Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Real Farmers Don't Cry

I took big lamb and little lamb to the abattoir yesterday. I was stoic all through the hitching of the trailer, backing it up to the field, leading them in and driving to the destination. I unloaded them into their holding pen, signed the paperwork, put the ramp up on the trailer, drove out of the yard (out of sight of the workers) and just started sobbing my heart out. I kept driving but couldn't stop crying.

Mike said "Jen, let's just turn around and go get them. They can live in the field with the others." I wanted to, but I didn't. I knew what they were for when I raised them, I knew it would be hard, and I knew that they had a good (and longer than normal) life. But I didn't like it. Mike offered to go back 3 or 4 times on the way home (he was sad too). But we didn't.

We're picking up our first home reared, grass-fed lamb for the freezer on Thursday.

Between sobs, I said to Mike "I bet real farmers don't cry". Mike said "I'll tell you something. As you were backing up the trailer for unloading I said to the guy 'Go easy on her mate, these are her first lambs and she might get upset.' And do you know what he said? He said 'Trust me, she wouldn't be the first.'"

I guess you have to love animals to want to raise them and care for them in the first place.

Our two new orphans seem to be managing their first week of life. Temperatures have plummeted and there's a fierce wind about, so I've kept the heat lamp in their shed on permanently so they can convert their food into growth rather than just keeping warm. I open the door to the run for a few hours a day, for fresh air and some extra space. Some of  the chickens perch on their run, and the lambs come over to investigate. So far so good. We're calling around to see if any more orphan ewes need a home, as we'd like to have at least 3 lambs around the same age.

We're on holiday this week but pretty tied to the house with animal commitments. But Mike promised to take me fly fishing at Dever Springs tomorrow. It's a world renowned trout lake, about 2 hours from here, and our friend Neil is the head keeper. Neil has promised me a fly fishing lesson and I'd hate to miss the opportunity. The lambs still need a feed every 4 hours so they're coming with us in a dog crate in the back seat of the car. A bit of fishing, a quick lunch for us and the lambs, a bit more fishing, then home for evening chores.

I bet real farmers don't take their lambs fishing either. I won't tell them if you don't.


Poppy Cottage said...

Well done Jen. Yep REAL farmers DO cry. Did you go to Snells? As for the fishing, you are just getting them used to the truck ready for showing!!

Are you knitting tonight? Hope so.

Maria said...

The fact you were upset shows you cared! You were very brave not to give in and go back. Have you read the James Herriott diaries? he observes in one that only farmers who keep smaller numbers of animals have the opportunity to get attached to and really care about them. I use Herriott as reference since he was a vet, and I work in an office, so he has more kudos than I do on this.
I hope you enjoy your fishing trip!

Paula said...

Hi Jen- I just read an article in the MIX magazine (a local Portland rag) about a fellow who slaughters his own pork. He buys a pig from a local grower, the same grower every year, it sounded like, and before the kill he feeds the pig a bottle of beer to relax it and increase the glycopene in order to make sure the slaughtered animal has enough to convert to lactic acid in the muscles, which in turn slows microbial growth. He then scratches the pig's back and shows the pig the pistol he'll use so that it's not afraid of it, and then he shoots it in the head between the ears to kill it instantly. Pretty humane and comfortable for the pig, I should think. The fellow grew up on a commune and had to help his uncle slaughter a goat when he was only six years old. He remembered thinking that 'this is awful' but not being freaked out about it. He says his butchering skills have improved over the years, but "he's never gotten over the intensity of killing animals." But every time he kills a pig, he still thinks it's pretty horrific and figures the day that it isn't horrific, he probably shouldn't kill pigs anymore.

I guess I write this because I think that with all the debate about the killing and eating of animals, which seems to be heating up (it certainly is among my siblings), the only safe way to make sure that your dinner never suffered during its life and death is to raise and slaughter it yourself. Have you read Farm City? It's by a woman who farms inside the city limits of Oakland, California, of all places, and she raised two pigs in her backyard. She found an abattoir, and asked the proprietress to wait until she could be there (to give the pigs a friendly face as they met their fate) and the woman killed them, cut them into primal cuts and called her to come get them. She was pretty angry about it.

I can't imagine how hard it would be to kill something that you raised yourself, especially when they are so darn cute (goat kids would be the worst for me), but I imagine that somewhere in my future, it will have to be. You, at least, have first hand knowledge of where your lamb is coming from, and that they had good lives, which I think is the best way to honor the lives of your lambs. That, and treating them well in the pan, of course. We evolved as omnivores, which means we eat meat. But since we're civilized, at least we can be less savage about it.

I hope your next trip to the abattoir is not so difficult.

By the way, I've been wanting to learn how to fly fish for years, so have a good time for me too!

Kerry said...

You should take comfort in knowing that you provided your animals with a quick and humane death. There may be people who think all animals should live in the wild and die a "natural" death, but I would rather have a skilled abattoir worker dispatch me than, say, being torn apart by coyotes (do you have those in England?) or waste away slowly from starvation.
I still think you are crazy for bonding with your food. I have some plants that I have grown so attached to that I would sob uncontrollably if I was asked to kill them.

Sara said...

You should be proud for giving them such a good life that they otherwise would not have enjoyed. Very difficult circumstance, but you did what you had to do, though there was nothing easy about it. Kudos to your strength and kudos to Mike for his looking out for you so sweetly.

Kevin F. said...

Jen, The erecting and mending of fences, hauling 50lb sacks of feed, changing out frozen waterer's, along with all the other labors of love required in the care of animals are light work in comparison to the responsible dispatch of livestock.
Mike, Of all the duties inherent in the spousal contract... you have a keen eye on the most sacred.
I admire the both of you.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Jen -- I know you know that everything said here in the comments is true. That you gave those lambs a good life. That this is the best way to go about eating meat. That keeping sheep merely as pets isn't a prudent use of resources. The problem isn't that you don't know -- it's not your head that's causing the problem.

That you felt as you did, but you did it anyway -- that's what makes you a real farmer.

The fishing thing's another story ...

Jennifer Montero said...

Maria - Thank you for the kind words. I'm also a big James Herriot fan (books and BBC show). There was a story about an old farmer who'd retired his pair of work horses and still walked a mile to their field twice a day to feed them and care for them in their old age, because they cared for him all through their working lives. That set a tone for me with regards to working animals.

Jennifer Montero said...

Paula - That's fascinating about the pig. Again, you've summed up the debate with your comments. All of us who raise animals are trying to improve their quality of lives and their deaths. It's a process and requires fine tuning sometimes (I'm going to try a mobile slaughterman next time). The fact that it's become a topic of discussion for so many meat eaters is a great start.

Jennifer Montero said...

Kerry - Having found so many little birds, and a tawny owl, who all starved to death this year in our unusually cold weather, I would agree wholeheartedly.

Sara - Thanks for your thoughful words. I definitely don't feel brave but I still feel it was right, just hard. If I remember, your dad was a dairy farmer, so I expect you have a lot of experience with the 'cycle of life' as it is.

Jennifer Montero said...

Kevin - Mike appreciated your comment. I expect you are similar in your attitudes and tolerances (hey, I've SEEN the picture of you asleep while the chickens roamed the house)

Tamar - You're right, when I stop caring about the animals I should stop keeping them.

Sounds odd, but I was calmed by meeeting a couple of the slaughtermen when I dropped the lambs off. They were friendly and seemed gentle, not brutish killers. I felt they would be considerate towards the animals. That must be why that abbatoir has the reputation it does.

You'll be making all the same choices when it comes to putting your chickens in the pot. Are you going to take them fishing first?