20 minutes ago we loaded Seamus and Matilda into separate trailers. Matilda has gone to a 36 acre ranch in the hill country. Her new owner is a livestock vet with two young sons who have already come over to feed and pet her. She’s going to have a good life.
Seamus was loaded into Dwayne’s borrowed trailer. Right now he is on his way to Smithville where he will be processed. The emotions behind this decision are, obviously, complicated and raw. I wrote at length about my initial decision to process one of our steers here and little of what was said then has changed for me now.
But today was much, much harder for me than butchering Rooney last year. I’ve been sleepless for a week and wrestled with the knowledge that just as easily as I decided we would do this, I could decide not to. That sort of power is frightening. Although I was positive I wouldn’t be able to help load him, I managed to calmly participate in what ended up being a very smooth loading from round pen to trailer. While holding a bucket of feed over the fence to lure him forward, my upper arm snagged on the barbed wire. There’s a deep, open hole there that will probably scar. It seems appropriate.
I came back inside and poured a tall glass of iced tea, sat down at the computer and wrote a note to my sister – if we all had to do this each time we wanted a hamburger, our diets would be dramatically different. BBQ ribs would be more of a luxury and a blessing. There’s nothing sterile or simple about consuming meat. Most of us interact with the food chain at the very end, after all the dirty work has been done and without much consideration for everything that went into its beginning, its middle – and its end. Although I felt burdened this week with my own personal dilemmas about ending a life, it thrust me right into the middle of the food chain, in a way. It makes me absolutely conscious about how much of that precious beef I will consume, and how I will prepare it. It makes me think twice every time I’m eating out and see meat on the menu. How was that animal treated? What did it eat? Do I want to support that?
Some people in my life were horrified I decided to process Seamus. I kept much more distance from Rooney who wasn’t such a nice animal to begin with; a fact that somehow made his death more palatable for others wrestling with the notion of “eating a pet.” I was horrified, too, when we first discussed the fact that Matilda needed a new home, the reality of hay prices, the fact that this animal was always intended for slaughter. I broke down twice. I cried when he was driven away, then I came inside and washed my gouged arm and silently thanked whatever forces came together to allow us this piece of dirt and these animals.
Many of our choices around here regarding animals are heavy. They should be. This is not the last animal we will raise for food – for us, our families and our friends. This isn’t the last time I’ll lean against the kitchen counter allowing myself two whole minutes of quiet tears. Like last year, I’m full with gratitude for his time here on the farm and his contribution as food for this table and others.