Today I did something I was really not comfortable with, which is in part largely why I did it (it’s probably going to make some of you uncomfortable as well, so be forewarned). I visited an abattoir and brought with me an ewe to be turned into 100lbs or so of ground mutton meat for dog food.
I should begin by saying that I do not have any ethical qualms about being a meat eater – lots of animals eat other animals, and I happen to be one of those meat-eating animals. I respect that there is a food chain and I don’t feel the need to opt out of it for any moral argument. I respect the people who do choose to live and eat differently as well. I do have a problem with the way we raise our meat animals and the whole factory farming issue, but have not found a way to circumvent it completely.
But my biggest personal issue is that I am part of a generation of people who think their meat comes from Safeway and I don’t want to bury my head in that la-la land. I have a lot of pets who eat a lot of meat, and I feel it’s important – for me – to remember that they (and I) are eating animals that were born and lived and died for that reason. So from time to time, I explore the “real” subject of killing to consume, like when I raised and slaughtered meat birds. Recently, I taught myself to skin rabbits (when the apocalypse comes, I will be set).
So when I acquired some sheep recently, which I am not allowed to keep on my property because my previous crazy neighbours ruined livestock keeping for my landlord, I traded away two of them to a friend for the aforementioned freezer full of rabbit (they were already dead), and took the third to the abattoir for – ahem – “processing.”
I slept poorly last night, and was full of reluctance about my decision, for reasons I still can’t quite work out. I wondered if I should just give my friend the third ewe (she’s keeping them to lamb them out next year), and kept picturing her sheepie face … I am not even very fond of sheep, and ate lamb just the other day for lunch. And I recognized that thousands – millions even – of sheep are slaughtered all around the world every year for food. If I am willing to eat them, and feed them to my dogs, I shouldn’t be squeamish about how they live and die.
So this afternoon I loaded the ewe into the back of my van and made the long drive out to the abattoir in Chilliwack. It was probably not a lovely trip for her – she was nervous without her friends, and minivans are not ideal transport for livestock. And when we got out to the slaughterhouse, she was scared as f*ck. So was I. It smelled bad (though it was clean) and there were pigs screaming somewhere inside. I got the sheep out of the van and when she hit the ramp she folded like a shitty old deck chair, down on her knees and refused to move (although it may have been exhaustion trying to keep her balance for an hour in the back of the moving vehicle). I managed to get her up again and lead her down a row of stark (though again clean) metal pens full of pigs, manipulated her into one of them, and left her there.
And I felt a bit sick. I’m not sure I could do it again. My feelings on eating meat, and feeding it to my dogs, has not changed but I definitely did not enjoy the experience of visiting the abattoir. Conversely, I am excited about receiving 100+lbs of food for the dogs from a pasture raised ewe this week. I am conflicted, not about eating and feeding meat, but about a stand-up quality I feel I’m lacking. I strive to be braver, and face the consequences of my choices, which is why I did this, but I really don’t want to do it again.
So there you go. Once step closer to being someone I am proud of, someone who is real and planted in the world in which I live, and consume.
Something else that is real: Dexter has done something to his hind leg (or foot, or hip, or knee or groin – who the f*ck knows) and is tripodding all over the place. Six weeks BEFORE BLOODY REGIONALS, OF COURSE!!! I have sort of been pretending it’s nothing much and that it’s just a coincidence that I have chosen to leash walk him for the past few days, and convinced myself so well that I let him run around tonight.
Which was a mistake, naturally, as he is limping / tripodding worse than ever now. I know I have to take him into the vet, but I like my vet and don’t want to punch him in the face when he gives me dire news like, oh, “He’s torn his ACL.” Actually, I don’t think he has, I think he’s pulled something. And he’s back to leash only walking.
I don’t have enough hands for all the leashes I’m going to need. In the morning, when it’s still too dark to walk on the property, I walk my dogs on the dead end road. All three little dogs are on leash (because coyotes) and now I have a new (temporary) 4th leash denizen:
Ermigawd, amiright?? Totes is a 9 week old “yorkiepoo” or maybe yorkie/maltese. An ACO brought her in stray, and nobody ever called about her. How does this happen? She’s like a whopping 4 lbs. And she makes Wookie noises.
I don’t like to leave tiny baby puppies at the shelter, so I bring them home. The other dogs probably wish I wouldn’t.
Mostly because they never seem to leave, RHUMBA.
185 days and counting. I don’t understand why nobody knows how marvelous Rhumba is, and why she can’t find her own home :(
Though she likes it here. She and Fae are besties :)
I also can’t believe that this guy is going to be 15 in nine days!
Maybe for his birthday I can find our two houseguests a home. Because it’s not like anyone can resist this face:
When we had our hobby farm I raised and slaughtered a few extra roosters, but we mostly produced eggs. The chickens were such a hassle to clean it was easier to sell them for $10 and go buy a chicken at the store with the money! We had a few sheep, but they were such pets I couldn’t have eaten them. They ‘retired’ to a farm where they train sheep herding dogs. However, I considered getting some Dexter cattle for a while, and I have a friend who raises full size cattle. He knows exactly how many cattle, pigs, and chickens he needs to raise every year to feed his immediate family, and they are all slaughtered right there on the farm. A mobile butcher comes out and the farmer has the animals tied out for him. The guy kills them, hauls them up on a crane attached to the truck, butchers them, and when he’s done there’s just a little pile of unusable stuff that gets thrown into the compost pile. They use everything else. If I was going to do it, that’s the way I would have gone. The animal doesn’t have the stress of transport, and their life is spent stress free, and ends right there at home. Then the mobile butcher takes the beef and pork back to his shop where they hang it to age for however many days they need to before cutting it up and packaging it into pieces for the family. Chickens get bagged and go right in the fridge. It’s not a bad way to go, and I have a lot of respect for people who are able to do that. I think it’s a much better life for the animals they eat than those who live on factory farms.
Happy Birthday to Tweed! Keep going, old man!
Totes is totes a cutie. Someone will grab her soon.
About meat-eating and “processing”, I get you. I totally do.
I hit the same dilemmas in eating meat. How they die is actually the biggest part of what I’m trying to circumvent now. The whole idea of an animal having to experience a slaughterhouse turns my stomach.
Locally there are a few farms that actually “process” the animals on site. I wish that my email account with the hundred or so emails I windowed through hadn’t locked me out because now I need to find them again.
I too choose to eat meat. I am working to make that as cruelty free as I can. Slaughterhouses are horror houses and I don’t like supporting that model.
Perhaps next time you get a sheep you could have someone shoot her in the pasture and you could do the butchering? Kinder to her and definitely exposes one to the “reality” of eating meat.
I think that an important part of trying to be self-sufficient (hell, an important part of morality for a lot of people) is to understand and appreciate exactly where your food has come from, and what happens to it. Taking the step of accompanying a sheep to the abattoir must have been awful–but probably good for you in the long term.
I can’t believe how long you’ve had Rhumba! Maybe you need to do daily posts of her cute little face and drum up some interest :-)
I’m proud of you too. As hard as it was. I firmly believe that everyone ought to learn exactly where their food comes from and what exactly is required to produce it. As horrid as some of it is.
I do agree with the last commenter, if she’s just to be dog food consider home processing if you decide to do it again. The dogs won’t care if you accidently hack through that steak in the process…..
Jan Gribble says
I don’t know anything about the Canadian system but here in the southwest US we have a lot of local butchers who are licensed by the state but have chosen not to be licensed by USDA. This typically translates into butchers who don’t keep a lot of animals on site and butcher as the animal comes in. It lessens the stress on the animal enormously. I’m lucky to have a butcher less than 5 miles from me who is very kind and gentle with the animals and who maintains an exceptionally clean shop. I’ve been using him for processing lambs as well as older “cull” ewes and when I have a goat I plan on eating. Although on the rare occasion when I’ve had an animal break its neck in a fence or something, I’ve generally just processed it for the dogs on site. (And generally speaking you only get 40% of “meat” from a carcass though the percentage goes up if you are including bones and organ meats, so if you are expecting 100 lbs of ground hamburger your ewe was either incredibly large or you are going to be disappointed.)
The Food Lady says
I am not super familiar with slaughter practices here, but I do know that it is illegal to slaughter them on your property in my city, which is why I didn’t explore that option (as I work for animal control, we are constantly dealing with backyard abattoirs) and I wasn’t really sure where else to look, being the first time I have done this. It was a farmer friend who gave me the info for the slaughterhouse. Processing on site would be ideal if I could, but how could I grind it? I guess I could take the dead weight to the processor for that? Lots of think about if I find myself in a similar situation, thank you :) I did get clued into the amount as well, by another friend – she was a pretty big ewe, and I am getting the bones and organ meat, since it’s for dogs, but I guess I overestimated the amount (again, first timer here). That’s fine too. One day I really would like to raise the bulk of my own food (and dog food) so it’s all a learning experience!!
We had a few sheep for many years, and ate and sold their lambs for meat. I dreaded that trip to the slaughter house every year, and usually the six month old lambs ended up being nine months before I finally got them there. Every week I would convince myself that another week wouldn’t hurt. I had no problem eating a lamb that I could put a face to, but I had a problem with ending that life. Finally I said enough, and the last few ewes lived their life out here. I wished there were mobile butchers here, but as far as I know, there aren’t, legally. The slaughterhouse that is closest to you, that fellow many years ago would come to your property and kill your animals there, but eventually he went legit, and he had to end that part of his business. A friend who raises cattle in South Surrey prefers the slaughter house you went to. As someone said, they have a good life, and one bad day.
Gary Bradshaw says
There is a scene in the movie Cold Mountain that is impressed in my brain. It is where an older woman has a lost and wounded soldgier stumble into her camp in the bush. This woman has some sheep and goats, chickens for her survival. In order to help the wounded man she slaughters a sheep.
As she is calmly handling the sheep in a very soothing manner she reaches over and takes a knife and slits the sheeps throat. There is no trauma, or noise and everything stays calm. I can’t really remember the movie…..but to this day I remember this powerful scene.
Also there seems to be evidence that meat from an animal, terrified, waiting to be killed at a slaughter house is tainted somehow by all the trauma…….
I think Totes would like to move to Oregon.
Happy b-day, Tweed!
The Green Dogs says
Totes is so cute! Ohmygosh! :)
Katharine Swan says
Totes is adorable! Perfect name for her. If I lived closer I would totes adopt her.
I think it’s good that you care enough to think about how slaughtering your sheep could be done in the best way possible for the sheep. A lot of people forget that even though they’re food animals they can also be traumatized. I have no real idea how stress would affect the meat, but have a vague memory of reading something about cortisol (stress hormone) being higher in factory farmed chicken meat, so it might be interesting to find out if the slaughtering process affected that, or if it was only longer term stressors like factory farming conditions.
Maria Shanley says
We’re in rural Wyoming, and we butchered most of our own meat for years. Too bad you aren’t allowed to butcher at home – sheep are easier to dress than you might think. The hide peels off easily, then remove internal organs then after that we usually boned them out. Getting older, we do the next best thing – our neighbors are custom butchers, so they deliver a cleaned carcass ready to cut up.(or would cut & wrap if we wanted that). I preferred to slaughter at home, since the animal was eating a pile of grain in front of it one second and dead the next. At least here the school kids do ranch visits twice a year and have at least some idea where their food comes from (if they’re not on a ranch themselves). I can understand vegetarians better than I can the people who love meat but get upset at the idea of anyone killing an animal. I always say “we’re all someone’s dinner sooner or later”.
Robin L. says
I tried giving up all animal products. It isn’t easy and it didn’t work for me. I am fully aware of factory farming and slaughterhouses and I really admire the work of people like Temple Grandin who strive to make those conditions better. My choice here in Montana is to buy as local as possible, always humanely raised and hopefully always humanely killed. I have killed fish and that’s about as far as I have taken the “kill your own” philosophy but it isn’t practical to try to do otherwise. I feel cowardly in some ways as I let other people kill it so I try to eat as little meat as possible to make up for it. The farm and ranch people here have their kids in 4H and I have talked to some traumatized youngsters showing their goats for auction. There’s a small slaughtering processing place in town. I hope some of the personal involvement will make small changes from local people.