WARNING – This post contains some graphic content about livestock, if you are squeamish about that sort of thing please consider skipping this post. You have been warned.
This weekend we took another step on the journey toward knowing where our food comes from. I know there are people out there, who have to know where every bite they put in their mouth comes from. To them I say, if that is what makes you happy, great, but that level of research would drive me crazy. I also know that there are people out there who have no clue about where anything they eat comes from. I know it is likely fake but there is that picture out on the “interweb” of the person saying, “hunters are cruel you should just get your meat from the store so no animals are hurt.” Like I said I am pretty sure that is fake but have seen somethings that are akin to that level of ignorance. We are hopefully somewhere in the middle.
Over the last few years we have tried to become more aware of where our food is coming from. From little things like joining a local CSA so we where know where our vegetables are grown, and going to the farms to pick our own fruit (that we can can / freeze and store for later use) to bigger things like getting together with several families to buy an organically raised grass fed cow. Along those lines we also have been raising our own chickens for eggs. We have toyed with the idea of raising “meat” birds but as of yet we have not done that.
As I have talked about before, this year we also worked together with a group of families to have our own vegetable crop, working about two acres of land. This was a pretty eye opening and a great learning experience for us because, as much as we have tried to have vegetable gardens in the past, we have never really been able to make them work. Working with other people has really helped, at least for me. It has taught me all those things that we were missing before. Sure we still made some mistakes and I am sure we will continue to make some, but it was a great learning experience.
This year we also bought some sheep. We bought them specifically to use them for meat. There were never any illusions that they would be around for a long time or that they were pets. Our children took to naming the animals things like Lamb Chop and Leg of Lamb. I don’t know if that means we have rather demented children or that they were really aware of what was to come and this was there way of dealing with that. Either way, that is what they did. We have had a lot of fun and a few frustrating times during the year learning how to raise these critters. Never let it be said that it was boring. We had to deal with the inevitable death of a couple of them, (there is a saying that I learned this year, if you have live stock you will also have some dead stock,) animals die and that is just the way things go.
Knowing all of that I was still not really looking forward to the end of the year when we would need to slaughter them. Let me get it out of the way right now. Yes, we did do it. Yes, I was the one holding the knife for at least one of them. And YES, we did it as humanely and as quickly as we possibly could. I was very nervous about it. I had never really tried to do anything like this before. I had never really thought about all the logistical details of it. The hows and wheres and how much of it. But, When it came right down to it, I was able to do it.
I won’t go into all the details but I want to recount a little bit of it because it was pretty eye opening for me, and as stressed as I was about it, it really did work out ok.
WARNING – This post contains some graphic content about livestock, if you are squeamish about that sort of thing please consider skipping the rest of this post. You have been warned. Don’t worry there are no pictures beyond this point.
I knew all year this past weekend was coming. I knew that it needed to be done. I was aware that I would have to do it. I was ok with it all in theory. But when it came right down to actually making the cut that would kill the sheep, I was pretty darn nervous about it. So the week before I did a lot of reading. I watched some pretty graphic videos on youtube, and learned as much as I could about the whole process. I had a pretty good idea of what needed to happen before you killed the animal. I had a pretty good idea of what needed to happen after we killed the animal to get it ready to cut up and put it in the freezer. It was just the actual killing that I was really worried about. I stressed for almost two days straight about it. I worried about how I was going to be able to do it. I thought about all the different methods and tools. It should come as no surprise that I was very nervous the first time.
But let me back up just a little bit. The day we chose turned out to be bitterly cold. I think the actual temperature was 15 degrees F, with a wind chill somewhere near 2 degrees. There were several families coming to help, (all with nearly no experience, one family had done this one time before with help from a local hunter friend.) The older children and I got the barn and the garage cleaned up, and separated the ones who were going to be killed from those who were not, and started the game of waiting for everyone else to show up.
I am not afraid to admit that this was an anxiety laden time for me. And in the end I could not wait until everyone was there, and we started without them. If for no other reason than the rest of us were freezing waiting for them. I had my hand on the knife for the first one, and was able to get over my anxiety, with a few short prayers, both for the sheep and for myself.
When everyone did finally show up, we were just really getting started and were debating where and how to take the next step. That first one was like slaughter by committee. As much as I dreaded the killing part, I dreaded this part more. The families we worked with, are really great people. I like them a lot, but in an already stressful situation (and I know they were somewhat stressed as well) and with the very cold weather (did I mention it was snowing pretty hard as well) it just made things worse. I was very relieved when after we had worked through about 2/3rd’s of the steps with the first one, we felt confident and had a plan with how to deal with the other two, and it was decided as a group that we could work in parallel. That meant I could step away from the “committee” somewhat and work with a much smaller group getting the next two sheep ready.
All in all three sheep were killed and prepared for butchering. All of my older kids (except for the one off doing a scouting activity) were involved to the level that they were comfortable. Some just watched and some dove right in and helped, and all learned somethings. I was very proud of all of the kids, especially the ones who were a bit squeamish abut the whole thing, and stayed out there for it anyway. The two middle ones even got some hands on experience with working with very sharp knives. (And from that I only ended up with two very small cuts.)
In the end, I am glad that we did it, glad that we did it as a group, even glad that I was scared and was able to get over that. We still own two sheep that will likely be slaughter later in the year, (next month more than likely.) And some how we started out the day with four sheep at our house, killed three and now have four sheep and a goat. Someone will have to explain that math to me one day. But all in all it was a pretty successful day. I am pretty sure that we will continue to raise sheep next year. Like everything else we have learned some lessons (like not trying to do it on the coldest day of the year) and we will do some things differently next time, but it was a positive enough experience that I am willing to repeat it.
Thanks to everyone that helped.