of Veterinary Medicine
The pigs arrive at the slaughterhouse on trucks. The animals are moved through chutes to the area where they are slaughtered. The pig is stunned via electrocution then is fatally wounded via knife to the carotid arteries. The slaughter area has a video camera monitoring it 24/7 to ensure that all workers comply with humane methods of euthanasia. The animal is then moved to the next section where the hair is removed and the carcass is heated with dry flame and boiling water to thoroughly clean the skin. In the next area, all of the organs are removed and evaluated by veterinarians for lesions indicating any disease. Every animal gets inspected in the same way. The pigs are identified by numbers (ID’s) that they can use to trace the animal back to the farm of origin. The intestines go to be processed into things like sausage casings. The carcass is then split into two halves longitudinally and each half is weighed.
The carcasses continue on a conveyor belt into the cold area. The room is at 2° C because they want to cool the meat down to a temperature so the middle of the ham is at 7° C. This keeps the meat properly cooled to inhibit bacterial and other microorganisms from growing in the tissues. Certain parts of the carcass like the head and feet can be removed at this stage to be sent to separate vendors. Otherwise each half is kept intact. These are sent to other places where the meat is divided into different cuts for selling. It is more profitable for Vogler Meat Products to sell the carcass intact than to cut it into the different pieces themselves.
I had never been to a slaughterhouse before. It was very interesting to see the high level of quality measures that goes into processing the meat.
After lunch in Hildesheim, a city dating back to the year 800 with a beautiful market square (once considered one of the most beautiful market squares in the world), we went to Ruthe, a university farm for TiHo and were led around by Dr. Suerie. The farm houses beef and dairy cattle, pigs, laying hens, broiler chickens, turkeys and ducks. Dr. Suerie told us that Ruthe was opened in 1961, then recently revamped in 2010, 10 years following the world expo in Hannover in 2000. The farm is on 240 hectare, of which 175 hectare is crop fields: sugar beets, barley, wheat, and corn that are used to make silage for the animals. The farm is mainly used for educational purposes, for students in the veterinary curriculum at the University of Hannover (TiHo). For many of the students, it is the first contact they’ve had with food animals. They are required to spend two weeks there working with the animals, learning the husbandry and everything that is involved with raising food animals. The farm also does education for local farmers to show them the proper way of raising these animals. They also do outreach with local children so that they understand where the products they buy in the grocery store come from. Dr. Suerie said that when most of the students come, they think it will be really boring but when they leave, they realize how much they have learned.
We visited each of the areas that house the different species. They have a small group of beef cattle that are used solely for education. We first visited the dairy cow barn. The animals are housed either on slurry (manure) or straw. The straw is more comfortable for the animals but is bad if it gets wet and produces a lot of waste. The slurry can be used in the fields as fertilizer so there is much less waste.
The most interesting aspect of their facility is that they have an automatic milker (robot). The cows are trained to know that they will receive something tasty when they enter the machine. The cow can go in whenever she wants, as opposed to having set times for milking as in most systems. The cows wear a collar that has a type of microchip inside with the cows’ ID number. The machine reads the number when the cow enters the milking area so that it is recording each cow’s yield. The entire machine is automatic from the rinsing of the teats to the placement of the pumps and actually pumping the milk. The cows receive special feed and they never do any type of procedures that could be viewed as negative by the animals when they are in the milking chute. Next we visited the laying hens. Two years ago, cages were outlawed in the European Union because of the popular opinion by the public that cages were worse than large enclosures. By 2012, all of the farms have to switch over from cages. However, Dr. Suerie said that the hens were healthier, more efficient, and the eggs were not broken as often in the cages. Sometimes there is a lot of aggression between the hens. When the hens lay the eggs, they fall through slots in the laying area and go on a conveyor belt to try to minimize the amount of damage to the eggs. Each hen produces about 320 eggs per year.
The pigs were housed in a separate building. On average each sow produces 6 piglets. They have 2.3 weanlings/year on average, producing about 24-26 sellable piglets. After birth, the sow is kept in a ‘piglet-saver.’ This is to ensure that she does not roll over on the piglets and kill them. However, she doesn’t have as much ability to get away from the piglets when she doesn’t want to nurse them. Another method of housing that they are investigating is to house the sows in a group environment of 3 sows and 3 nests. This allows the piglets to get familiar with other litters. This is closer to what pigs would do in the wild. They guard the nest and keep it clean, leaving to eat, drink, and urinate/defecate in the central area between the nests. At 5 weeks old, the piglets are weaned and this method of group-housing makes the transition a little less stressful for the piglets.
The farm houses 18,500 broiler chickens at any one time. Chicks come into 4 different large rooms where they are grouped housed. They are in a controlled temperature environment with fresh water and a high concentrated nutritious diet. There are three stages to their nutrition: starter, fattener, and finisher. Personnel walk through the areas 4 times every day to check the health status of the chicks as they grow. The chickens are vaccinated right out of the egg and then again via their drinkers. The water is shut off an hour before vaccination to ensure that the animals drink the water that contains the vaccine. Hormones and antibiotics are forbidden to be used in Germany. At 32 days old, they are sent to slaughter. Immediately after the animals have left the facility, the 7 day cleaning and disinfecting process begins. The entire room is thoroughly washed and disinfected using different methods including hot water, chemicals, and high pressure washes to have the best control of pathogens possible.
The farm also houses turkeys and ducks raised for meat. The turkeys arrive at the farm weighing 58 grams and leave at an average weight of 22 kilograms. Dr. Suerie said that the turkeys are not the smartest animal; it takes a long time for them to learn where their feed and water are located in the barn. Also, when they get scared, they all run against the wall and try to climb on each other, sometimes crushing other turkeys in the process. Ducks on the other hand are extremely intelligent and easy to handle. They have Peking ducks at Ruthe that are there for 40 days and weigh 3kg on average. The main problem they have with ducks is getting them adequate access to water to bathe in without introducing harmful bacteria like Salmonella. They are trying to teach the ducks to use a ‘shower’ that runs at certain times of the day. They have had variable success with teaching them this. Also with ducks, they have to worry about them jumping on each other and hurting/scratching each other when they are frightened and try to flee. Dr. Suerie was very informative and we learned a lot about the food animal industry in Germany.
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