Goodbye to Doris

Doris with one of her litters.

I’ve just come in from shooting Doris, one of the foundation sows of our Berkshire herd.

Doris was an easy sow, had a good life on the croft and paid her way. She was a cracking pig.

She was a little thin after she weaned her last litter of piglets in August. She hadn’t regained condition when she came into season in early September, so we kept her with the other sows and consulted the vet.

The vet recommended we treat Doris with antibiotics in case she had a bacterial infection. She didn’t respond to treatment and her weight gain remained modest.

We separated Doris from the herd and increased her feed ration, but her condition failed to improve over the following month.

After a further consultation with the vet, we decided Doris had either reached the end of her working life or had a growth that was consuming more energy than she could take in.

I would have preferred to cull her at that point, but I don’t have a shotgun certificate and had to wait until a friend with one was available. It wasn’t a huge issue as Doris wasn’t suffering, was eating well, and was more than able to hold her own when put back with the other sows for company.

We arranged to have the friend drop in today, which turned out to be perfect timing. Yesterday, I noticed Doris appeared tired, had a slight tremble and had stopped bossing the less dominant sows.

The Other Half and I moved Doris back in to a pen on her own, fed her well and waited for our friend to come over.

When he and his wife dropped by, I took his shotgun and a single No.5 cartridge out to Doris’s pen along with a bowl of food. I sprinkled the food on the ground then loaded the shotgun while she ate.

As she lifted her head to chew, I brought the shotgun to my shoulder, leaned forward and, with the muzzle just over an inch from her head, shot her just above and between the eyes.


Doris dropped to the ground, dead in an instant as the shot column penetrated her skull and then dispersed through the brain case, destroying the brain and brain stem in an instant.

I much prefer a shotgun for dispatching an adult pig, as does the Humane Slaughter Association.

The dispersal and rapid loss of momentum of the shot after it penetrates the front of the skull means there is much less risk of over-penetration than there is with a rifle bullet while destruction of the brain stem is guaranteed if the angle is right. (It’s much more humane than the method the vet had to use when we had to put Gus, our old boar, down in a hurry.)

Shooting at close proximity means light shot can be used, further reducing the risk of over-penetration. The short range and light shot also reduces the noise, although care has to be taken to not have the shotgun muzzle actually resting on the pig’s forehead. (Placing the muzzle against the forehead is almost guaranteed to blow the shotgun barrel apart. Don’t do it.)

I returned the shotgun and we went in for afternoon tea.

17 Responses to “Goodbye to Doris”

  1. Okay – so I read this with great sadness – but I am a compassionate pig farmer. I have followed Doris on your blog. I dread the day that I have to do something like this – but I guess it will happen. Not sure what to say really – just RIP Doris xx

  2. Goodbye Doris!
    It was a good life.

  3. She had a very very good life and just one very bad day. She lived alot longer than most breeding pigs. You are a good owner stonehead. And the way she was starting to act it sounds like it was the growth, poor thing. At least you got her before she suffered. I hope the rest of the herd will adjust quickly and okay to her being gone.

  4. Best thing is to live a proper piggy life and go out without warning. Doris did not have to deal with wolves or starvation or the human problems of local council officials and tax men, so she had the life of royalty.

    The advantage of the owner doing the slaughter is that she won’t even have had sense at all of unusual behaviour.

    • All our pigs are treated well and respected as pigs. We don’t treat them as pets but we do make sure all their piggy needs are met. As you say, when their time comes we prefer to kill them suddenly and without any hint of stress. Doris had a good life for a pig and a good death.

  5. Often necessary, never easy.

    The humane despatch of any of our animals is the best we can do for them after they have done the best they can for us. You handled it with dignity and kindness for Doris….and you.

    RIP Doris.

    One question – are you able to butcher and eat her yourselves as she possibly died of a growth, not a question you may expect from a vegetarian, but then I am a farmer too!

    Sue xx

    • I’m clearly out of step, as I didn’t find it at all hard or upsetting to shoot Doris. It was always going to happen at some point, probably after her seventh or eighth litter. She didn’t make the eighth but that’s the luck of the draw.

      As for eating her, she was culled because she was ill. If an animal has fresh injury, for example a fracture, and is put down, then the meat can be eaten. But if the animal has a disease, an infection or has been recently treated with medications, the meat is not going to be eaten. It’s not a survival situation so we don’t need to take the risk.

  6. Sorry Stoney

    Sure it wasn’t easy.

    • Actually, shooting her was quite straightforward. I had no qualms whatsoever about doing the job. It’s not PC to say it but that’s the reality. I wouldn’t keep livestock if I couldn’t walk out and kill one when needed.

  7. She was a good pig that served you well. Good on you for doing the same by her. I’m curious if you’re planning to have a necropsy done to see if they can find out what was causing her failure. Might be pricey, though…

    • Doris had a very large lump in her abdomen on the left side. I don’t see much point paying for a necropsy when the vet decided it was a growth or tumour of some sort. Also, it clearly wasn’t contagious as none of the other pigs have the same condition.

      Further, when the knacker’s man came out, he turned out to be a former pig farmer. He took one look at Doris’s carcase and the lump on her side, and commented “she had a tumour then?”

      I’m confident we made the right diagnosis and right decision.

  8. I would have been too attached to her to have not shed at least one tear. I stopped eating beef because I got so attached to the beef cattle on our family farm. As long as they are on the farm I know they are treated well and taken care of. When the young bulls go to market, I get terribly upset. I eat mostly vegetarian these days mainly for health reasons. I occasionally eat poultry and fish, but I’m off beef and pork. They are treated so poorly in the factory farms. Your animals are very well cared for and that makes a big difference. I always enjoyed your post about Doris. My mother’s name is Doris and I would tell all the stories about your Doris. I don’t think I will mention that you had to kill her!

  9. RIP Doris. You had a good piggy life on a compassionate and well run croft…and a dignified end.

  10. I love animals, but understand that they have a purpose in life, to work and/or provide food for us. My only request of the farmers I purchase food for my family from, is that they treat their animals with dignity and respect – both throughout their lives, and during the lead up to, and time of their death. This was a dignified death, and it seems, one without pain. Thank you for giving Doris a departure worthy of her and thank you Doris for the gifts of food you gave to mankind. The circle of life, the way it’s meant to be.


  1. Culling our herd of Berkshire pigs | Musings from a Stonehead - 6 August, 2012

    [...] a .22 rifle from a neighbour this afternoon and shot both of them. I’d have preferred to use a shotgun as it’s safer and more effective—fired at close range into the skull about an inch above the eyes—but the people who lend me a [...]

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