We arrived at Dawn West Meats in Hatherleigh, Okehampton at around 8:30am and made our way to the gates. It is a strange feeling walking to a slaughterhouse knowing we are going to see beautiful, innocent beings led to their death. It is an experience you cannot truly convey through words but needs to be felt to understand it.
As always, we walked up the drive to the gates and were greeted by security. We are perhaps one of the luckier save groups in that when we arrive, the security greets us with handshakes and comments such as “you like to keep us busy don’t you?” before going over some basic rules which we follow anyway. They remind us the carpark is off limits, not to charge the slaughterhouse and to be wary of the vehicles arriving as they don’t believe they would stop if we stood in their way.
It was almost immediately as we arrived when we heard the cries of cows already inside the slaughterhouse or in the holding areas. It is a sobering and upsetting sound to hear. We stand at the gates and listen to them, to turn away would be to ignore their suffering which we will not do.
It isn’t long before vehicles start to arrive, the slaughterhouse open the gates quickly to prevent the vehicles stopping for us, even though we hold signs such as “No hate for Drivers, we are here to show love to the Animals” and “Please give us three minutes to say goodbye to the Animals”. We are there to be peaceful and every time a vehicle drives in we feel robbed of the opportunity to say goodbye.
Due to the scale of animals led to be murdered the vehicles end up in a backlog with the trucks idling in the yard with the animals stood in the back peering out. Some cry, some move around frantically and some just stand there as their excretions leak from the back of the trailer. This is a common site for us when we stand at the gates, to see the trailer leak a stream of excrement which pools on the ground and heads to the drains. We see it on the floor and down the sides of the trailer or covering the animals who have travelled with it all around them.
It is when the vehicles are backed up when we can bear witness, it isn’t ideal as we would like longer to say goodbye but, for now, it is what we make the most of. During these moments we get to see the beauty of these animals. Such strong inquisitive beings, who have every reason to be fighting against us, but allow us to stroke their faces and nose. They look at us and it is heart breaking knowing where they are headed and we are unable to do anything to prevent their death. We fight for them; we fight to prevent the death of others by showing their experience to the people who can make the difference, consumers.
We stayed in the bitter cold for around 4 hours before we left, it is draining to be witness the scale of death and listen to the laughs of the farmers as they unload living beings as if they are objects. It is hard to experience, but we have an incredible group of people who attend. We support each other, we stand together and we cry together. We gain strength from one and other to carry on and use the emotions to fuel us.
Why Do We Carry Out Slaughterhouse Vigils?
Many people ask why we do it, why would we go to see the animals in their last moments knowing it will be upsetting. Why would we put ourselves through that?
We say, it’s nothing compared to what the animals go through and we feel it is everyone’s duty to bear witness and recognise the plight of those who suffer. To be aware of it, to share it with others as to remain silent is to remain complicit. We offer soothing touches to the animals, we see them, and we let them know we see them.
The vigil stays with you; it gives you an experience to share with others who contribute to the suffering. It is hard for them to argue when you can stand face to face with them and they can see the honest emotion in your expressions and hear it in your voice when you tell that what you saw with your own eyes less than an hour from where they live. Backing this up with imagery and video of cows piled into the back of wagons or responding to touches to their face as you soothe them with soft tones, or the image which always get to me the most, their faces peering out of the trucks as they wait for the backlog of other cows to unload into the slaughterhouse. Their eyes looking around and holding contact with your own.
We do this for them, for the ones who follow and have been before; we do this to share their life and to give the images to the public so they can see where their food comes from. We don’t do this because we enjoy standing outside in the cold, being sworn at by farmers, having vehicles aim at us or seeing beautiful, intelligent animals walk to their death. I am sure there are a million and one things we would rather be doing but until it stops, we will be there as often as we can to make sure the animals’ voices are heard.
Here are a few pictures of the Animals we were able to say goodbye to.