Thursday, September 8, 2011

Butchering Time

Last night's sky aglow with pink bands of dying light was stretched over a cavernous hole in the farm. We had just returned from dropping our 5 hogs and nearly half our flock of sheep off at the local butchers. In the evenings it had been the piggies' custom to enjoy playful romps about the farmyard...cavorting about in little races and pestering the laying hens that were scratching in their spilled grain. Pigs, love em or leave em, are the heart of the farm. They singlehandedly make true the saying that "nothing goes to waste on the farm..." I already miss the luxury of the pig bucket...into the bucket goes melon rinds, apple cores, bits of stale bread, that last little scoop of soup or pasta or stir fry that no one can manage, tops of veggies, old milk, you name it: it can be turned into bacon. Marvelous thought. And then there's the sound of their contented grunting and rummaging about...its a kind of music on the you don't realize that you depend on in a sort of strange way, until it's gone. It is the sound of industry, as they plow up their pasture, and prepare the ground for a Fall sowing...and of efficiency as they turn those table scraps, grass, and grain into delicious meat. They are the poster child for the domesticated farm animal, that gives you good company in those fence leaning moments after the morning or evening chores are complete...and continues to supply your needs long after they've made their final act of kindness towards you in their noble deaths.
There's an old adage about not naming what will eventually end up on your table...but we've found that giving our meat names has brought a greater sense of gratitude to us. When you look down at your plate and remember the face and character of the animal who gave its life for you, you immediately have something to thank, and you weigh its value accurately.

We raise animals to follow us with the grain or slop bucket...and so, in their final moments, boarding the trailer, they are as docile and as cooperative as ever. This makes the day bittersweet. There is definitely no air of jollity as we fill out our butcher orders, and leave a part of our farm behind in the waiting is a solemn day replete with all the emotions of relief, anxiety, excitement, and sadness rolled into one.

We have been talking lately about studying up on our home butchery so that we can get proficient enough at it to do all of the slaughter and meat cutting for our members as well as for ourselves. Loading up animals who have been pastured all their lives, and have never left the farm, so that they can share holding pens on cement with other animals who have been kept in confinement is incongruous with our philosophy of farming. When we butchered our own two pigs I was amazed at the map the muscles made for the cutting...and after a little practice it became second nature.

Culling is such an important task on the farm. It calls upon the steel nerves of a husbandman.

If emotion is allowed to hold the day when it comes to those cute lambs, or that darling sheep with the beautiful fleece and the completely flighty nature...than the herd can suffer exponentially for years to come, as the undesirable traits are passed down through the generations. Yesterday we had to cull all our white sheep...and just like that our flock was reduced from 15 to 9. I am struck by how this deliberate act of termination carries with it the ghost of regeneration, as the farmer's entire intention and mind lays in the land of future contingency and next generations, new seasons, new flocks...the end of any year necessarily carries with it the seed of the coming season. All the finality of these last harvests are seasoned with rebirth.

Lamb and Pork will be ready next Friday.


  1. Having witnessed your attention to and care of the animals (and survived two pigs kissing my city girl knees), I have to say they lived very good lives. Thanks for teaching me deep respect for the land and its bounty.

  2. Butchering is always so hard for the younger kids to understand! :(

    On a different note, what kind of sheep do you guys have? I love em, they're fleeces are BEAUTIFUL! I'd like to get some like that! :)

  3. Hi Mary,

    We have Icelandics. They are noted by hand spinners for their lovely fleeces!
    Where do you live? Our original flock came from David Nelson at Sunrise Sheep and Wool, MN

    Our girls don't seem to have very much trouble with understanding the butchering process...probably because they are such fans of bacon and brats, and we have to wait for some months till the next batch comes! :)