Your Working Catholic blogger frequently drives through Chicago’s abandoned stockyards on the way to the ballpark, but the area doesn’t visually tell much of a story. Back in the day, 50,000 people worked on the killing floors, where each hour 600 animals were slaughtered and packaged. That history is the subject of Slaughterhouse by Dominic Pacyga (University of Chicago Press, 2015). Pacyga knows the old stockyards well; he once worked there and he has talked with plenty of old-timers and with people at the two, small remaining meat plants in that neighborhood.
Nowadays stockyards are dispersed in remote areas, like Cargill Meat Solutions in Schuyler, NE. The plant employs about 2,000 workers who slaughter over 5,000 cattle daily. Ted Conover worked there as an inspector for USDA.
The stockyard is loud and dangerous, Conover reports in Harper’s Magazine (5/13). The workers, though relatively underpaid, are competent. There are about 15 USDA inspectors on each of two shifts at Cargill. They are interspersed with Cargill workers along the line and use knives, pliers and hooks to cut into cheeks, lymph nodes, organs and other animal parts—about four seconds for each procedure. They can condemn specific animals and if warranted can even shut down the entire plant. Read more