originally posted on Honey Rock Dawn
This morning I stood in a meat locker surrounded by my hanging sides of beef. Talk about intimacy. I have wanted to write about the last days, and have, for myself ~ but haven’t published any of it here because I have learned that sometimes, while emotions and thoughts might seem crystal clear to me, I don’t always express them clearly enough for The Internet and this topic is too potent and too dear to risk misunderstanding. But it’s time to try.
Two weeks before my little herd was slated for processing, Mike and I trailered them from their huge spring pasture to a lush smaller pasture just a quarter mile from home where it would be easier to sort them off when the time came. Over the course of their lives, I have trailed them half the time and trailered them half the time ~ from the beginning, I knew their last day would entail a trailer ride to the processor and I didn’t want that to be a new and stressful experience for them. Trailering them to various grazing land is always a long, hard day for Mike and me, because it takes so many trips, but it’s quick and easy for the animals, and they walk right into the trailer in small groups and think nothing of it. This means so much to me.
When the time came, we took them to the processor in small batches over the course of a week. I chose the processor I did because they are incredibly good at what they do and they care deeply about their work ~ and the animals. It’s just two women and three men, small and personal, and stereotypes do not fit here ~ they are patient and gentle. On the first morning, one of the men looked right into my eyes and said, “I can see these animals are loved,” and that comment reaffirmed my confidence that I was leaving them in the right hands (I did not stay for the slaughter).
That day, I cried several times but it was not for the reason most people assumed, that my animals were being killed. I see it more as a transition than death ~ they were transitioning to beef, to food for people who need it and will respect it and deeply appreciate it, just as I do when I eat meat. No, I cried because of the sheer intensity of being this closely involved in the process. The reality of the process. Stores make it so easy to disconnect from the process ~ whether it’s a grocery store or a clothing store or whatever store ~ because in that context, we ARE disconnected. But the process is potent. It demands acknowledgement and responsibility. It leaves no doubt that waste is disrespectful.
It soothed my soul to know that in addition to the meat, every organ and bone of every beef was spoken for. That every lower leg with the hoof, usually thrown away, was going to someone’s dog. To know that even an ear and an eyeball were going to fuel a child’s imagination (one customer emailed me to say her daughter was in the midst of the Harry Potter books and had asked for an ear and an eyeball with which to make spells). The transition of my herd was not in vain.
When I began this venture in 2010, everyone in town who knew about it thought it would fail. Even Mike. Mike and certain friends were wholly supportive, but skeptical nonetheless. I’m so grateful to all of you who have allowed me, over the past several years, to get to know you ~ for even though I don’t know what any of you look like, I knew that our vision and values aligned. I knew, deep down, that this was not a great risk or outrageous fantasy, but simply a step in the right direction that we are taking together.
On a lighter note ~ the beef looks fantastic. The processors were amazed by the sheer size of each beef and by the quality of the meat. It is perfectly marbled ~ the holy grail of beef ~ yet lean overall, without the thick layer of outer fat that they usually have to hack off with conventional grain-fed beef. I’m really pleased, and think that everyone who ordered will be, too.