Humane Slaughter Practiced Here

Columns / Dec. 1, 2011 3:21pm EST

By Josey Hastings

In October 2009, an undercover employee of the Humane Society shot video footage revealing appalling abuse of young dairy calves by employees at Bushway Packing, a slaughterhouse in Grande Isle, Vermont. The slaughterhouse was subsequently shut down by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and the Vt. Agency of Agriculture.

As a result, Erika Voogd, an international humane handling consultant, was hired to help Vermont slaughterhouses document and improve their humane handling practices. Voogd trained with Temple Grandin, an animal scientist whose personal experience of autism informs her understanding of animals and how to create more humane conditions for them in slaughterhouses.

When Voogd visited The Royal Butcher on the Randolph-Braintree line this past summer, she talked with every worker, quizzed them, and showed them a training video. “She helped my men take pride in what they’re doing,” said Royal Larocque, owner of The Royal Butcher.

Larocque also had to write up a humane handling plan for Voogd to review.

“Voogd loved the way we were already doing things,” Larocque said. “She had good ideas. She saw we were doing everything in a humane way and doing it right, and she saw ways we could do it better.”

When I asked what can make the slaughterhouse experience easier for animals, Larocque said that “the best experience for an animal is when there are two animals coming to the slaughterhouse together. They don’t like to be alone or taken out of the herd. Two animals together feel safer and they’re not as high strung.”

It’s an ‘Abattoir’

Larocque, who used to be an electrician, started The Royal Butcher eight years ago. “I don’t have regrets because there’s a need for it,” he said. The sign outside his business says “abattoir,” which is the French word for slaughterhouse. Larocque, an avid reader, came across the word in a book and has used it ever since. “I like it better than saying ‘slaughterhouse’,” he commented, though he is not one to balk at the raw reality of slaughtering animals every day.

“You’ll see more people who want to raise animals than want to do this kind of business,” Larocque commented. He added, “I guess when I first started I didn’t really like it, but I wasn’t afraid of it, because I’d watched my dad butcher animals all my life.” Larocque was brought up on an “old style, milk can” dairy farm in Brookfield, where butchering animals was a regular part of life.

The once-common practice of raising and slaughtering animals, for sale or to feed one’s own family, seems to be on the rise in Vermont. According to Larocque, people are becoming more and more interested in grass-fed, local meat. “All my producers are upping their numbers, because everybody’s buying local. I’m maxed out. I can’t take on more producers.”

Larocque also noted that goat and lamb producers need more places where they can take their animals to be butchered. “Lamb producers want to raise more animals, but can’t get them processed, and the goat thing is building.” Though fall is typically the busiest season for Vermont slaughterhouses, because spring-born lambs and piglets are ready for slaughter, The Royal Butcher stays busy year-round.

Expansion Planned

Larocque has received a grant from the state to expand his capacity by building a second cutting room. He can currently slaughter eight animals a day, but can only cut up and package five or six carcasses daily. A second cutting room would allow his processing rate to match his slaughter rate. At the same time, he hopes that Vermont Technical College will use one of the cutting rooms to train students to cut meat.

Although Larocque wants to increase his capacity for processing slaughtered animals, he also wants to be careful not to burn out his workers. The work is hard—the kill floor is hot and steamy, the cutting room is cold, and there is considerable physical effort and heavy lifting involved. Larocque also wants to continue to work with small farms.

“I don’t like working with big businesses. I want to take care of the little guy, the small producers,” he said.

It is Larocque’s hope that he will one day be able to pass on The Royal Butcher to a new owner. “It’s not everyone who wants to run an abattoir, but there is an interest out there in young people. I’m working the bugs out, so when I leave this world, it’s easier for them to carry on.”

Before I left his abattoir, Larocque showed me his motto. It was a short poem, written by an anonymous author, and taped to a sign hanging above his desk. The first line read, “To get the most out of life, we must take time to live as well as make a living.”

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