Today was a hard day to be a farmer. It was one of those days that I knew would be difficult, but when I lived it, it was even harder than I expected. Today was butcher day. It wasn’t my first and it won’t be my last, but I was closer with this lot than the previous animals. Some people are squeamish and appalled by the act of butchering animals. Some of those people are vegetarians or vegans. However, the others, those who are squeamish and appalled at the act of butchering animals, that are not vegetarian or vegan, in my opinion are either living in the dark or hypocrites. Harsh? Maybe. Accurate? I think so.
I don’t know of anyone who treats their animals any better, more humane, or loves them more, than I do mine. Especially my pigs. I truly love my pigs. They are the highlight of my day on the farm. I am somewhat known as “the crazy pig lady”. I don’t mind that, depending on the tone in which it’s spoken.
So yesterday in preparation. I moved 4 of my best hogs, two culled breeder sows and two feeder pigs (barrows), down from their mountain pasture to the barn. I placed each in a stall and fed them extra organic corn and carried and poured each of them fresh spring water. Late last night my husband and I drove over to the barn with the trailer and we loaded them into the trailer filled with fresh hay. They all followed me into the trailer single file, the entire loading process took less than one minute. Moving and handling my pigs is the easiest job I have. Some farmers fight, cuss, gripe and pull their hair out trying to load pigs. Not me, my pigs are happy to hop on a bale of hay and into the trailer. We drove them up to the upper barn where two steers were waiting-again the steers just waltzed into the barn and were given hay and fresh spring water. The pigs camped out in the trailer and the steers were loaded this morning around 4 a.m. I was all ready to leave and as I was dragging the watering trough out of the trailer (so water wouldn’t slosh out on the pigs) I managed to dump about 5 gallons of water all over me- from the waist down. It was 20 degrees. So after everyone was loaded, we had go back down the mountain, home, so I could change jeans.
The trip to the butcher is a long one. About 14 hours all together. This includes loading, driving, unloading, processing orders, driving home, feeding cows, feeding pigs (at dusk) and trying (in vain) to get all the chickens into the barn for the night. The trip is about 150 miles one way- at least 3 hours up. It takes us about an hour to unload. The steers were happy to hop out of the trailer. Once they were out of the trailer, I got in. I waded the cow and pig crap to say my final words and farewell to my pigs. I took some marking chalk and marked each hog for identification. I took my time, as the guys were getting the steers down the alleyway and into the kill area inside the shop. I got snout marks all over my pants. I scratched each ear. I rubbed each belly. I spoke to each pig by name and thanked them for being such wonderful pigs. I thanked them for being good and I told them to be brave. They didn’t really want to get out of the trailer. So I stepped out and began calling them in a low voice. I said “here pigs, come on babies” over and over. That was their call each day of their lives after weaning. They each raised their heads, allowing them to see under those big ears. They looked at me and began walking to me. They followed me all the way out of the trailer, into the small holding area and then down the long alleyway to their larger holding pen. Thankfully my butcher allows all this to take place. Many would just push and shove and scream to move animals. They let me do it my way. They allowed a safe, non-stressful and easy end of life for the animals. That is huge for me. I raise my pigs in a very natural, primal and environmental way. To cause them distress just before butchering them would be crazy.
I walked into the office and gave all the cut sheets to the very helpful staff and left. I left knowing that the pigs would be killed very soon after all the cattle. I made it to the end of the driveway and began to sob. I cried for about a mile or two. My husband asked if I was ready to talk and I started crying again. I told him I was a hypocrite for crying over pigs when I am a happy meat-eater. I LOVE meat. I know where meat comes from for crying out loud. I know exactly what sacrifice is due.
We stopped for lunch and both had steak. Yep, the sadness was gone, I was back to normal. So here are my thoughts. For all those consumers who go to the grocery store and pick up a clear plastic covered pack of meat, whether chicken, pork, beef, fish, whatever- an animal died to produce that. The quality of the animal- well I won’t get into that in depth. Those poor sad confinement, feedlot raised animals live a sad life, for many death is a mercy. But for animals whose farmers are wonderful, determined souls who work hard and worry about their animals and their welfare, the end is not the end. They provide healthy, quality food for families. They provide income for the farmers who raised them.
So every time I eat meat, I think of the animal. I think of how it lived and died. I think of how DELICIOUS it is. And how now, after farming the way I do, I appreciate the sacrifice, I appreciate the life and death of that animal who is providing for us. No meat ever goes to waste at my house. Whether by huge family dinner, then followed by broth, soup or stew, the meat is happily eaten and enjoyed. We gather to catch up, to grieve, to commune, to laugh and to eat. So to those who know where you food comes from- I salute you. To those who think that meat is just a cut under clear packaging- educate yourselves. And to all who eat meat, come on over, we’re cookin up pancakes, maple syrup, bacon and sausage. It’s to die for ;)