The six have never set foot in an abattoir before. They watch wide-eyed as the massive Red Ruby bullock crashes to the floor, as the stunning captive bolt pierces through its skull and into its brain. John Cole, the slaughter man, chains the hind legs together and the unconscious bulk is winched off the floor. The animal, hung vertically from the metal bar above, almost looks as if it is performing a pirouetting nose spin. But this Ruby isn’t pirouetting anywhere. As every farmer, abattoir hand or meat hygiene specialist will tell you, once a live animal enters an abattoir, by law it has to be killed. A black plastic bag is pulled over the bullock’s head and a sharp knife is stuck into its throat. The bag quickly fills with blood. Within a minute of being hoisted up the creature is dead.
At Pipers Farm in Exeter, Devon, Peter and Henri Greig have agreed to let a BBC television crew invade. A troop of 40 people, 10 vehicles, seven cameras, a catering truck and two portable toilets have taken up residence for most of September to film series four of Kill It, Cook It, Eat It.
“I don’t care about the animal. It’s food, innit?” Mosun is a 20-year-old electrical engineering student from London and a self-confessed fast-food junkie who eats takeaways three or four times a week. The six volunteers (Mosun, James, Kerrie, Phoebe, Chrystella and Luke) taking part in the programme all have very different backgrounds and opinions about the journey from farm to fork. Kill It, Cook It, Eat It aims to explore those attitudes by demonstrating every part of the process, from rearing through to the slaughter and then eating.
“I believe all killing is wrong and if everyone in the world stopped eating meat today we’d solve the global food crisis and the environmental issues we’re facing,” says 26-year-old James, who has been a vegan for five years. A photographer, he has opted to take part in this process to get the vegan point across, and began with a talk to vets John Webster and Dr Michael Appleby – both pioneers in animal-welfare issues and eminent in their field. Much to farmer Peter’s frustration, James is resolute in his views. Young mum Kerrie struggles to feed her two children a healthy balanced diet on £40 a week. Phoebe, a born-and-bred country girl, spends her weekends riding her horse and hunting. Chrystella is a Greek vegan who’s wavering and Luke is a studying spatial planning but doesn’t do much planning when it comes to food. It’s going to be an interesting series.
Local farm network
Pipers Farm works with about 30 farmers in the area, who provide it with a variety of produce, from chickens and Saddleback pigs to Suffolk lamb and Red Ruby beef. All the meat is butchered on the premises and sold through the Pipers Farm shop, online or to private customers.
Peter is a self-taught butcher. Having witnessed farming methods all over the world and worked with his father Denis at his chicken farm in Kent (Denis pioneered intensively reared broiler chicken production in the UK), Peter and Henri set up Pipers with firm principles in place. Intensive methods are eschewed at Pipers. “If you fast-grow any animal you sacrifice many things, not least animal welfare and taste,” says Peter.
No matter what life the Red Ruby had feeding on the grassy lowlands of Devon for three years, its time was up. The group look on in amazement as the carcass was slowly stripped down and eviscerated. To witness the killing of such a beautiful creature is a humbling, dramatic and unforgettable scene. You can’t be certain that you’re going to cope; the smell is invasive and an abattoir is at best austere and at worst sinister.
This small abattoir is old-fashioned and intimate; each animal is handled one at a time. Some process 800 cattle a day, but animal slaughter is an ugly truth whatever the circumstances. If you are a meat eater it is a fact of the food chain that must be acknowledged. During the course of this experiment our volunteers will watch the slaughter of 12 animals. Then there is the small matter of butchering and eating…
This feature was taken from issue 28 of Countryfile Magazine. To make sure you never miss an issue subscribe today.
MORE FROM JULIA BRADBURY ON WWW.BBCCOUNTRYFILEMAGAZINE.COM: