We loaded them on the trailer, dropped them off and said goodbye at the butcher, called in cutting instructions, found out their hanging weights … and none of it made me sad. I was disturbed by my lack of emotion until suddenly, driving down Rt. 13 I felt the chill from a few hundred pounds of frozen beef in my van, and surprised myself with a few tears. I guess I am still human after all.
We’ve been on this animal-killing spree for a while now, and I always worry that eating my animal friends become normal. Will I stop feeling sad? You can’t easily feel reverence for a meal without first feeling sadness for the loss of life, and I’m worried that I won’t always feel the full weight of my brutal actions. Meat eaters cause a great amount of death. We shouldn’t forget that.
But I guess even if I stop sobbing like a baby at the butcher, the relatively small number of meals raised here on the farm allows the luxury of the individual. Meat raised here is not a commodity. It is a joyfully inefficient endeavor, full of intimate manual labor with animals that have faces and stories and at least a few hundred thousand mobile updates.
At the beginning of the Jersey bull calves’ story, they were a scrawny and matching set born a week apart in the summer of 2012.
These were our first steer, born in our fields, and from the day they arrived as boys I knew that one day they’d load on the trailer together and that would be that. Unlike pigs, which are in and out in six months, these dudes had been with us a long time, through a winter, and you always bond a bit more with anything that overwinters on your farm. Plus, JERSEY COW EYES. They’ll get you every time.
We had (have?) no idea what we were doing and they were our guinea pigs for every aspect of raising cattle, from disbudding and castrating to working with and moving animals that were skittish and, well, several hundred pounds. With kicky hooves. Thank God they were giant softies.
Remember that first day we let them out on spring pastures and they busted their fence and ran all the way down Bishop Road? Remember how we’d coax them closer and closer until they finally let us scratch their ears? Or how Claire’s calf would sneak up behind you and pull off your toboggan with his tongue? Remember the way the one would relentlessly groom the cat?
How about the big guy who always hid behind sticks?
How many times did Seth wake me up with the words, “You’ve got a calf out,” and they’d reluctantly follow me back to the pasture with their moms. Remember how they were such mama’s boys, and would sprint from their pasture to nurse from the girls, even when they were 900 pounds??
Well, they’re dead now. And they are in my freezer. And they will nourish my family.
Crazy, isn’t it?
Two lives have been taken so that I can enjoy ribeyes. In their honor, I will try to prepare good meals and eat sitting down with my family or friends. I’ll try not to eat a hamburger while running around Googling on my phone and yelling at children. I’ll try not to waste a precious ounce of it.
I mean, it’s the least I can do for my animal friends.
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