** Disclaimer: This will most likely not be completely politically correct, but it is my point of view, opinion, and observations, not the point of view or opinion of the university that I attend or the point of view or opinion of the university's meat plant. If you don't wish to read about the slaughter process, please don't read and please don't send me hate emails or comments because you were warned... thank you!**
That being said, I had the opportunity to visit the meat plant at my university yesterday, which is a disassembly house. Most (if not all) of the animals that go through the doors are killed on site and the carcass is broken down completely. They operate a market out of the same building where you can go in and buy steaks, processed meats, etc - that was news to me and I plan on buying steaks tomorrow and grilling!
The reason for our visit yesterday was for an ongoing research study on 2 different drugs on a group of pigs. Groups of 50 or so pigs were slaughtered yesterday and their tissues were examined for pathology (just for a basic health check). The drugs should have no side effects and I'm not entirely sure on the set-up of the study itself (sorry about being fuzzy on those details).
Our plan going in was to analyze different tissues for basic, quick pathology: snout (atrophic rhinitis), lungs (pneumonia), liver (ascarid scars), ileum (ileitis), skin (dermatitis), heart (endocarditis, pericarditis). We donned hard hats, XXXXXXXL sized white coats (they were HUGE), and our boots and coveralls and headed into the main slaughter area. The state inspector was also on site, who examined the tissues first (mostly lymph nodes, quick check of the viscera, etc). He was a cool guy to talk to and he was more than happy to show us what normal tissues looked like.
We also had the opportunity to watch the entire process from start to finish. The pigs, one at a time, walked into a small holding stall and were initially stunned at a really high voltage right behind the ears. This renders the animals unconscious and after they go down, they are stunned again at the level of the heart. They got shackled and raised up, where they were exsanguinated. They then got lowered into the hot bath (about 140+ degrees) so that the hair softened and fell out. After the hot bath, they go into the epillator (?) which sloughs the hair off. The carcasses are then hand prepared by a group of people, where the hooves are removed, excess hair is removed, etc. When ready, the pigs are shackled up again and raised up (the same idea that you've probably seen on tv or in movies) and eviscerated. At that point, the head is removed and that is when we stepped in. We were responsible for removing the snout (with a hand saw) at the level of the first molar so that we could check the nasal conchae for atrophic rhinitis. We graded the degrees of rhinitis on a scale of 0-5 and after the first few, our clinician called us "trained" and let us grade them ourselves. But if there was a question, he was quick to help :) We also were trusted to examine the organs ourselves - we got good at pathology very quickly! Since these were research animals, every single organ was weighed and saved - the reproductive tracts (all males in this case) were photographed as well.
All in all, it was a pretty cool experience. In my opinion, everyone (at least in the veterinary field, but really, everyone) should take an opportunity to see a slaughterhouse and the entire disassembly process. I don't believe the animals were handled inhumanely at all - the voltage is high enough to render them completely unconscious and stop their hearts - the reason they twitch and react to stimulation after being stunned is purely due to muscle reflexes.
Afterwards, the rest of the afternoon was pretty laid back. We rounded on LDAs (left displaced abomasums) and an equine case and called it a day. This morning, I got the chance to palpate about 15-20 dairy cows at the school's dairy farm. Although the 4:45 wake up call was way early, it was peaceful hanging out with the cows while the sun came up and trying to figure out exactly what I was touching. I realized I majorly suck at palpation. I sucked before and I suck still... but I probably will not do it much (if ever) in the future, so it was cool to go out and give it another try. I palpated another mare this morning as well that was about to ovulate. I felt nothing, but apparently she had a 51 mm follicle on her right ovary... oh well!
I also tried my hand at bleeding pigs this morning (taking blood, not killing them!). There were two large boars in isolation at the beef farm that tested PRRS positive and Mycoplasma positive, so we were re-submitting blood and hoping for some negative results. I tried a couple of times with no luck, so I ended up holding the snare for the clinician to give it a go. He isn't totally comfortable with pigs, so I think he was frightened that we would get hurt... these guys were a bit too young to know the extent of their strength so luckily it was a pretty easy process to get blood on them.
Not a truly dull moment on this rotation, and I have enjoyed immensely (other than not knowing ANYTHING about food animal medicine). I think I've learned a lot, but I think I'm ready to be back in the small animal world :)