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Behind the scenes of the fight for the protection of animals and workers and the preservation of the environment - my experiences as a Tyson slaughterhouse hanger/killer turned activist. Exposing the evils of factory farming, by Virgil Butler. If you have arrived here looking for the Tyson stories, view the early archives. Some of them are now featured on the sidebar for easy searching.
Wednesday, October 15, 2003
halfway through the shift. The shaft that the
blade is mounted on got cut in half when the
bearing froze up because it wasn't greased properly.
When the shaft broke the blade flew off and hit the
floor hard enough to dig into the concrete 1/8"
deep. If that blade would have hit my feet it would
have cut them off. It missed me by about 8"-10".
Luckily I was standing just to the side of it instead
of right in front of it.
You see, from time to time, the killer has to clear
pieces of chickens (what they call "debris") from the
machine. This builds up when one has its wing or leg
or something go through there, leaving pieces. An
example would be in the case of a one-legger going
through, the leg would get cut off at the hock so that
the foot would be caught in the guide bars, which trap
the chickens' heads for the blade on the machine to cut
their throats. With the foot in their, their heads won't
go in there and they slide over the top of the machine.
This would make the killer have to kill the whole line, so
you have to do something about it as soon as you see
it happen. Therefore, it was just luck that I was not
standing there when the blade flew with that much force.
Anyway, after this happened, maintenance decided that
the machine would be down for the rest of the night
because the shaft had to be milled by a machinist. It
would take at least 2-3 hours after the machine shops
opened the next day. They didn't have a spare shaft.
So, Richard decided to run anyway and just put two
killers in the killing room to catch all the chickens by
hand. We had to stand shoulder to shoulder and
alternate chickens, killing every other one. It didn't
work very well. It didn't take more than 10 minutes
until both of us were blood-soaked.
There is no telling how many chickens we didn't catch
that went through the scalder alive. We had to do this
for about 3 hours, so there were at least hundreds, if
not thousands that we missed that night. I know I
counted 100 in the first hour that I missed before I
stopped counting them. After that I got tired and was
missing them at a higher rate for the next 2 hours.
And who knows how many I slit, but were not killed
properly before going in. That would have been
most of them, especially after my knife got dull.
That didn't take more than 35-40 minutes. When I
started getting tired my knife nicked my chain mail
glove on my other hand. We had a term for your
blade getting dull. It was referred to as your blade
dying. At least we had the gloves. We didn't used to
have them and I have many scars on my wrsts and
hands from the years without them.
They did slow the line down a little bit, to 160 birds
per minute, but that is still each of us trying to slit
the throats of 80 birds per minute for 3 hours solid.
As you might well imagine, this is impossible and I hate
to admit, we did a sloppy job. It was just too fast to
do a proper job and do it quick and clean.
The guy on my right got behind and accidentally cut
a hole in my plastic apron. That made the blood come
through and get all over me. My pants were soaked.
Blood actually puddled in my boots. I took them and
poured them out when I was through. There was
probably about a quart of blood in each boot.
Another aspect of the problem was that the blood
normally goes into the blood trough straight from where
the birds have their throats slit by the blade. This night,
of course, that didn't happen with us having to catch
them as we could by hand. Blood was literally everywhere.
The ceiling of the killing room is 15' tall, and there was
blood on it.
We also couldn't do as precise a job, so many times we
cut into their spine, which makes them flop really bad
and sling blood everywhere. I have seen them flop
hard enough when they do that to sling their head off
and hit you with it.
When I left that room I left a trail of blood 2' wide on
the way to the washroom. Back then they had a shower.
Not anymore because someone stole the knobs if you
can believe that. But that's another story. I won't even
go there now.
Hmmm. That gives me an idea for a future post.
Anyway, by the time I got home my hand was swollen
up so bad that I couldn't light a cigarette. It stayed
that way all day and the next night. I wasn't worth a
damn at work the next night. That was one of the
worst nights I ever spent down there.
It took me a half a bottle of Visine to get all the blood
out of my eyes. When blood gets in your eyes it kind
of sticks there and is really hard to wash out. If it clots
up on your eyeball it can get infected and it hurts really
bad. It burns when you get blood in your eyes, I guess
because it is so salty.
It tastes kinda nasty, too. Nothing in the world smells
like it. Not that much of it. It's just got its own terrible
odor. That's the only way I can say it. You would have
to be drenched in that many gallons of it to understand
how bad it is. It is sickening.
But, of course we know the motto at Tyson - Production
will go on, regardless. How glad I am to be out of there.