Monday, 30 January 2012

Not For The Faint Hearted

John Gray, over on Going Gently is about to send two pigs he raised to slaughter.

I know that a lot of the blogs I follow, and the readers who follow mine, are very keen on shooting and fishing. I know I am, and I have already taught my oldest son, Dominic, to handle a weapon safely.

To me, just as there is to most ‘honest’ hunters, there is a bloody huge difference between shooting for the pot an animal that you have had to find and track yourself, and trophy hunting. It is a huge generalisation but I am sure that guys like SBW, Bashing Bambi and Rasch would agree with me that the average ‘Trophy Hunter’ nowadays is usually some fat sod with too much money, willing to spend a fortune on visiting a game ranch and, with the help of local guides, be led to the exact spot where a half tame animal can easily be shot.

Equally though, I am sure that SBW, Bambi Basher and Rasch would agree that a lot of endangered species would be extinct were it not for the fact that some people ARE willing to shoot them, have them mounted to hang over their Californian or Texan fireplaces and spin story after story to no doubt enthralled guests. It is the fact the business, and it is a business, is worth so much money that makes it economically viable for individuals, at great expense, to enclose vast tracts of natural habitat, providing their stocked game with a natural existence and support the mainly human resources required to keep out the poachers preventing the total collapse of breeding groups that would inevitably result if the stock were left, unprotected, to their own devices.

It is all very well saying we should ban hunting, especially trophy hunting and leave all the animals alone on a reserve but it never works in practice and there is plenty of evidence to support this contention. Angola has nearly a dozen reserves and you’d be hard pressed to see anything moving on them. There are similar stories from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda although these countries are the best at managing their wildlife resources in Africa along with South Africa. Most African governments haven’t even the wit to provide essential services and stop their leaders dipping their very sticky fingers into the collective till, preferring instead to preside over civil wars and shocking infant mortality and whip up support by suggesting that the well managed reserves and productive farmland they inherited should, merely because the hard working family that turned bush to employment and income for many, should be parcelled up and returned to the masses since the owners are white. Just look at the results of Mugabe’s social land redistribution policy on the economy and living standards of Zimbabwe and the devastating effect it has had on the country’s natural environment and its indigenous wildlife.

Other countries realised the necessity for managed wildlife. The United States, Canada, UK, Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia just to name a few famous shooting destinations, all have managed habitats, strict rules and personnel who manage the environment and its wildlife stock. Like any farmer, they know how many animals can be supported per acre, or in the case of wildlife habitats, per square kilometre so with little or no natural predation, stock levels could increase to the point where the whole breeding group collapses, dying of starvation. This is why it is necessary to cull. If more Lebensraum is not an option, then excess stock needs to be removed. South Africa exports many animals lost to other African countries, Angola even imported Elephants from there. Sometimes, though, there are no takers so affording the opportunity to an individual willing to pay good money, thereby financing the continuance of the whole operation and especially the specie involved, seems to me like an equable and reasonable solution.

It is an unassailable argument for managed wildlife sanctuaries and, rather than rattling collection tins outside supermarkets begging for donations or asking the taxpayer to foot the bill, the need to cull can be profitably achieved by allowing paying clients to do the job. Beardy Bill Oddie would be horrified but, without a hunter willing to pay, there would be a lot less wildlife and our walks in the park or our game drives would be a lot less interesting. Stroll through the Black Forest in Germany and you will see several types of deer, whole herds of them led by magnificent stags, wild boar, all sorts of game birds. I have lived in Angola for nearly twenty years and have never seen a giraffe, a lion, a leopard or an elephant in this country although I did in South Africa and Uganda, on managed reserves. My sons were born in Africa and they have never seen any at all, not even in captivity. Mind you, I can go to the local artisan market and buy a leopard skin so there must be some wildlife still hanging in there by the skin of their teeth.

So, although I would not pay money to shoot anything I could not subsequently eat, I would pay to go and shoot a wild boar, or a deer. I would recognise that the money I pay is helping to keep the enterprise alive, along with, paradoxically, all its viable breeding stock. For those shipping home the heads of the African ‘Big Five’ they paid to shoot, they should be issued a certificate informing the outraged that by paying a frankly outrageous amount to shoot these five animals, the man with their preserved heads on the wall has ensured the survival of hundreds more.

As usual, I appear to be rambling but I have just made a distinction between hunting for the pot and trophy hunting. By exploring that distinction, however, I realise that if anything, the man who goes out on his own and blows away a bit of genuine wildlife, even if it is destined for the pot so getting his food for free, is perhaps behaving less ethically than the man who is willing to pay to shoot whatever he wants knowing the stocks are managed and sustainable.

When it comes to the management of its own resources, be they animal or mineral, Angola is a basket case and a lot of other countries around the world are no better. I have just realised, as I type, I have just talked myself in a circle and into the realisation that there is no difference between shooting for the pot and trophy hunting and that anything else is merely poaching, the theft of a natural resource, be it the property of the nation as a whole, the food supply for a dependant community, or from his Lordship’s managed estate.

On the now rare occasions I get to go shooting, the first thing I do is go and see the traditional leader, the Soba, of the area across which I would like to shoot. Just as man cannot live by bread alone, they realise that they cannot live by meat alone either so I bring them sacks of meal flour, pulses, pasta and cooking oil. The currency may take a different form and my quarry only one I can cook and eat but how can I be distinguished from the trophy hunter? Both have us have paid for the opportunity. The Soba soon realises that by managing, by protecting his stock of wildlife, he has a resource. Instead of allowing his men to kill everything in sight before they are forced to move on and find new hunting grounds, he now knows that within his gift is a commodity that some people will pay to access. By hunting, therefore, we not only provide the catalyst to protect a wildlife resource, we are also providing stability to the population dependant on that same resource, be they the residents of a local village or the landowner who gives up the fruitless production of hopelessly under priced crops and instead turns his land over to the preservation of wildlife, a natural habitat both rewarding his considerable number of staff and providing him the motivation to carry on.

Hunting is eco farming.

John, who is a bit of a virgin when it comes to raising animals, with which anyone who husbands any of God’s creatures will form a natural bond, is understandably nervous now that the whole point of the exercise is upon him. Tomorrow he takes his two pigs to slaughter.

Those who read John’s blog will realise that he is a very sensitive and caring man. And I would agree. He is sensitive, a quality to be admired especially in men. And he is also a Man. He is going to go the whole hog with his pigs and, as far as regulations allow, accompany them on their final trip. Now that takes a lot of courage because, unless you were a cold, heartless and sadistic bastard since birth, I defy any of my hunter readers to confess that they felt no remorse after their first kill and even now feel something for the animal lying dead at their feet. It’s a kind of respect. It may seem incomprehensible, bizarre to some, even gruesome to others but after a kill, I always stroke the animal and mentally apologise that mine was the part in the great scheme of things that ended its life. Then I gut it and eat it.

That animals must die so that higher orders in the food chain can live has not escaped John. That some of us do it ourselves, especially as sport horrifies others. For those no matter how committed to the welfare of their animals while under their care, the first time they are instrumental in the death of the fruits of their labour can only be disturbing. John will remember the last meal his pigs ever ate long after they do. He is making every effort to ensure his pigs are transported as stress free as possible to the place they will, under the carefully formulated animal welfare regulations extant in UK, be stunned by an electric charge, have a sling slipped over a hind leg and be hoisted, twitching above the floor and have their throats cut so that they bleed out into a bucket. Since this is processed killing, they may have to stand in a queue. I am unsure of the basic mathematical comprehension of a normal pig but when the pig at the front, in piggy language squeals ‘God, that hurt’, I am sure the rest are thinking, ‘Christ, three more to go and that’s me’.

John is doing it as kindly as he possibly can. Wouldn’t it have been better all round, though, if he was licensed for a decent pistol, could encourage his piggies stress free into a familiar pen and then while their snouts were buried in a handful of feed, shoot them between the eyes or, better still, in the very back of the neck to destroy the cerebral cortex? From experience, at the safe end of the weapon I freely confess, there is nothing more unexpected and, under the circumstances humane, save perhaps the old buck having enjoyed his life so far in completely natural surroundings, the only thought in his head the choice of dams at his disposal when suddenly, a 30 odd Six core locked soft point takes his heart out. Given the choice between standing in a queue, weeing with fright before being plugged into the mains or being dropped in the bush with a hard on, I know which way I would prefer to go.

I have a few odd pieces of land. Other than over growing with weeds, they weren’t doing much so I thought, why not buy a baby bull, a Bobby Calf, one off the teat that we could fatten up? By the terminology I have just used, the experienced will realise I hadn’t a clue.

He was walked to my house, trying to graze on bits and pieces here and there but since the guy beating him along with a stick was paid by the job, not the hour, the poor little Boi, (pronounced Boyo, not a Welshman, this is what they call cattle here) was pretty bloody thirsty and hungry when he got here and looked so sweet so I emptied all the milk I had in the fridge, heated it up to blood temperature in a sodding great big pan and gave to him.

In the morning, I woke up to find he had guzzled the milk and eaten everything green in my garden. I ran round the garden cursing like hell studying every brown bit of dirt now bereft of anything green with a manic intensity and he just stood there in the middle of the yard, head down but not so far that he could not fix me with his brown eyes. I gave him a bucket of water and he dropped a real good country pancake on my yard.

I’ll tell you, herding soldiers is a damn sight easier than encouraging a calf along. Soldiers will do as they are bloody well told but a calf? He’ll stand there all day sucking your fingers but try and get him to move in anything close to the right direction and you’re stuffed. And don’t, whatever you do, try and push them from behind. I don’t know how many stomachs bovines have but evidently there is some invariably explosive relief afforded by pressure on their buttocks, and all those extra stomachs make the result pretty spectacular to the casual observer.

I was pretty miserable by the time I got him to the overgrown hectare that would be his new paddock.

I returned home knackered, with clothes and flesh the same colour as healthy countryside and shins scuffed to buggery. This bastard didn’t only dump on me, he raked me with his cloven hooves. I had carried enough water, much to the amusement of indolent female neighbours (only women carry water here and rather more efficiently I might add) and filled the half oil drum which I had scrupulously cleaned to provide a trough so he was OK for the night he would settle in to his new surroundings and the night I would need to recover. I poured a stiff scotch and dug out Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Meat Book and decided how I would cook him in a few month’s time.

Well, he was a big hit with the neighbourhood kids. They just loved him. They would play football with him, or at least have a kick around in his yard and he would chase after the ball and if some kid did not swipe it away from under his nose he would sniff at it and push the ball around with his front feet or have an experimental chew. The dogs would follow the kids over the wall into his yard and join in by trying to worry him but he would just put his head down and sucker them before kicking them over the horizon. He never wanted for water or feed. The kids saw to that. In those days most of this neighbourhood was unbuilt plots so the kids would mow all the abandoned lawns and every day he received more than enough hay.

Another neighbour, he had many Boyos, dropped around one morning and said Boyos need nuts as well as well as hay and water. Nuts? I definitely had no nut trees on my property but I had also been on this guy’s property, a man of many Boyos, and I knew for a fact he hadn’t got any bloody nut trees either. These guys love to take the piss out of a foreigner so I have to be careful.

That afternoon he delivered a bag of what to me looked more like squirrel pooh than nuts but he assured me that I should mix this in with the feed once a day.

I did a mental calculation. Cost of feed versus anticipated pounds of steak and how much each plateful would end up costing me. Apparently, if I used this stuff, in no time I would have one mother of a beefcake. Ta, I said, and handed over the cash giving the bag to my juvenile hay collectors and telling them to mix an empty powdered milk tin full of squirrel pooh in with the hay once a day. They dumped the whole bag in the middle of the field. Then it rained and $200 of pellet mound stopped looking like squirrel pooh. Now it looked like the pancakes he was dumping at regular intervals so I am not surprised he ignored all the concentrated nutrition that, had he tucked into, would have turned him into the Mike Tyson of bulls.

Another sack of pooh nuts later, I was feeding him these high protein pellets by hand and he grew. I tried to train him as an explosives sniffer dog (since the heart attack I have been pretty bored) and when it came to pooh, you couldn’t fool him although I am convinced he cheated because every time I turned round while I was trying to bury this stuff he was leaning over me trying to nibble my hat. Even if I tied him to the gate and only let him loose once I had buried the pooh over the far side he would gambol over once I set him loose and snuffle up the stuff. The only explosives I had to hand were bullets. He was rubbish at that.

But he grew up and the time came to turn him from a rather ungainly pet into recognisable chunks of meat, the sort you buy in Sainsbury’s or Morrison’s if you are up north.

I deliberately had not given him a name. There was no point giving him a number or an ear tag, he was only one. He was the only football playing failed explosive sniffing dog bull in the neighbourhood.

‘I’m not going to kill him’, said Marcia.

I hadn’t even taken the pistol out of the drawer, there was no way I could shoot him.

‘Marcia, isn’t there anywhere else where they do this properly?’

‘Oh, sure’, she said, ‘just down the road’.

The driver went with me and we drove the beast the three kilometres to the abattoir. When I say, driver and drove, don’t get the wrong idea. You try pushing a bull into the back of a truck. We walked. We drove this bull in the same manner as recorded by Constable in his paintings.

When you get there, they are pretty quick. I was a bit shocked when I saw the abattoir.

They led him in, very gently and tied him to a post. I know it was a bit insensitive, sick really, but I got the camera out. It was too late to back out now, I had already called Marcia to let her know we had arrived and told her to come with the truck to pick up the remains.

I didn’t know at the time but since it was a slow day, they were going to give an apprentice a bit of experience. On my bull. Apparently the technique is to stab the animal through the back of the neck, severing the spinal chord and this pretty much does for them.

He fucked it up. My bull flinched and looked over to me briefly and then hung its head down breathing heavily . I swallowed a big lump and screamed at the bastards to stop arguing whose fault it was and get on with it. So they pulled my bull in close to a post and the expert took over, lining up well…

And my bull was down.

Goats just get their throats cut.

Then the expert butchers take over.

Since then, I do it myself and, believe me, they don’t see it coming or feel a thing and to this day I always stroke them and, for what it is worth, say sorry.


  1. sobering post tom
    thank you for it....

  2. That was quite gripping, insightful, and thought provoking. Being so close to the source of your nourishment puts a very different perspective than those far removed from the food chain, picking up dinner in a shrink-wrapped plastic package at the local supermarket. Well written - I enjoyed it.

  3. And here's me, not buying Danish pork because the UK's sytem is more humane.

    Footage like this, Africa or not, is enough to make many carnivorous folk start on a celery only diet. Until the next MacDonald's craving at least. Not that there isn't the odd fuck up at UK abatoirs too.

    Same with even fish. I catch and kill my own fish on the whole (IF I catch fish LOL), so I know that the fish has been selected and killed right and quick, not asphyxiated under several tons of other fish, most of which will get wasted, chucked overboard anyway. I fish mainly for the dinner plate so killing them is part of that process. Still, I sometimes have to overcome pangs of doubt before administering the blow.

    I know how to kill a fish quickly. I wouldn't have a clue where to start on cattle or a goat. Do you shoot them Tom?

    John has been honest with himself, and the pigs too in a way. He should be rightly proud of the good life he gave them (better than some, even most pigs) and that they fulfilled thier purpose admirably.

  4. Chris,

    John is an ace bloke and his pigs were very lucky to live their lives with him looking after them. And just look at the community spirit in that Welsh village, everyone got stuck in and helped and the job, when it was done, it was probablly done quickly and cleanly.

    In the villages here, a lot of people keep pigs and fatten them up. Comes time to slaughter them they slip a sling around a hind leg, hoist them and then stick them in the neck to get the jugular and they bleed to death.

    I prefer to shoot them between the eyes and then hoist them and slit their throats to bleed them.

    I have not had animals in a long while now but we are about to move out of town and down to the Barro de Kwanza and I will keep pigs, geese, etc. so I guess I shall have to clean and oil the Cz pistol.

    As an aside, the first time I did this I used an AK 47 which is high velocity. To minimise stress to the pig I decided to shoot it in its concrete pen. The round went straight through its head, ricocheted off the floor and rattled around the walls and I looked up to see two assistants with ringing ears and eyes like bastard saucers and since we were all covered in blood, we looked like mass murderers. In hunting terminology, they call this 'overkill'.

    Since then, I use a Cz 83 which is a semi automatic pistol of 7.65mm calibre.

    I could have just sent the pigs away and have the carcasses returned to me but if I raised them and I am going to profit by their death, be that by enjoying their flesh or selling it, then, like John, I really ought to have the courage to do it, hey? John went as far as UK legislation allowed. Here there is no impediment to going the distance.

    To pick up a point I made in the post. How about instead of me killing the pig in its pen, I let someone else come along and pay to shoot the pig while it is roaming around in the countryside? That has to be even less stressful for the pig and a damn sight more profitable for me and all those who depend on me for their income?


Please feel free to comment, good or bad. I will allow anything that isn't truly offensive to any other commentator. Me? You can slag me without mercy but try and be witty while you are about it.