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Steven Braun, Ruhr-Universität Bochum

The relation between humans and animals is subject to constant change. At the beginning of human history, animals were either a threat or a source of nourishment and raw materials. Over time, humans learned to domesticate animals and to use them as livestock. The emergence of pets and companions is a product of the recent past. While an increasing number of animals were humanised in the domestic environment, the killing of farm animals evolved in parallel towards an industrialised method: away from individual farmers and farms, towards institutionalised complexes and structures. The instrumental relation between humans and animals came to an abrupt end in the modern era, caused by the development of Fordism and the industrialisation that accompanied it. This paper considers factory mass animal slaughter as a practice. Artefacts, images, documentations, reports and manuals describe various techniques commonly used in slaughterhouses. A particular contemplation is given to the documentation of chicken carrying based on participant observation. 

Industrialised cattle and pig slaughtering 

The slaughter of cattle and pigs is composed of eight techniques. The animals are usually transported to a slaughterhouse by truck. In Germany (and the European Union), there are regulations regarding the duration of such transports, although these primarily protect motorists. In the United States, transports take place for up to 48 hours. Common to all transports is that some animals do not survive due to weather conditions (extreme heat or cold), lack of water and the stressful and crowded transport situation. In pig transports, e.g., from the Netherlands to Italy, over 50% of the pigs die of circulatory failure (Holleben and Wenzlawowicz, 2008, pp.447-448). Once they arrived at the slaughterhouse, the cattle or pigs wait in a small fenced area in front of the slaughter room. In Germany, it takes a maximum of 12 hours until the animals get slaughtered; in the USA, up to 48 hours. During this time, the animals are given water but no food. The animals stand close together in a so-called collection box, which facilitates it to drive the animals successively into a barred sluice. For this purpose, iron pipes or whips (in Germany) or electrically charged cattle prods (US) are used to hit the animals from behind to drive them into the barred sluice. The prods cauterise the animals’ skin in many cases. The sequence of transport, waiting in a collection box and driving into the sluice are steps that take place successively regardless of where the slaughter takes place and how modernised the process already is. The animals enter the slaughter room through the sluice. Monochrome, splash-proof tiles on the walls and floor are standard and can be identified as artefacts, just like the slaughter tools. Often it is not easy to herd the pigs into the collection box because they do not want to move in the direction of the blood smell.  

If the workers assess the herding as too time-consuming, they accelerate the process violently. The pigs are kicked or beaten on the back with iron bars and driven to the collection box. Documents from American slaughterhouses clarify that cattle prods are used to injure sensitive body parts such as the eyes (Eisnitz, 2007, position 707-709). The already gutted, skinned and bled bodies from the previous slaughter hang in the slaughterhouse. Likewise, other animals are already hanging from the restraining chains. Some are conscious and move wildly with jerky movements out of fear. Dead and skinned animals are hanging nearby the twitching animals, as well as those that have already been stabbed and are bleeding out. 

The animals are first anaesthetised. For this, different techniques are used, which vary depending on the size of the animals. Cattle are usually stunned with bolt guns. However, this technique has considerable error potential: the animals are usually nervous and fearful due to the transport, the new and unfamiliar environment, and the sounds of the slaughtered animals. Therefore, it is not uncommon that they move their heads violently, which causes defective bolt shots (Monson, 2005). As a result, around 200,000 cattle in Germany regain consciousness during the actual slaughter, i.e., cutting the throat, skinning or dismemberment of the body. Furthermore, the bolt gun’s application point has a decisive impact on the stunning effect and varies depending on the animal species. This is because different species have different brain sizes. In addition to the flawed handling of the bolt gun, other (economic) reasons cause an ineffective stunning. Safran Foer’s research revealed that “the effect of stunning is often reduced because some slaughterhouse managers think that an animal may already be too dead after the bolt shot, i.e., the heart is no longer pumping, for which reason it could bleed out too slowly or not sufficiently” (Safran Foer, 2019, p.263). 

Figure 1: Bolt gun manual (Source: GFS-Top-Animal-Service GmbH, 2020)

Usually, the animals are stunned successively with the bolt gun. When production increases, more animals have to be stunned in a shorter time frame (Monson, 2005). This means that the animals are not led individually but in groups into the barred sluice. The stunner starts shooting as soon as the first animals enter the sluice. While it is difficult to keep track of which animals have already been stunned with the bolt gun, some animals remain unanesthetised (Eisnitz, 2007, position 338-339). While some animals go down, others jump wildly and trample each other. An interview conducted by Gail Eisnitz, a former slaughterhouse worker, describes the consequences of the fast work pace as follows: “To get done with them faster, we’d put eight or nine of them in the knocking box at a time. As soon as they start going in, you start shooting … (Eisnitz, 2007, position 337). 

Another technique of anaesthesia is injection. However, due to its time-consuming and cost-intensive nature, it is used so rarely that it should only be mentioned for the sake of completeness. Pigs are usually also stunned by a bolt gun or electric shocks. In smaller to medium-sized farms, a pair of tongs is placed on the head of the aimed pig, through which an electric current runs. The pig is first driven through a narrow alley made of two elongated metal guides facing each other. This restricts the pig’s movement to only move straight ahead towards the stunning tool. The staff drives the animal until it reaches the exit with its head. The stunner fixes it. The forceps must be applied precisely to stun the animal for 30 to 60 seconds (Monson, 2005). The problem is that if this is not done properly, injuries and blood stasis can occur. These reduce the value of the meat. Therefore, the intensity of the current is kept lower regularly. This prevents external injuries, but stuns the pig only for a (too) short time or not at all (Eisnitz, 2007, position 526-527). In larger farms, the current is transported through a narrow, aisle-shaped facility, the restrainer. The animals are trapped in this enclosure and are energised as they pass through it. The electric shock provokes an epileptic seizure in the animal, which is intended to stun it. The fact that a significant number of pigs retain consciousness is the common scenario. The advantage of the restrainer is that several pigs can be stunned at the same time and the stunner does not have to place the current clamp on the head of each pig. If it is not possible to drive the pigs through the restrainer, for example, when they are lying down due to exhaustion, a hook is driven through the snout to pull the pig forward. Optionally, the hook is driven into the anus (Ibid., position 698). For some animals, this results in injuries and tears, which can lead to exposed intestines. 

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Figure 2: Restrainer for stunning pigs (Frigomaq, 2020)

Gasifying pigs is a relatively new technique that is gaining popularity. After transport and waiting in the collection box, the pigs are herded through a sluice into a gas chamber in small groups (Ramezanian and Haase, 2018). Typical artefacts such as pistons, rods or cattle prods are used in this process. The gas chambers are called gondolas and resemble a large oven. As soon as the group is complete, the gondola is closed and driven underground. A CO2 gas mixture is then pumped into the enclosure, which is inhaled by the pigs, causing them to lose consciousness. It takes an average of 12 seconds for the animals to become unconscious. During this time, one can hear the pigs gasping for air and watch them kicking wildly and hurting each other. In this process, mistakes are regularly made, resulting in animals entering slaughter unanaesthetised (Monson, 2005). Nevertheless, gasifying is considered relatively safe. The CO2 gas mixture puts the pigs demonstrably into a terrified state. The use of inert gases, on the other hand, leads to stunning without this side effect. However, the latter is hardly used due to cost reasons (Ramezanian and Haase, 2018).

The next step is strapping [ger: anschlingen]. Immediately after stunning, the animals are transported through a flat conveyor to the slaughterer. Here, the animals are attached to a motorised chain hoist with one leg (in small to medium-sized slaughterhouses) or with both legs (in the large slaughterhouses) for further processing and thus suspended from a pipe conveyor. Kicking animals are stunned again with a hand-held bolt gun or optionally ‘tranquillised’ by blows to the head with an iron bar to make them easier to snare. Kicking animals pose a danger to the one who strappes [ger: anschlingt]. The wild movements of the non-stunned animals cause injuries to the arms and hands. Animals that are already suspended often wriggle, that they fall from the pipe track (or the snare chain) onto the floor in the pit. In such cases, the trapper must go after the animals with an iron pipe or a hand-held bolt gun and stun them in the pit. Only then it is possible to snare them. This step, and the stabbing (see below), is where most work-related accidents occur (Monson, 2005).

Figure 3: Slip-on device (Frigomaq, 2020)

In the next step, the animals get pricked. This is done by cutting both carotid arteries with a sharp knife to injure the large blood vessels (Huber, 2018). The stabbing must take place within 60 seconds of stunning, otherwise the animals may become conscious. As noted earlier, a large number of animals are fully conscious when the carotid arteries are cut due to incorrect stunning or due to exceeding the time frame. With an increased assembly line speed, sometimes chained animals hang upside down for several minutes before being stabbed (Monson, 2005). Due to the insufficient oxygen supply to the brain, the animal generally dies after a few minutes. Former workers in American slaughterhouses report that in the early 1980s, parts of the slaughter line were not (yet) designed for the large throughput of animals. They observed that the catch basin below the connecting chains could not hold enough blood for all the animals hanging upside down. Repeatedly, animals were seen hanging fully conscious upside down with their snouts in the blood of the catch basin for minutes, which “blew air bubbles in the blood” and caused them to drown (Eisnitz, 2007, position 714). Stabbing the animals is a particularly cruel technique. 

Different guidelines mean that different tools are available to butchers in European countries than in the Americas or Asia. The pragmatic process of killing (stabbing in the neck) is extended by the sadistic acts of the assembly line workers. These include, for example, cutting off the ears or noses and gouging out the eyes of living animals hanging from chains. The act may differ from region to region, but the essence of the abuse or mutilation is the same and can be traced across countries. Former slaughterers in the American meat industry talk openly about their experiences: “A live hog would be running around the pit. It would just be looking up at me and I’d be sticking, and I would just take my knife and —eerk—cut its eye out while it was just sitting there. And this hog would just scream. One time I took my knife-it’s sharp enough-and I sliced off the end of a hog’s nose, just like a piece of bologna. The hog went crazy for a few seconds. Then it just sat there looking kind of stupid. So, I took a handful of salt brine and ground it into his nose. Now that hog really went nuts, pushing its nose all over the place. I still had a bunch of salt left on my hand-I was wearing a rubber glove-and I stuck the salt right up the hog’s ass. The poor hog didn’t know whether to shit or go blind” (Ibid., position 837). 

A lot can be found in factory workers’ accounts and eyewitness accounts of animals being chained and stabbed without anaesthesia (Monson, 2005; Eisnitz, 2007). After a cow has been bled, it is transported to the head slaughterer. Here, first the front feet are cut off and then the head. Saffron Foer states: “At this point, the cattle should be nothing more than a carcase that is transported to the head slaughterer, who removes the skin from the animal’s head. Only a small percentage of animals are still alive here, but it happens” (Safran Foer, 2019, p.267). The technique carried out by the head slaughterer is called head butchering. The skin is pre-cut, separated and stored in an elaborate process to be used further for leather production (in the case of cattle). The animal is then transported to the foot cutters via a fully automated assembly line (Huber, 2018). Safran Foer describes this process in a conversation with a slaughterhouse employee as follows: “After skinning, the carcass (or cow) is delivered to the foot cutters, who — precisely — cut off the feet. If there are any still alive, says a slaughterhouse worker, it looks like they want to run up the walls […] when they come to the foot cutters, well, of course they don’t want to wait until someone comes and shoots them again. So they just cut the lower legs off with their tongs. And when they do that, the cattle get really wild and kick in all directions” (Safran Foer, 2019, p.267). It is not uncommon for animals to be skinned and have their feet cut off while fully conscious. This process is particularly challenging for the workers. In some slaughterhouses, this occurs so regularly that there are unofficial guidelines on how to deal with the animal in such situations (Ibid., p.267.). Former employees of the slaughterhouse report: “… The skinners were cussing. We were cussing. The whole line was going crazy. Just about every cow that comes down the line -at least a hundred of them- was alive that afternoon” (Eisnitz, 2007, position 171). If an animal is still conscious when it arrives at the head slaughterer, the worker usually cuts the spine off the back of the head with a knife so that the animal stops kicking. The animal is then immobilised, but not deprived of its other senses and sensitivity to pain. In this case, however, the head slaughterer can go about his occupation without being kicked (Ibid., position 179-180). 

The organs and body parts, which are irrelevant for further meat processing, such as eyelids and auditory canals, are discarded. In smaller farms, the cattle are suspended above the knee joints for cutting at the hind legs, so that the hind legs can be cut off below the joints. The internal organs, for example the abdominal and thoracic organs, are then removed and the cattle is split apart with a chainsaw. In large slaughterhouses, this is done fully automatically. After evisceration, the cattle is guided through the pipe conveyor over a saw that splits the animal in two (Huber, 2018). 

The first step in pig slaughter is scalding. During this process, the stunned and stabbed animals, which hang upside down from the restraining chains, are passed through a scalding bath to remove all hair and bristles. The water has a temperature of 60 degrees Celsius. A higher temperature would damage the meat (Eisnitz, 2007, item 592). Due to stunning errors, around 800 pigs are fully conscious in German slaughterhouses every day when they are first scalded (Ramezanian and Haase, 2018). In the United States’ large slaughterhouses, it is common practice due to enormous time pressure to herd pigs alive into the scalding facility to skip the first stations (collection box, sluice, stunning) (Eisnitz, 2007, position 509-511). This procedure is regularly observed by USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) inspectors (Ibid., position 156; Monson, 2005). Alternatively, the animals (chained to the pipe) are led upside down through a narrow corridor where fire hits the body from both sides to remove the bristles and hair. In this alternative, the animals go to the scalding plant afterwards. Similar to the slaughtering of cattle, the removal of the pigs’ heads follows. The pigs are guided fully automatically onto a metal table. The neck is cut wide open and the eyelids and ear canals are also removed. Just as in cattle slaughter, pigs are eviscerated and further processed (Huber, 2018). The inspection of cattle and pigs is done by visual appraisal. On average, the inspector inspects approx. 2,000 animals per shift. This means that each carcass is inspected for about 15 seconds for injuries, infections or diseases as well as contamination by faeces etc. (Monson, 2005). 

Figure 4: Pig slaughter (Eisnitz, 2007, position 526)

Industrialised chicken slaughter 

Due to their small body size, the industrialised slaughter of chickens is partly different from the slaughter of cattle or pigs. The animals are packed into transport boxes from the breeding and fattening facilities when the chickens are carried out of the barns. For this, the chickens are caught and then held upside down by their feet and collected. Usually, each tamper carries two to five chickens per hand to the truck. There, the animals are received and crammed into transport boxes. Depending on the size of the steel box, there is room for up to five chickens in one box. Due to the confusing situation, the animals are agitated and cluck, kick and scratch. Many of the stuffers have deep furrows and cuts on their hands from the animals’ claws. It is common for stuffers to wear gloves. However, many refrain from it in order to carry more chickens per hand. Unlike cattle and pig slaughter, the animals are stacked in crates at the beginning of the slaughter line immediately after transport. Because the chickens are already in cages, there is no need for a collection box or a barred sluice. The animals are taken out of the boxes and hung upside down on a moving belt. This conveyor belt is similar to the restraining devices used in the slaughter of large animals. The animals are still conscious here and are not anaesthetised until the next station. 

Figure 5: Chicken treadmill ( n.d.)

The treadmill runs over a narrow collecting tank that is filled with water and is under power. There is only room for the heads of the animals hanging upside down. Successively, the heads are pulled through the electrified water so that the animals lose consciousness. Afterwards, the chickens are stabbed, as in the industrialised slaughter of their four-legged counterparts. However, this is automated in the sense of Fordism: In large farms, the chickens do not have to be stabbed by hand by a slaughterer. After the anaesthetic bath, the treadmill leads the animals over a saw that cuts open the chickens’ necks. The animals bled out while they got transported to the next station. Below the conveyor belt is a large metal collecting basin. The blood of the chickens is collected in it. The feathers are removed from the animals with water heated to 60 degrees Celsius. Since the saw does not always accurately hit the animals’ necks, many chickens end up alive in the scalding area (Monson, 2005). Scalding is followed by the removal of the head and feet. Unlike large animal slaughter, this technique is carried out by one person and not separately by the head slaughterer and the foot cutter. In few very large farms, the head of the chicken is cut off by a second saw. However, it is more common to cut it off by hand, because too much inaccuracy in the saw exposes the carcass to injury, making it useless as a final product. Finally, the abdominal and thoracic organs are removed and the animal is chilled for further processing. In the United States, the carcasses are pulled through chlorinated water and then filled minimally with salt water using a syringe. This is to cleanse the animals of blood and faeces on the one hand and to increase the weight of the animals for sale on the other. 

It should be emphasised that the steps described for the industrialised slaughter of chickens, pigs and cattle are based on descriptions from large slaughterhouses of the 21st century. Smaller operations differ from those described so far, mainly because some of the techniques are not fully automated. In large animal slaughter at such places, the animals are also delivered from the surrounding farms and wait in the collection box. Then the animals are led into the barred sluice one by one. The stunner logically works more slowly than it is possible in the assembly line production. Nevertheless, the steps are almost identical. The animal is anaesthetised (usually using a bolt gun) and latched on. It is then pricked and the head is removed. This is followed by the manual removal of the feet and skin. It was the same with the slaughterhouses at the beginning of Fordism. Parts of the labour chain were not yet automated and were done by hand. Nevertheless, they followed the same patterns and were gradually replaced by machines or new placements on the assembly line due to technological progress. The description of the practice in relevant novels (Wahn, 2013) corresponds to how it is presented in this report. 

Working conditions 

Working conditions in slaughterhouses vary from region to region. This has to do, among other things, with the different positions of workers within the factories. For example, Germany’s labour law is different from the one in the United States or Latin America. Nevertheless, the working conditions make it clear through their strong references to Fordism and thus industrialised (fully automated) production that the slaughter of animals is a practice. The inadequate and sometimes non-existent stunning of animals has direct consequences for working conditions in slaughterhouses. As one former slaughterhouse worker reported in an interview with Eisnitz:  
“I have almost had my clock stopped [been killed] a number of times by live cows kicking wildly as they were skinned while still conscious” (Eisnitz, 2007, position 153).  

Comparable to the situation at the beginning of industrialisation, the high pace of work leads to many occupational accidents. Slaughterhouses have a higher-than-average injury rate of 27% for those working there (Safran Foer, 2019, p.265). The lack of safety precautions repeatedly puts workers in danger. For example, former employees of large slaughterhouses in the USA report that chain slings are not properly fastened and fall on colleagues. Also, sewers are not adequately cleaned, so that they become clogged with legs, ears and clotted blood. As a result, the drains are not visible and workers handling knives and heavy equipment often fall down (Eisnitz, 2007, position 195). Migrant workers are put under pressure to keep up with the high pace of work. If they make mistakes or get injured, they are threatened with losing their jobs if they complain. A former stabber of a large American slaughterhouse gives the following example: “Sometimes the cow will get up and run through the plant. One time I saw a cow come barrelling down and knock this Mexican fellow to the floor. Ran right over him. I asked the guy if he was hurt. It was pretty plain his back was killing him but he said, ‘No, no.’ He knew Kaplan’s would fire him if he complained” (Ibid., position 172). 

The situation is similar to the supposedly independent inspectors of the US Department of Agriculture. After a probationary period of 365 days, they usually achieve civil servant status. However, if an inspector contradicts against the working conditions and criticises, for example, that the animals are exposed to unnecessary suffering due to a lack of stunning and that the workers are exposed to unnecessary dangers, they run the risk of being dismissed (contrary to the law) (Ibid., position 236-240, 320). 

The slaughterhouses usually run in three shifts. There is an average daily quota of animals to be killed and processed. As in any other factory, there are always delays or disruptions in the process. To meet the quota, the workers are pushed by their supervisors to work at a higher speed. Injuries to employees are deliberately accepted to achieve the daily economic goal. In case of incidents that incapacitate a worker on the assembly line, the assembly line is not stopped. The animals are then stabbed, skinned or scalded alive to not lose money (Ibid., 353, 658). A slaughterhouse worker describes this vividly in an interview with Eisnitz: “When I first started the job, I ate speed just to keep up with all the live hogs. The third period was the roughest because the supervisors would crank up the chain speed to get their quota out. They’d say, ‘Let’s rock and roll!’ You’d look at the clock and figure out how many hogs you had left to kill. When it was finally over, you’d go home and just die” Iibid., position 543). 

The working conditions, of which some are dangerous and some inhumane, permanently change the person’s character. Just like in the times of industrialisation, the stabber is replaceable, which explains why the people in charge do not care about the welfare of the employees. The constant killing of animals, handling carcasses, and watching sadistic abuse directly affects those working in slaughterhouses. In the interview with Gail Eisnitz, a stabber reports: “Down in the blood pit they say that the smell of blood makes you aggressive […]. You get an attitude that if that hog kicks at me, I’m going to get even. You’re already going to kill the hog, but that’s not enough. It has to suffer” (Ibid., position 821). With regard to Fordism, which has been developed at the beginning of the 20th century, it can be noted that the raw materials on the assembly line are different. However, the actions within the slaughterhouses represent the same practice. 

Chicken Carrying – An Observation Protocol 

For the research on the violent practice of mass animal slaughter, I read several essays, articles and books, watched documentaries about slaughterhouse operations and studied an even larger number of pictures. Despite several requests at various establishments, I was denied direct access to a slaughterhouse. This was justified with the current situation in the context of the Corona pandemic (in spring 2020). I was also told that the slaughter room and the production line were not open to the public. However, through personal contacts, I was able to visit a poultry farm and witness the chicken-carrying process there. This is a poultry farm in X that breeds chickens and supplies wholesalers and slaughterhouses. The actual slaughtering does not take place at the poultry farm. Even though the slaughter was the focus of my interest, I wanted to observe the technique of carrying chickens as part of the practice of mass animal slaughter. However, a prerequisite for my presence was that the date, place, people and poultry farm have to be made unrecognisable and not to disclose what kind of chicken was being bred. It was not possible to take photos or record the conversations. However, I am allowed to reproduce what was said. I was also asked not to describe the colours of the chicken farm trucks or anything similar, as this could give information about the farm. As a result, all that remained was to make a memorial record of the observation after my visit. 

I reach the poultry farm on a morning in April. The weather is spring-like pleasant and I turn onto a long road in a rural area. At the end of the road, the farm is visible. To the left and right of it, only woods and meadows. As I drive onto the farm, I can already see chickens and geese on the meadows. I park in front of a large family house built in country style. The flowerbeds in front of the house are elaborately and colourfully planted. On one side of the yard, I notice a large garage standing open, exposing a view of several tractors. On the other side, two large, elongated sheds can be seen where the chickens are kept. Behind them, I see more typical halls housing equipment for farming. In front of one of the halls, there is a truck. Many metal cages are stacked on it. A woman and a man are standing between the hall and the truck. The two are dressed typically for a farm, greeting me in a friendly manner. Another much younger man is standing on the truck. He nods at me. I had already talked about my request on the phone. On the spot, the older man asks me why I want to help carry the chickens, again, as “the animals like to scratch sometimes”. I explain that I am writing an article on the violent practice of mass animal slaughter, describing the different techniques. Besides studying literature, pictures and documentation, participative observation is a central tool of empirical research. The younger man on the truck has to suppress a smirk visibly. He looks at me with a strong gaze and says: “The way you say it sounds funny. What does slaughter have to do with violence? But as long as you help us carry, it’s fine with me. There are only three of us today anyway.” 

I am told that we are only packing a small number of chickens today and that they are going to a friendly farm that is in trouble due to the current situation. My enquiries on the point are ignored. Since background information is irrelevant to me at this point, as it is about observing the technique, I do not ask any further and have the procedure of carrying the chickens explained to me. 

The older man will enter the hall and catch the chickens running on the floor. He will hold these by the legs and hand them upside down to his wife and me. As soon as we have enough chickens in our hands, we carry them to the young man standing on the truck. He takes over the task of stuffing the chickens and puts them into the cages. 

Before we start carrying chickens, I put on gloves that I brought with me. All three laugh. The woman tells me that this way, I do not have enough feeling in my fingers to carry more than one chicken per hand. “It takes too long,” she tells me. I stand in the doorway of the hall. This is huge and I am looking at so many chickens that it is impossible for me to estimate how many there are. Since I was not allowed to take pictures, I picked out a photograph that depicts a similar location and situation. The site I visited was smaller than the one shown. It was also not as crowded. 

Figure 6: Chicken breeding facility (Gäbler, 2019)

The chickens are handed to me and I carry them to the truck, where they are taken from me and packed into the cages. I am surprised that the chickens are so heavy, as I had imagined them to be much lighter due to their small size. The young man packs two chickens per cage. “We’re not packing that many today anyway, they’d better have more space,” he replies to my quizzical look. The whole thing is repeated 10 – 12 times. Then I take off my gloves, because I really can’t carry more than one chicken per hand. Even with the gloves on, I already have some scratches and cuts from the excited chickens on my forearms. The noise increases as the man runs through the hall and catches the chickens one by one. They cluck wildly. Carrying the chickens without gloves makes it easier. At the end of the morning, we finish after one hour, my hands and arms are scratched and battered. Usually, they have hired three men from Poland to help on the farm and carry the chickens. They carry up to five chickens in each hand. I didn’t get more than two per hand. And not very often either. I am exhausted from carrying chickens. Before I leave again, we have a cup of coffee together in the family’s office, which is on the ground floor of the country house. The office looks like any other: There are two large, light grey corner desks in front of the windows. A computer on each side. On the walls are large shelves filled with black file folders. We sit in the middle of the room at a round-shaped meeting table. “When we pack for the slaughterhouses, it takes a good 2 to 3 hours. It depends on the size of the truck. We have only packed the small one now. And our boys pack even faster than you.” It’s lunchtime and we’ve finished our coffee. I thank him for the morning. The older man tells me I can come back any time if I am willing to help carry the chickens. 

Steven Braun studies in the master program Social Science (Culture & Person) at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum (September 2020)


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