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Can you give us a brief outline of your job?
The two main tasks of a slaughterhouse vet are hygiene in terms of customer protection and animal welfare. That includes regular inspection routes and supervision of self-monitoring. In regard to animal welfare I monitor the stunning of animals as well as the animal welfare officer and the employees. Besides that, I also have to take samples for different control plans or laboratory tests.
Where did your interest in working in this sector come from?
Actually, I didn’t plan on working at a slaughterhouse. Initially I wanted to work with farm animals.
How did you get into it?
After I graduated I was looking for a job but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to work with farm animals for health reasons. Then one day I was called by the leader of the veterinary office. They were desperately looking for an official veterinarian. So he kind of recruited me for the job.
What sort of different roles did you do to get to where you are today?
The job I now have was my first job after I graduated. But of course I also had to become acquainted with the work and spend a certain amount of hours in the slaughterhouse before I could do the work on my own.
Did you have a plan to get to a certain point/level in your career or did you just keep picking moves that looked interesting to you?
Because of my medical history I couldn’t have the career I actually perused but working as a slaughterhouse vet wasn’t a problem for me at all. I grew up on a farm so I got into agriculture at an early age. I was used to seeing blood and I knew that if I wanted to eat meat an animal had to die for it. Although I am eating way less meat since I am working at the slaughterhouse.
What does a typical day look like for you?
It depends. At one day of the week we are exclusively slaughtering pigs. The rest of the week we do both, pigs and bovine animals.
On such a day I arrive about an hour before slaughtering. I get dressed up and take a look at the pigs. They arrive the day before so they can rest and calm down. After that I will look around the slaughter room and check if everything is clean and prepared. If that’s the case I will check the beef carcasses that have been rejected the day before and arrange further examinations if necessary. Besides this mostly practical work there is also a lot of documentation and monitoring to do. Are the employees complying with the hygiene rules? Are they doing the stunning correctly? Stuff like that. If needed I will take samples and look at the pigs that are being rejected that day. After we are finished with the pigs I will take a look at the bovines. They arrive the same day they are being slaughtered. Last but not least I will check the transport vehicles if they meet the requirements.
What would you say are the best and worst aspects of the job?
The best aspect I would say is that you actually have a chance to engage in animal welfare. I make sure that the animals expericence as little pain and stress as possible during the process. I do so by checking that the employees do their work correctly.
Ironically that is also the worst part, because sometimes, if you criticize something it either doesn’t even make it to court or it will be played down or rejected by the judge. That’s really frustrating.
As a slaughterhouse vet you also play an important role in costumer protection and food safety. Including the protection of zoonotic diseases like BSE or trichinellosis. That specific part of the job has a great importance for me as well.
Another positive aspect is the opportunity to improve the husbandry conditions in the holding of origin by educating the farmers on the correlation between housing conditions and the condition oft he carcasses. All those different aspects bring variety to the job.
What are the main skills you need to be a slaughterhouse vet?
You shouldn’t be too sensitive, because the conversational tone can be really rough. You should stand up for yourself and most importantly you should not be easily influenced. Often deliverers will try to talk you into something or even argue with you. You must be able to maintain your professionality but at the same time make your point. Therefor communication skills are really helpful as well. Most importantly you have to be motivated and willing to make a change.
What are the common misconceptions that people have about the work you do?
Among the farmers there are often misconceptions if I reject multiple animals from their stock. In reality when I reject an animal I do not know which farming business it came from. But farmers tend to think that we personally don’t like them or that we get more money the more animals we reject. We only follow the legal requirements.
And what we also hear a lot from deliverers is that we are too strict and that they don’t have to do certain things at other slaughterhouses.
On the other hand, if there actually is a food safety scandal, people will blame us because they think we didn’t do enough to prevent it.
What advice would you give someone wanting to break into this career?
Stick to your opinion, do not bow down, don’t tolerate everything. And most importantly be straight forward and don’t just drop hints. Most farmers won’t get them and will just keep making the same mistakes all over again.