Photo by Felix Remter.

He joined Daniela’s milking herd as a gift from her friend Lucio, and Daniela named the bull after him. She expected Lucio to impregnate cows when artificial insemination—the reproductive technology Daniela prefers—failed. This job has a catch: veterinarians advise a limit to the bull’s progeny within the same herd. After a time with the same cows, the bull is sold or killed. Daniela could not find Lucio a buyer; he was too small to impregnate big cows. Located in a peasant town near Bogotá, Colombia, Daniela’s farm is small, and this past summer Lucio’s presence began to be felt: he ate what the milking cows needed, and she could not afford to continue to have him. But when the time came, she could not bring herself to send him to the slaughterhouse. So, she called Norberto, her friend. While currently working at his small construction business, he still slaughters herd animals for friends. He learned the trade at the age of five, helping an uncle (a goat butcher) along with his cousins; they all learned how to skin the animals.

Killing Lucio was a slow, careful process that lasted all day: first, they separated him from his herd, walking him away to an esplanade near Daniela’s house. Water was fetched to clean implements throughout the day. Both to comfort Lucio, and to feel life bleeding away from the bull’s body, Norberto touched him constantly during an hours-long process. “His name was Lucio,” said Norberto when the bull died; the death he gave him was a slow event. Throughout, care was central and it continued as Lucio’s body was transformed into meat which was not sold. Daniela’s brother got a quarter of the animal to reciprocate for the cart he gave her, which she uses to take the milk to the collecting center. The neighbors who milk Daniela’s cows when she is gone got another quarter; so did her sisters and nieces who lend her money when she needs it. Norberto also got his quarter. Daniela did not want any of what she still considered Lucio, and whom she wanted her siblings and neighbors whom she eats with to have. Distributed among those who had contributed to his life, Lucio’s presence went beyond his death. He became food through the relations that made his life and Daniela’s farm.

Since the early days of commercial breeding, cow-making practices have made (heterogeneously) what we, with Donna J. Haraway (2008), call “the killable.” We conceptualize this as a multispecies topology of practices that converge in the death of cows for their transformation into beef. The industrial killable is dynamically gestated—conceptually and materially conceived—through biocapitalist practices that make efficiently productive animals live. Some practices like artificial insemination and embryo transfer are obvious; others, like weighing cows and converting their mass into kilos of meat, are less obvious. Yet, we learned from Daniela, Norberto, and Lucio how cow-making practices are also togetherness; they create attachments that, notwithstanding the industrial hegemony of the killable, may inflect the moment of death—and the practice of killing—and reveal a relation that affectively includes the human(s) making the animal die. “There is no way of living that is not also a way of someone, not just something, else dying differentially,” writes Haraway (2008, 80). When the bull that Norberto killed died, someone, named Lucio, died. Slowly performed, his death was an important matter of care (Puig de la Bellacasa 2017) and an event in Daniela’s farm.

Known as matadero, the killing place, the slaughterhouse in this town is small, modern, and nondescript, except for one particular feature: the workers are supplied by two families, whose men and women have taught each other the different tasks for at least three generations. One of them is Raúl, a young man in charge of killing the animals. He waits for each cow/bull as they slide through a chute, desensitizes them, and then cuts their throats. At this point the animal, its legs hooked to a pulley system, is lifted and the bleeding that will eventually kill them, starts. Lucio also bled to death and Norberto touched him throughout, feeling the process; his death intra-related many in its event. Nothing like this happens at the matadero where humane killing and bio-market efficiency—their pace—require detached impersonal relations. Raúl’s bodily movements are swift and dexterous; yet he does not touch the animals, neither does he know their names; they are as generic to Raúl as the death he gives them as a slaughterhouse worker.

Raúl’s life, however, is not generic; it is specific to the matadero. His mother recalls: “At twelve his paycheck was his alone”—having learned enough from relatives, he became his own breadwinner. Now, aged eighteen, and married to a sixteen-year-old, their daughter is three. Sometimes he wished he could leave his town and the stigma associated with the family’s job. Yet earning money kept him away from school; his skill, notable in the matadero, may not find another place. The killable is inhabited by a multispecies social-political economy that (with farms) makes the lives of both the animals that are killed and the humans that kill them. All actors inhabiting the killable live (and not only die) differently. The slaughterhouse dispossesses humans and cattle of the relations that make their social lives beyond it. Unlike Lucio, on entering the slaughterhouse, animals shed all relations that made their lives except for those that made them a commodity. Similarly, the slaughterhouse has dispossessed Raúl—alienated, Marx would say—of his capacity to feel as events the death of the animals he kills. Thus, tweaking Haraway’s phrase: “there is no way of dying or making die, that is not also a way of someone, not just something, else living-feeling differentially.” An ethics of multispecies co-existence might not cancel the killable, but it may empty the slaughterhouse of death as eventless and alienating to transform it into an eventfully social matter of care involving all participants.


Haraway, Donna J. 2008. When Species Meet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Puig de la Bellacasa, María. 2017. Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics of Care in a More Than Human World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.