Well, it’s been quite a week. I visited the abattoir on Monday at a butchers close to my old primary school. A 7am start really made the whole experience realistic to the working day of a vet. On arrival I recieved my “whites”, to be worn inside during the butchering procedure Including a very attractive hard hat and hair net. I was then introduced to Julia the vet who works for the government’s Food Standards Agency. For those of you who are skeptical about visiting an abattoir, particularly the vegetarians amongst you, this is not something we can simply ignore due to its gore. Appreciating where our meat comes from and how it is prepared is essential for aspirational vets, and not only does it show “the edge” that the university panel are searching for but as my friends and family reminded me, it takes guts, quite literally to observe livestock being slaughtered and prepared for sale.
I hope this run down of events can let those of you who are too squeamish to observe an idea of the vet’s role and give a heads up to those of you considering visiting an abattoir.
Firstly, the vet must observe the animals body condition and check all the passports and paperwork. This gives her an idea of the animals welfare and whether they are fit for slaughter and the paperwork is strictly to ensure the animals are legal for slaughter. The sheep were up first, so we watched the butchers stunning technique. Then we entered the abattoir and inspected the overall cleanliness, especially knife washing. Once Julia has given the go ahead at the live animal stage the butchers are allowed to begin stunning and then quickly hanging the meat and draining the blood. The pigs started off on a simliar process but are bathed in hot water to loosen their hairs and then enter a spinner to remove their hair. Sheep fleeces however are slightly easier to skin. Cattle were slaughtered in the afternoon, a bullet to the head, gives the same effect as stunning: the animal is brain dead but the heart remains pumping the blood out of the body.
Overall, to save the gory details, the meat must be contamination free, this includes all hairs and any intestine excrements, any intestinal fluid is toxic and highly contaminated areas must be stripped from the overall carcus. Intestines are stained blue to state they are not safe for human consumption. Julia is the only person who can “okay” the meat for sale after she has checked the offal (main organs) and carcus for any signs of contamination and disease and then stamps the meat.
So, there you are, my (basic) description of the vets role at a slaughterhouse. In-between the inspections, Julia had a lot of paperwork to complete. She said that for her working with large animals would be physically strenuous without having a warm office to pop back to every now and again.
I had chicken for tea on Monday, thank goodness and the pancakes on tuesday cheered me up no end. It was an odd feeling on tuesday, one I still can’t describe, I was left feeling a little hollow. I don’t feel that this role would suit me as a person, to work 100% at a job, for me, must firstly satisfy my ambitions, I desire to work in an independent mixed vet practice. Here I can build a relationship with the animals over time and especially their owners as I love the balance of working alongside people and animals. I want to look into more vet roles next week and also highlight the roles that are not recognised and are under appreciated for their importance.
As I draw this post to an end I thought I’d mention something I realised from this week’s episode of Rhod Gilbert’s work experience that featured “life as a vet”. It became clear to me that people who aspire to be vets, do not decide veterinary sounds like a good plan B, or as a last resort having thought of nothing else to study. Veterinary medicine is a life choice, it’s developed from a young age and people in the veterinary profession don’t see their jobs as anything other than thier calling, and I realised this is me they were describing, I’ve only ever wanted this, only ever dreamt of this, and now here I am putting all my blood, sweat and tears into getting there. So like Rhod Gilbert summarised, people know that the vets who get there are meant to be there, because they wouldn’t have got there had they not been on it while heartedly from the start.