declining services for small farmers you are not alone. Here there used to be many small slaughter house/butchers in our community. Now there are only two left. We have a community of over 100k in the county and we are mostly rural with scattered farms and ranches. Hope they too will not disappear. Keep up the good work. I really like the addition of your videos.

  2. Deb Krause

    When I was working at a bakery (4 or more years ago now) we were talking about slaughter houses. I don’t even remember how we got on the topic but one of the girls had a cousin or other relative that worked in an industrial slaughter house and said that they have psychiatrists on site (one of the other girls piped up, “For the cows?!?!” I’ll let you guess what our reaction was). Psychiatrists are on site for the people manning the button that activates the bolt that then goes through the cows head.
    Many people would think “but all they do is push a button all day” Yes, that is all they do. But every time they push that button they take a life. We didn’t get into if they see the cows or if they just sit inside an office beside the box and wait for a light to go on, a signal to then press the button.

    They don’t have the same relationship with the animals as a small processor does. When we, the consumers, choose to support local foods we should take advantage of the knowledge our farmers, producers, processors and retailers have about their product! What’s something new should I try? How should I cook this? What’s in season now? Where can I find “product a” to go with “product b”?

    I’ve butchered chickens on my baba and gido’s farm since I was a little girl. They used to do pigs too, but I was so young then I don’t remember any of it. I remember baba frying up the yolks from the young hens as soon as we found some. We saved the hearts and gizzards, cleaned them up and packaged them with the birds to be roasted up. My siblings and I used to fight over who got the heart… I don’t remember when things changed but one day, we just stopped eating it. I’m sure you’ll be glad to know I’ve since revisited my childhood :)

    Thank you for taking the time to film this. It’s a very informative look inside a world that many people don’t get to witness.

  3. H,Peter

    It’s part of the food chain.
    Well done video.
    Part challenge with the offal may just be that we simply have no clue what to do with the bits and pieces in the kitchen.
    And yes, the butchers, big or small, don’t even display it anymore.

  4. Michelle

    I have watched this process, both here and in India. My grandfather was not one to think of our gentle sensibilties as children, and we have watched him kill and process chickens and pigs. Personally, I think we live in a too sanitised world, where meat is seen to come in packages all cleaned and ready to cook. Subsequently we have no appreciation for the process or the people working in it.

    This is an excellent video and I hope people will watch it.

  5. Darren Markland

    It’s an honest piece of work, both the butchery and depiction of it. I ask myself why we need to be so apologetic about it, though deep down inside I know that it’s a brave thing to show this work. I am impressed with how eloquent your interviewee. Very nice work.

  6. Sharon in Surrey

    I spent my first 11 years growing up on a small farm. Most of what we raised went into the freezer. My mom raised everything from chickens to goats. We usually had a pig & a cow or goats for milk. We knew them all personally & named each one even though we knew they were heading for the freezer! I saw them all killed when I was growing up. We simply killed & butchered what we raised. I don’t remember any trauma. And yet I have finicky friends who not only don’t know how meat goes from Rooster to Chester Chicken but won’t touch raw meat with their fingers!

    And to waste perfectly good food from the animals you’re killing??? Wrong, wrong, wrong! I used to be able to buy tongue, heart, kidneys & ox tail. I can’t find pork neck bones either, I lived on soup from pork neck bones when I was a college student. Until a few years ago, I could go into my local chicken processor & buy a 40lb box of chicken bones at 5 cents a pound! There was enough meat on a double handful to feed me chicken soup or stew for three days!!! No longer available.

    It’s hard enough to kill & butcher even one animal a year when you’ve fed him, spoiled him, scratched his back & talked to him all summer but to waste the life he’s given – criminal. You might as well raise yeast protein in a vat & call it surloin.

  7. Becky

    Well, you need to come to the South because we have pork neck bones still in the stores, chickens, feed, cow tongue, stomach and parts I don’t even know. We have pork feet, ears, and tails. Growing up I saw my father butcher a bull, chickens, rabbits, deer and frogs. I can’t say that he cared much about it being humane. He was not fooled; he knew he was killing something but the idea was to kill it quick and with as little mess as possible. One thing I have noticed since we have started butchering our own is that you know how much work went into getting that meat so you surely don’t waste as much. I don’t waste any if I can help it.
    The video does not want to start for me. I’ll reload the page and try again.

  8. Becky

    Did get to see the video. Wow, I am quite sure that I could not do that every day. I can totally understand why it would bother anyone. It is nice to hear that he is trying to find ways for all the meat to be used.

  9. John Schneider (@GoldForestGrain)

    Hey Kevin…thanks for posting this. As I’ve posted on my blog several times, the killing of an animal for my food is a very solemn act. It is an act that I have participated in possibly hundreds of times. It never gets easy. It bothers me for days prior, and it is something that I take a great deal of pride in. The one piece of consoling that I give myself is the fact that right up until the trigger is squeezed, the animal lives in peace and quiet comfort.

    I could never do this job as a job day in and day out. It would take a lot of determination and forced indifference to continue I am sure. The bottom line I suppose is that these animals make food…the death of the animal in the wild would be FAR less “humane” than what they are given on the farm or in the processor’s establishment.

  10. Evelyn

    I understand the need to know where our food comes from and to respect the lives that are lost so that I can eat meat. It bothers me that I can’t actually watch this footage in its entirety. Maybe I’ll get there. I never used to touch raw meat, but I managed to pluck my own chicken this year so I’m getting there. I’m so much more in tune with the process of growing vegetables! Nothing goes to waste there.

    I’m sure that butchers would carry more of the “undesirable” cuts if we all asked for them. I’ve personally never liked organ meats, but bones and cheeks and briscuit I’d make use of.

  11. Stephen

    I’m a city slicker (as much as I try not to be),

    I really liked the part about how supply and demand has affected what gets thrown in the bin and what gets sold. Do you know of any good resources to get educated on what are the different cuts of meat are and how to prepare them? I realize I am naïve in what cuts of meat I want and am not sure what I would do with the different cuts. I am the stereotypical guy who eats what the grocery store tells me to eat instead of learning to eat what is sustainable and useful. If there are cookbooks that focus on cooking with local ingredients I would be interested to know of them. Thanks.

  12. Sarah Galvin (All Our Fingers in the Pie)

    That was a very well done video. I have always wanted to know how this is done. I don’t know how you could stomach filming it all though. I had to pick up my lamb and the smell of the place made it impossible for me to eat any of it for months. This all looks so clean and well done. I wish there was an abbatoir like this near me.

  13. adalynfarm

    Wonderfully done Kevin. Such an important part of the system, kind of bummed that the govt needs to be involved at all, but I suppose they keep the factories from supplying bad food to the masses. On smaller scale, like this though, it seems like an un-necessary requirement.

    There is a guy on you tube who does a really great job of showing the kill and slaughter of hogs and cattle (he’s a butcher in the SW USA) shoot me an e-mail if you want the link.

  14. Annand Ollivierre

    Great video Kevin! In our world where most of us are so disconnected from where our food comes from being presented by the reality is vitally important. As consumers we need to understand the contributions others make to put food on our table and that not all abattoirs have the animals welfare at heart.

    Thanks for reminding and educating us on the impact of our choices.

  15. Carmen

    Hi Kevin,

    Thanks for putting together this video. It took me a few days to work up the nerve to view this episode, and I’m glad I did. I’m one of those busy city people that the gentleman in your video references… well I know my cuts of steak and growing up in a Chinese household I like my offal… but I have throughout my entire life, gotten my meat conveniently and cleanly from a butcher or packaged up.

    As others have said your video is authentic, informative, and connected. It creates awareness for the sacrifice, relationships, and even the beauty that goes into getting dinner on our tables.


    PS: Oxtail is a favourite product for many Asians, including our household. Sad to see that such a premium product would go to waste.

  16. Jered Serben

    I don’t think people in general realize what Kevin Kossowan is doing for consumers who wish to purchase locally produced food. What I mean by that is this. I was selling my products at a Sherwood Park Farmers’ Market two years ago. On my display table was a photo album of our farm. Animals, from our pastured products. A young women was looking through the album as I was helping a customer. I noticed her facial expressions from the corner of my eye. When I was finished with the previous customers I asked the young woman if she had any questions. She pointed to a picture of a chicken in the photo, which was in the pasture and asked “what is this?”, I answered, “that is a chicken.” There was an awkward silence, then she said, I will never eat chicken again. I asked why. She started to explain to me, as she put the photo album down, that she didn’t realize a chicken was a living animal. I then asked her if she ever bought chicken from a store. Yes, she replied. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I asked, where did you think the breasts came from? I’m not sure she said, I just didn’t ever think of it. It was almost like I thought it was something Safeway made. Sad, but true story.
    It’s a known fact in this business that you will find people who really have no idea where their food comes from, further more what has to happen first, for their food to end up on their plate. I am satisfied and glad, if not excited, Kevin is able to show people farms, processing plants and other real procedures that do happen along the way to get that food to your plate!
    I can understand the disconnect, as even I realize the disconnect, once the head, hide, hooves and guts are off the animal. When running a block of meat through a band saw, it really looks none other than a block of cheese being sliced. A fatty, marbley piece of cheese, but you get my point.
    I am satisfied to see the owners understand and are confident in doing a service in the most humane way possible. The simple fact is, an animal does die for your benefit. Treating the animal with respect from the start (raising), to the end (killing), is all part of the circle. The difference is, we as producers don’t see our animals as commodities on the stock exchange, and these men processing, clearly do not see their facility as a plant working on volume and cheap pricing. You can hear and see the respect and pride they have for the animal and producer. These are not dollar sign commodities. This is food!
    Well done!

  17. Cathy Walsh

    I had to have a talk with myself about watching this video. I decided, since I eat meat, I should watch and fully understand the process, and also hear what had to be said. I’m very glad I did. I appreciate that the video starts with such a well-spoken introduction. It allowed me time to understand the process, and still gave me a chance to “back out” and not witness the kill, I appreciated that.

    Once the kill process was underway, I had to avert my gaze a few times, but the filming was respectful and quick. While listening to the preamble, I thought maybe this would be a turning point for me, and change me to vegetarian. It hasn’t. Not at all. It was educational and eye-opening. I am sorry to hear we don’t have a market for oxtail, briscuit, bones and and the like. I’m afraid to ask what our local chefs use for beef broth? I’m certain the answer will be Knorr beef cubes!

    Seeing the cow split and hung, triggered a memory. I’m sure as a child growing up I used to see that very image in the back of Safeway behind the meat counter. Of course now, we consumers are shielded from “behind the meat counter”.

    Thank you Kevin and Co.

  18. Kevin

    When the opportunity came up to shoot this episode, I was extremely excited. As the date approached, I got increasingly uneasy, not about shooting the process, but about the possible negative fallout that could happen if it came across poorly and depicted the meat shop in a negative light. Thought I’d get a lot of raving, ranting folks opposing animal death and so on. Perhaps that’s still coming.

    I don’t even know what to say about all the thoughtful and supportive comments and thanks, other than ‘thank you’. I’m truly impressed.

  19. Karin

    Thank you for giving the small abbattoir owner a voice. This is not an opportunity that often presents.
    My husband and I are building a small herd of Dexters that we direct market. As a stay-at-home mom it falls to me to arrange for the butchering, meaning the local butcher does an on-farm kill. This past spring my three and two year old were on hand to watch the entire process, from rifle shot, bleeding, hanging from the tractor, gutting and putting the halves on the trailer. What an experience trying to first see it from their eyes and then translating what was happening, as it was their first view of death and also as it related to their supper plates. It turned into a great anatomy lesson as my daughter pointed out intestines, etc and didn’t mind bits of blood on her rubber boots as she carried feet to the trim trailer. Both wanted to help and learn. It’s become an important reference point for our family, from bringing just-shot ruffed grouse into the house to farther-reaching topics about life, family, ethics, etc.

  20. Jerry

    I have nothing much to add after all the great comments but just want to offer my two cents to say that you are doing some very important work here, Kevin. Kudos for working so hard to bring people such vital old information. As someone who has made a partial return to farming and is considering making the move full-time, I have an extra appreciation for the inspiration you are bringing to people.

  21. schmitty

    I just found your sight today. Good job! I live in a suburb of Pittsburgh Pa and am fortunate enough to have a little bit of land. Recently I have gotten into the back yard farming thing. At present 6 hens and 3 breeding new zealand rabbits. The rabbits are due any day now. This will be my third litter for the freezer. It was a little bit rough the first time to expell the 5 lb. rabbits. But once you taste the wonderful meat that you raised it’s not so bad. Nothing goes to waste except the head,feet,intestines and hide. Rabitt heart and liver is delicous. Still working on a use for the hides (seems like such a waste). Not really subject matter. I will check back to your sight. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK

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  23. Sherri

    Absolutely brilliant. Very well done, Kevin. Your interviewee was extremely articulate, and he hit a number of points that are very important to us as a family. We have purchased our meat through local producers for a few years now and will never buy it at a grocery store again.

    I like to think about how families brought meat to the table a few generations ago – it was ACTIVE, MINDFUL, PURPOSEFUL and INTENTIONAL. Hunting, fishing, raising animals for meat, butchering, processing, curing, salting, etc… Obtaining food for the table was all consuming, important work. We must bring that mindfulness back.

    Although we personally don’t raise meat animals on our land, we purposefully and intentionally choose to support local producers who are raising animals humanely and sustainably, with care and attention to the finished product. We no longer spend our grocery money in stores – we spend it at small local farms :)

    I have witnessed the slaughter/butchering process first hand several times. I agree wholeheartedly that done right, it is most definitely an art.

    Thank you for this piece. The video is powerful, humbling and reverent. Well done.

  24. Greg

    Kevin, you’re making incredible and important ripples in the pond. Keep up the movement.

    If this comment list is any sort of census, people are ready and willing to re-engage with their food.

  25. Carissa

    Everything I might say in support of this important footage has been said, yet I still want to thank everyone involved. It is tremendously brave to acknowledge our disconnection to the land and our food, then challenge that disconnect in such a visceral way. Like others, I was especially moved by the eloquence and respectfulness of the abattoir owners. This vital work needs to be honored by the larger community. Way to go Kevin!

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  27. Rastalam

    For the last decade or so I’ve been buying a half or whole bison directly from the few Southern Ontario farmers who don’t grain finish their animals. Over the years the small abattoirs here have been seriously reduced in number. Now the farmers are often driving their animals over 2hrs to be killed. Bison stress easily under these conditions.

  28. Chair

    Sad, beautiful, true.

    I’ve recently taken my own steps toward acceptance of responsibility of being an omnivore and am grateful to have come across your site, SO many great videos and so local! (I’m in Red Deer.) I shake my head at how, 2 or 3 generations ago, for this to be shocking or disturbing would be laughable. Our grandparents did this (mine did, anyway, hog farmer and fisherman). My children have said, “Hello!” to young live roosters and ducks and eaten them a couple of days later, asking for seconds. It is difficult: sorrowful, yet an act of respect and gratitude each time.

  29. jeremy

    Hi there,
    well done on an articulate representation of “the process” …..
    the people you have filmed, they are caring compassionate professionals which is what the industry should be all about. Back in the day when animals were processed on farm, this is what is would have been like. When you are processing 5000 head a day, well, its a hard task to effectively manage animal welfare no matter what resources are thrown at it. I actually enjoyed the footage in the sense that the kill and process was very well controlled. Seeing the guys hand cutting the hide…that would never happen in a large establishment. In a more industrial, larger scale process it is about the numbers processed and there are more industrial practices at play, everything is mechanised, hide pullers, fewer knives more bansaws etc.

    well done to you for filming but also to the processors for making it happen.

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