Friday, December 16, 2011

Death with a purpose

Almost a year ago we butchered the first animal on our farm. It was a sad day for Jacob the Ram and honestly it was for me too. Jacob had been on the farm for about three months to do-the-deed for our ewes - and his owners didn't want to take him home and feed him over the winter so we struck a deal. We would pay for the butchering and they would split the meat with us. Now - meat and Jacob just didn't go well in the same sentence for me at that point. Of course I KNEW what had to be done but the thought of the actual DOING was another story. It hit a home run into the knowing-where-your-food-comes-from field.

The night came when he needed to be delivered to the butchers barn and I was dreading it. The weather was terrible when his owner came to pick him up but I felt like I needed to do my part. I helped load him into the back of the van. Just to draw the picture further that's a passenger van - not a truck - and poor Jacob was squished between the back seat and the hatch so he couldn't run around. (Can't you just imagine a Children's book title to tell these stories: A Sheep in a Jeep - A Ram in a Van) I was troubled but prepared to go with him to drop Jacob off but he said: The roads are terrible - stay home. He didn't have to twist my arm. I waved goodbye and guiltily went back into the house.

About a week later we went to pick up the meat. We met up at the butchers shop and I remember staring down at little brown packages in a big clear plastic bag and trying to figure out where to put this new experience in my mind. It felt weird. That was Jacob. I had known that animal. I had fed him and cleaned up after him and scratched him under his chin. He was probably going to be the father of my baby lambs. All these thoughts rushed through my mind in a mad scramble with no where to go.

The Jacob-meat was in the freezer for almost two months before we got up the courage to eat it. I guess we needed time to adjust to the reality of how the cycles of life really worked. When the kids began to ask if we were having Jacob for dinner I knew we had all crossed over some invisible line into being keepers of animals and not just keepers of pets.

We made another trip this week to bring our 47 "meatie" birds, 7 roosters and 10 ducks to the abattoir. The day started at 4:45 when we crawled out of bed and had a quick cup of tea. Four of us rounded up the animals and shoved them squawking and quacking into specially made crates which we had picked up the night before. They were then loaded onto a trailer and delivered by the three sleepy men to the loading dock of Morrisons in Omemee. Then they went out for breakfast and I went back to bed! I guess this is the part where they aren't the happy chickens and ducks anymore!

Morrisons is the only place around that can process poultry and it's a busy place. Trucks and vans and trailers are lined up waiting their turn to load or unload. We saw one open tailer being loaded with what must have been 100's of birds ready for the freezer. In comparison our piddly 65 didn't seem like much at all in the parking lot although when it came time to deliver them and put the rest in the freezer they seemed like plenty!

This process was another great example of paying for your education with real-life experience. We figure we'll be lucky to break even this time around - here's what I learned.

  1. Getting meat chicks in September is later than I want to do this next time.
  2. I don't like cornish cross birds. They grow so quickly they can hardly walk by the time they are full grown, they eat a LOT and don't move around that much. They are completely different from our other chickens who wander the farm and range much farther. I'll be looking for a heritage meat bird for the next time.
  3. We've tried everything with the waterers - we just couldn't keep them full and finally went with a swimming pool in their pen. A disasterous choice for keeping the pen clean and dry. I'm looking into a drip system for all the birds for next spring.
  4. Ducks cost more than twice as much to butcher as chickens because their feathers are waterproof and they take much longer to pluck.
  5. We should have let the ducks get bigger before we butchered them - they ended up kinda scrawny and far too expensive for the size!
  6. We have to find another source or another way to deal with bedding in their pens - so much got wasted.

That's life at Shalom Engedi Farm and the continuing adventures of a small city girl becoming a small country farmer - who will perhaps one day actually make some money at this venture.

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