Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Meeting our meat

And that, right there, proves it. Yes, almost three weeks have flown by. We are getting more and more traction into this farming business every day. Mark took a week (which translates into 9 straight days) off from his demanding day job to work with me on projects that have been begging around this place. What a fantastic week! We both felt exhausted and exhilarated by the end. It was so much fun doing stuff together, working in partnership for a common goal, rather than constantly doling out who’s fault it is that things are in the state they are. I have been feeling so disconnected from him these past months and this last week cured that malaise completely.

We built a retaining wall in our front yard (a project of much greater mammoth proportions than originally projected), finished the doors on our tool cabinet, got a little more done on Dylan’s way-overdue treehouse, positioned our raised beds in the veggie garden, sold some fleece – finally! – and slaughtered our first lamb. Plus, got a system for moving the sheep every day up and running and saw a couple new ruminants into the world. Not to mention bottle-feeding the lambs first 5 and then 4 times a day, (and all the cleaning that implies) only recently cutting out a middle-of-the-night feeding.

Slaughtering was fraught with apprehension but in many ways turned out to be anti-climatic. Of course, our whole raison d’etre is to raise animals humanely and kill them that way as well. For weeks, I’ve been musing on the whole subject, not in any inconsequential way guided by Michael Pollen and Barbara Kingsolver’s own contemplations. Ultimately, I arrived at a simple but I think powerful mantra: These beings would not be alive to live the life they lead if not destined for the death they experience.

It is perhaps simplistic, but it is nonetheless true. Food animals get a life, they get a chance, they live. They feel warmed by the summer sun, they butt heads, they experiment with blades of grass, they snuggle with mama, they gulp milk, they cavort. This makes them cute, yes, but it also, makes them them. If not for the need for meat, they would not be they. Period. They would never know the sun’s warmth or their mother’s milk, or the fun of charging one another. It would not be. And, so, yes, their lives are short – but they ARE. They exist. And here at our farm, they exist well.

It was strangely untraumatic to watch a 10-month old lamb’s hide be systematically peeled down and removed. I learned with the turkeys that, if done right, animals become food shockingly fast. This was no less true with our lamb, although the trauma came later when we realized what we (and it) had gone through for the amount of meat rendered. One might reconcile oneself to killing; to do so for little or nothing is another conversation altogether.

Nonetheless, we move forward. The orphans continue to demand to be fed, every 5+ hours; Ewes continue to birth new lambs; Idiot Babies continue to forget who their mama is. And on and on. It’s fun, except it’s not. Hard to explain.

We love it all the same.

That is the weird thing – it doesn’t have to be fun to garner your love. There is something so basic, so primal, about growing animals that once you are immersed in it you lose the language to explain it. To the outsider it seems incomprehensible that you could bottle-feed a lamb in April and slaughter it in November, but the doing unravels the mystery. You can. Actually. You can. You can nurture the baby and revel in its life and still understand and appreciate its destiny. It would not be, without you.

In a very real way, this latest experience has made me even more militant in my quest to evangalasize the need for locally-produced meat. Meat costs – this is Mark’s big message – Meat costs a life and anyone who eats meat should be confronted with that cost. In most cultures around the world, they are; it is rarified, indeed, where we are so completely sanitized and disconnected from all our food, meat included. Most people know their meat.

Our friend Tammy, who has built an amazing business around goats eating blackberries, has taught me so much. She and I first met when I answered her ad for a good home for 2 sheep. I offered my services as an intern of sorts in exchange for mentoring and I’d have to say a fairly beautiful if arms-length friendship has spawned from there. We appreciate each other – she even appreciates Mark, which I’d hazard a guess she’s not predispositioned to do – and luck of all luck about a month ago she called me to tell me she had a mama goat with too much milk (triplets now twins) and could I use some extra milk in case something went amiss during lambing season. Seemed like a reasonable suggestion to me, so I was all for it.

Guess what? Not 24 hours later, my ewe rejected her twins and I was desperate for a way to feed them. Hello Tammy.

So, farm life moves in mysterious ways. These days it’s moving in the direction of my driving south 5 minutes every night right around 7PM to milk a goat who is not particularly fond of me. I am grateful grateful grateful for this bizarre coincidence and I do not pretend for a minute that it is truly accidental. While raised on it all my life, I am only recently truly able to accept the intricate web of what the universe has in store and what a wondrous thing it is to accept.

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