Earlier this month I headed up to Blanchardville, WI, for a grave and momentous occasion. Our old friends Mark Kessenich and Linda Derrickson decided it was time to haul their mulefoots Cong and Cherry to a small, organically certified slaughterhouse some 35 miles north. A large part of this decision was economically motivated–they simply couldn’t afford to carry the pigs through the winter (where have I heard that before?). This in no way made it an easy thing to do, and the pain of the sacrifice was compounded by the fact that about three months earlier the boars Cong and Churchill had broken out of their pasture, and now Cherry was pregnant and pretty close to farrowing. Her unborn piglets would be lost.

The morning was bright but painfully cold. Mark had already cleared the snow from the long driveway. Denise Benoit and Rob Steinhofer, the farm’s other residents, were on hand to help with the tricky business of separating Cong and Cherry from Churchill and Crystal, who would be soon moving to Valerie Weihman-Rock’s farm in Argyle, where our pig, Dee Dee, is.

First we lured Cherry into a cage from her bedding in the barn. We had to do this with a bucket of grain even though the animals aren’t supposed to eat much before slaughter. Mark drove her up the driveway to the trailer. Meanwhile, Denise and I were supposed to be watching Cong to make sure he didn’t break out of the little enclosure we’d lured him into, and of course the minute we turned our backs on him he busted out and began fraternizing with the rams and ewes on the other side of the fence. Mark, by this time driving back into the barn, was the first to notice this, and it was the first time I’d ever heard him yell. Still, it was a minor crisis, and we loaded up Cong and hit the road.

When we arrived at the slaughterhouse Cong and Cherry were standing quietly and motionlessly in their respective trailer compartments. If they sensed any danger, they didn’t appeared to be stressed. Nevertheless I couldn’t help but project my own hangups a little. I thought they looked sad and a little resigned.

Mark backed the trailer up to a short metal chute that led to a door in the back of the building. Two workers emerged and helped usher the pigs one by one into a steamy holding area occupied by a cow and two other groups of hogs lounging atop each other in separated pens. Cong and Cherry had about an hour and a half before it was their turn, which would give them some time to calm down if in fact they were stressed. Mark and I headed up the street to wait in a cafe.

Next: the Killing Floor