Happy Canada/Ghana Republic Day!

Happy Canada day, friends!

Today is a holiday in Ghana too- Republic Day to be precise. Workers get the day off, although most stores seem to be open which is convenient for those of us who would like to pop by the market for various celebratory snacks. Without access to maple syrup or a barbecue, we have decided against attempting a traditional celebration and instead will be preparing our favourite dish- plantain chips with guacamole -as our special meal tonight.

Yesterday, Dor and I arranged a visit to the local halal slaughterhouse, with the soon-to-be-acting Regional Veterinary Officer Dr.Paul Pulkuun (taking over from Dr.Philip Salia). We also took along vet tech Stephen (pictured performing the rabies diagnostics in our last photo dump) and met up with Elizabeth, one of the veterinary extension officers, at the facility (the extension officers rotate on inspection duty at the slaughterhouse). These officers have the duty of inspecting the animals both ante and post mortem, and have the power to partially or completely condemn an animal.

When we arrived, we were greeted by the surprisingly enticing smells of food, as multiple little stalls were set up around the slaughterhouse grounds. I guess the rationale is that you’re guaranteed to be getting a fresh piece of meat there! We toured the loading area, which is outfitted with a ramp for both loading and unloading cattle from trucks. Cattle are less expensive in this region of the country, and so many are shipped down south (where prices could even be double what is paid here). The holding pens were not crowded, and actually were fairly clean; we were also informed that as cattle are officially required to be rested/fed/watered after arrival, and that sometimes they would be let out into pasture behind the pens. Buyers (mostly butchers) will select cattle from the holding pens, and bargain for a good price (a large Zebu bull might fetch over 1000 Ghana Cedi [~$750CAD], while smaller animals may sell for 400 or more). Individual cattle were tethered at various points along the grounds as well, as people can bring in their own cattle to be slaughtered. Once an animal is selected for slaughter, it will be inspected by a vet officer who must deem it suitable for slaughter. While we watched, many animals were walked through into the slaughterhouse and it was quite remarkable how docile the animals were.

As we were warned in advance that sometimes there was a shortage of water at the slaughterhouse (as is the case in all of Wa), Dor and I were prepared to wade through blood and entrails if necessary, and were also equipped with a dab of Tiger Balm under our sensitive Canadian noses. However, we were genuinely surprised by the conditions within the slaugherhouse- the facility was very airy, with lots of natural light and windows, yet surprisingly devoid of swarming flies. There was very little blood or debris on the floor, as cattle were slaughtered and processed on concrete blocks with wells for drainage- and the odor was scarcely detectable.

Each animal would be led in, then its legs would be tied and the head restrained as the butcher slit the jugular as per halal specifications. Northern Ghana has a large Muslim population, and Wa itself is ~60% Muslim- so all vendors sell halal meat. Stunning is not in practice here, but the bleeding was done quickly and I never once heard an animal bawling or saw one struggle because the handling was so adept. Then a crew of perhaps 3 or 4 men would very rapidly skin and butcher each animal- again, very impressive display of strength and skill. At any given time, perhaps 8 cattle might be within the facility, but each was processed very quickly and efficiently. On the opposite side of the slaughterhouse were stone slabs where pieces were carved up as per individuals’ specifications, and we watched as large hunks of meat and various organs were tossed casually onto the floor of a butcher’s van.

Overall, it was a surprisingly positive experience. In a country where animal welfare is an afterthought at best, the cattle were skillfully and quietly handled, and the facility was again remarkably fresh and clean (although perhaps the introduction of stunning before slaughter, as well as use of refrigerated vans for transporting meat would be beneficial)

Thanks for keeping up with us, and enjoy the fireworks!

Ilona