Sunday, October 5, 2008

Slaughterhouse Five

The fall butchering at Womerlippi Acres is well under way, and as usual it's making me miserable.

I hate this part.

Of the five animals we will slaughter and eat this coming year, only one is left, Ophelia Pig, who is actually my favorite pig of all the pigs I've ever had -- so sociable, so pleased to see you when you go to the barn. The under-pig too, dominated for almost all of her life by her big brother Hamlet, now made ham. If I could, I'd keep and breed her, but we don't have facilities, or time, or money, to deal with her when she gets to be 400 pounds, and has 12 kids every six months.

If I lost my job tomorrow, I'd probably go into pigs, natural or organic pork, just because it's the kind of farming you could do on 15.5 acres and actually succeed. And I'm fond of pigs. And O-girl would make a great starter sow. She has the long back of the Canadian line based on the old Yorkshire Landrace, a prime sow for bacon and chops.

But there's the small matter of 50-60 hours a week at Unity College. I don't have time to watch over and feed that many pigs. Herself would have to be bred in three-four weeks, so there would need to be a boar or some semen found soon. And where would the sheep go for the winter? The farrowing pen would probably be their spring lambing pen, currently occupied by ducks. All far too complicated. Life is messy enough as it is.

I don't want to truck her today, but I pretty much have to. And although I wanted to truck the others, I hated it, especially the wether lambs, who were pitiful.

The lambs went yesterday, a day ahead of schedule, but the butcher shop called to say Hamlet was ready, meaning cut up into pieces and frozen, and I should come get him. They wanted their freezer space. I wanted the lambs gone. It was a deal.

The wee lambies went quietly until the end. They loaded easily, were content to be in the trailer, didn't struggle. Until they smelled the butcher shop. Then they had to be pushed out of the trailer into the holding pen, and they were just pitifully sad when I left them.

Betrayal. Total and utter betrayal. What a total b......d I am.

But, b....d that I am, I was happy to come back with the 100 plus pounds of premium pork products that were once a barrow pig named Hamlet. And a bonus: this new butcher shop we're trying, just ten miles away, will grind lamb organs for haggis. Pre-haggis, actually, since it will be me that adds the rest of the sausage makings. But what a labor saver!

We don't have freezer space for all this meat, and we can't sell it because of a USDA regulation affecting the particular butcher shop we chose this year, so we're trading and giving some of it away. Trades so far include weekly yogurt supplies, and the services of a prime Corriedale breeding ram. There was also a sly deal involving some maple syrup. All things we need and just as valuable to us as cash. Even so, we will finish up with a huge amount of meat. Our two freezers and two fridge freezers just groaning full with the stuff. More than we could ever eat. Folks we like, and even some we don't like, will get a chop or two or three. Just because. When you're as lucky as we are, to have so much good food, you should give some away. Build up some good karma.

You're going to need it in your next life. If the Buddhists are right, you're highly liable to be a pig.

But one day at a time. One life at a time. I'm no Buddhist. Today I can have bacon and eggs for breakfast. Hamlet and eggs to be exact. I'm happy to have meat. Our neighbor was glad to have wool to knit with. The people we trade and give meat to are always very happy. They need to taste real food. Their kids need some real tasty meat, so they know what it tastes like. The garden needs the manure. The chickens need pig and sheep shit to pick through. Haggis the sheepdog needs some sheep to herd. Some animal needs to enjoy the apples from all these 200-year old apple trees left over from the Great Farm. Someone, somewhere, still needs to do all this, the old-fashioned small scale mixed farming way. So it isn't forgotten. One day we'll actually need to know how to do all this again to survive. There's no civilisation without farming and no farming I can understand without livestock. Having livestock completes so many circles and cycles, it just is what needs to be for the land.


...someone has to truck the animals to a butcher shop, or we have to butcher them ourselves. Butchering them ourselves is very laborious, but there's no scary truck trip, and no nasty fearful slaughterhouse. Just a dish of food on the front lawn and a clean shot to the head and that's all. Trucking them saves labor, though, and the product is wrapped better. Pros and cons.

The upsides and downsides of livestock farming, in a nutshell.

It's a busy fall for me at college. I have a serious day job, a career, even. I don't have time to butcher five animals, especially two pigs, which take a whole day to do. Trucking is a must this year. Were we willing to truck another 50 miles, we could have them wrapped for sale, even. (We don't have a trailer good enough for that right now, but if I had the money for one, I would definitely make the investment.)

Either way, I hate this part. The Death Chore.


  1. I know that won't help much right now but the way I came to see it - it is a contract of a sort. We're not parasites to them like the predators are, for example. Yes, we take all they have at the end but before that we give, everyday and pretty much all they have comes from us. They wouldn't be able to survive in such numbers in the wild. They can lead lives very similar to what they'd have in the wild but with way less problems - they don't spend their nights in fear and many a day suffering from hunger and thirst. Not having these problems is a huge luxury for any living creature. So, it is mutually beneficial.

    That's one of the problems I have with factory farming - many of those animals never had a day of posh or even normal life and then everything is taken from them. I don't see how these factories are different from the coyotes on the parasites scale. They probably worse, actually - the coyotes just take it quickly and the factories make these animals suffer for many days or even months.

    Anyway, been enjoying your posts for a while and hope to continue to do so. Happy farming! :)


    /goes back to the reading mode

  2. Thanks for the advice. Actually, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed self-indulgent of me to opine about it as I did. And the pigs and fat lambs did have a very good life, however short. My mixed feelings are less important than what the animals actualy feel, and the object is to get the job done as safely and as quickly as possible.

    Now I figured out how this particular butchers works, I plan to take them later next year. The main problem is, they accept animals on Saturday and Sunday, but don't kill till Monday -- a long wait for frightened animals. Next year, if we don't try something completely different, we'll take them later on Sunday.

    Read your blog, and will go back and read more later. Now it's time to feed the critters we have left and go to work.

  3. > Thanks for the advice.

    I don't think I'm in position to render advice here. I can't say I've came completely to terms with this issue. I guess I was mostly looking for validation of my little POV :) And if it helps someone - that's even better.

    And I think you're right - you'd feel much better if it was done on the property under your complete control. May be it's possible to find someone to come and help/to do it for you? Since you're not selling it, the only thing you need to worry about is skill, not license and many people brought up on working family farms (in our area that mostly means immigrants from South and Central Americas) have this skill and are willing to do it for some meat.

    P.S. It's interesting that today I came across the same subject in two other places - one is another blog I read ( the relevant part is all the way down after turkey). Another is a book Living Wild and Domestic: The Education of a Hunter-Gardener by Robert Kimber. You can read some parts on-line at,M1 . The guys is pretty amazing - he actually has a whole philosophy built around this issue. Also, pleasure to read - much better use of time than reading my blog, seriously :)

  4. Slaughterhouse Five is a very quirky, oddball adventure through time and space. And it contains a valuable message if you decide to believe in the Tralfamadore view of things.
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