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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Tracy's Got a Gun

I was so excited about the gift my boyfriend got me for Valentine’s Day, a .22 rifle, so like most people do when they are excited about something, I posted it on Facebook.  “Nothing says ‘I love you’ quite like a Mossberg 715 Tactical .22 Long Rifle”.  Most of my friends got it.  They understood what that meant to me and why I would be excited to share it.  A few did not.  One commented, “No thanks”.  Excellent!  I hope your husband got you something you love, whatever that might be.  I love my gift.  Another asked, “Why?”  Knowing this person to be a thoughtful individual who might actually be seeking to understand something from another person’s perspective I decided to explain the “why”.  I’m guessing she’s not the only one asking this question.

Mossberg .30-.30 lever action.
To my friends who don’t have and don’t want guns - I get it.  I respect your choice and understand the many reasons to not own a gun.  For many reasons, that was also my choice until the last few years.  I lived in a quiet suburb with very low crime rates.  The chances of encountering a fox, coyote, or other animal that would threaten my safety, that of my child or my dog on our daily walks was slim to none.  But, if I am being completely honest, I was afraid, and my fear came from a lack of experience and knowledge.  I did not grow up with guns, my family didn’t hunt, and it just wasn’t part of my upbringing.  My parents didn’t teach me to hate or to fear guns, they were just something I didn’t understand. No one I knew had them, or if they did, they did not talk about them.  From my limited view, only cops and criminals had guns.

A few years ago I moved to a farm to live with my boyfriend.  I learned very quickly that the thinking about guns is very different here.  Out here, just an hour from my former suburban home, just about everyone has guns the same way just about everyone has a tractor - another thing I didn’t understand or need in the past.  What I want my city friends to understand is that for some people, guns fall into the same category as tractors.  They are useful tools.  Yes, we sometimes collect interesting guns the way some farmers collect old tractors and target shooting can be enjoyable but guns have a legitimate place in homes here.  We have different guns for different purposes.  We take care of and value them.  We teach our children to use them appropriately and safely.  We also take them seriously.  We have locked safes and there are no toy guns or video games with guns allowed in our home.

The first gun Mark bought for me was a Mossberg 464 SX Tactical .30-.30 lever action.  I spotted it at a gun show because I liked the way it looked - like something out of the Sci-Fi series Firefly, cowboys vs. aliens.  That was what got my attention but the reason he bought it was because it was a good hunting gun for me.  I have an old shoulder injury that affects the way I hold a rifle and it means I need a very short stock.  Most tactical guns have adjustable stocks which I can adjust to shorter even than that of a youth gun.  I practiced shooting targets so that if I did take a shot hunting, I would be able to make a clean kill.  We hunt to help control the deer populations which would easily grow out of control without human intervention, and use the meat.  I haven’t yet had a shot worth taking.  However, I was extremely grateful for the gun knowledge when I found a dying calf in the pasture and was able to end it’s life quickly and painlessly rather than watching it suffer.  I also appreciate the feeling of safely it brings me to know that I do have protection if I do encounter a bear, wolf, or coyote while out picking apples in the woods, should it choose to do something other than walk away.  It would not be an altogether unusual thing to happen in this area.  Another point of brutal honesty; every once in a while you meet someone who makes chills run up your spine.  I have met a few of these people.  Home alone, where the neighbors are too far to hear even your loudest cries for help and your cell phone doesn’t work, I am not ashamed to admit that I feel more confident knowing there is a pistol in my waistband as I do the evening chores. 

Over the last 3+ years I’ve acquired a few more guns of my own; a better hunting rifle, a shotgun, a pistol to carry, a revolver, and a Deringer that fit into my collection of “unusual, Wild Wild West, steampunk, cowboys vs. aliens firearms”.  I took a Conceal & Carry class, not sure at the time if I wanted to carry or not, but figured it would be useful information either way.  I’ve also had the opportunity to shoot guns owned by my boyfriend and other friends.  I’ve learned that shooting is a sport that requires extreme mindfulness and presence.  Mark has said since we first started talking about teaching me to shoot, “I think you’ll be good at this.  You know how to breathe.”  For my yogi friends, if you let go of the judgement that guns are “bad” and see them as inert pieces of equipment that only do what you make them do, they can appeal to all of the skills we seek to hone as yogis.  Imagine I was throwing a javelin instead of shooting a gun, or practicing sword fighting.  Would it bother you the same way that my shooting a gun does?  A javelin and a sword are instruments of death, used for hunting and war.  It requires skill and focus to achieve the target.  In the hands of someone untrained or with ill intent, they become frighteningly deadly weapons, but in the hands of someone trained and dedicated, can be an amazing show of skill.  As a yogi and a shooter, I can tell you that target shooting; checking your firearm and loading it safely, lining up your sights, steadying your breath, your hands, and your mind, and finding exactly the right moment to pull the trigger are some of the most mindful experiences I have ever had.  

Mark gave me my first pistols as a birthday gift, the Derringer as a surprise just because he saw it and knew I would love it, and the Mossberg .22 for Valentine’s Day.  First, a quick note about this last gun, the one that spurred this explanation. 

It looks pretty intimidating, doesn’t it?  It’s not.  A .22 is what would be used for shooting rats that get into the grain and foxes threatening the chickens.  This gun is the same caliber as a gun called the “Cricket”, a kids gun designed to be used by children to teach them firearm safety and handling.  The AR style is just that, a style.  I like it because it is an adaptive piece of equipment,  It has an adjustable stock which means I can comfortably fit it to my bad shoulder and it has ghost ring sights which work better for me than a regular scope because of my left-eye dominance.  These are some of the reasons why it was a great gift for me.  My love knows how difficult it is for me to find a rifle that I can hold properly and comfortably.  He knew I would like both the style and the fit of the gun.  He knew it would be an easy gun for me, still an inexperienced shooter, to use and to learn with.  This was a gesture of caring and trust.  He picked out the perfect gun for me the way a different guy might pick out the perfect pair of earrings for a different girl, but I don’t have pierced ears!  I know it might be hard for some of you to understand that I truly don’t want flowers or a candle lit dinner for Valentine’s Day.  Shooting is one of the things that my love and I share.  It is time spent together. We go to gun shows and auctions together and look for unusual finds and collectibles.  We watch old Westerns and talk about the different guns they used.  To him, guns have always been a part of life.  To me, they are new and interesting.  For him to share this part of his life, his experience and knowledge, and for me to realize that my prior judgement about what guns and gun owners are, and that it was not a complete picture and was founded on fear, these are truly great gifts to me. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Full Circle

It was my first calving season at the farm and I was so excited to experience this part of farm life.  Mark and I stood outside of the cattle shed, talking about what - I don't remember.  We had come out this April morning to check on the ladies and had found nothing happening.  As we stood there chatting something caught my eye.  In the mud and muck, wedged under the fence, I saw the movement of a pig-ish nose.  My mind scrambled to figure out how we could possible have a pig in the cattle shed!  Which of our neighbors raises pigs?

"Mark, what is tha...?
Is that a...?
Oh my Go...!
It's a calf!"

Walking closer to get a better look, I realized that this pig-sized and pig-nosed animal, completely submerged in the mud and muck of the cattle shed and wedged under the gate was not an escaped pig but, in fact, a newborn calf.  Mark rushed in and carried the calf to drier ground.  I ran for towels and buckets of warm water.  Mama was nowhere to be seen. After cleaning up the calf the rest of the herd became curious and every one came to sniff and check it out.  We determined that mama was Maudine.  This was her first calf and she didn't seem to have any interest in tending to him.  Covered in mud and manure, its nostrils packed with the same, perhaps the scents that would normally trigger the mother/calf instincts were still dormant.

We spent frustrating hours trying to bring mama closer to her calf in the hope they would recognize each other.  By the afternoon, baby still hadn't fed and we were wondering if we would be hand-raising this one.  Daily care and bottle feedings sound like a sweet and wonderful thing to do but the reality is that it is a major commitment of time and resources and many farmers would choose to cull the calf rather than take this on.  For us, with full time jobs off-farm, this would have been an exceptional challenge.  Luckily, this wasn't a choice we had to make.  Once we had Maudine and the calf separated from the herd in an isolated portion of the barn, the calf finally attached and we breathed a sigh of relief.  Actually, after hours of worry, I'm sure I sobbed my relief more than sighed.

The calf grew well and we named her Lola.  All of the year's females would have L names but Lola ended up being our only girl, the only calf from the season who would be sold as a breeder rather than raised - unnamed - for beef.  One day, standing in the pasture watching the herd, one of us (I don't remember who) noticed that there was something very wrong with Lola.

Lola had balls!

By this time Lola was Lola and he kept his name.  Lola was one of the "Naughty Boys".  Every year there are a few who have no respect for fences.  They get out and wander the property, sometimes wander down the road, at times even visiting the neighbors.  For as much trouble as they cause - walking through my gardens and causing strangers to stop in at all times of the day and night to let us know "your cows are out" - these naughty ones become our favorites.  The naughty ones are the ones we interact with daily.  They curiously check out the bonfire, drink from the bird bath, and munch the long grasses that border the yard as we go about business as usual.  Generally more socialized and friendly than the rest of the herd, they are especially calm and easy to work with.  They trust us and we trust them.   It doesn't take long for them to learn the routine and when we tell them it's time to go back inside the fence they amble down the driveway and through the gate easily. At times, we just let them stay out and wander as long as they are safe on our property and not close to the road.  Some of my best photos are of these naughty ones because there is open landscape in the backround, no fences.

I always try to be there when the butcher comes.  As difficult as it is, it is important for me to be there, even more so this time.  If you are cringing and withdrawing at this point, be assured.  Our butcher is quick.  The animals are not frightened or in pain.  One instant they are grazing peacefully in their home pasture,  the next they are gone.  I have watched before.  It is always difficult.  But it's important.  Lola's life, like the lives of all pasture raised livestock, was  important.  He fed in the pastures, encouraging deep rooting of the pasture grasses, which anchor the topsoil and decompose to provide nutrients to the soil.  His hooves tilled the earth with each step.  As he walked he fertilized the land.  With his death this one cow will provide enough beef for a full year for our family and friends.

This is the point where I want to go off on a pre-emptive rant about the impact of vegetarianism on the environment but that's not what this is about.  We all have the right to believe as we will and we can all find plenty of Google-searched charts and studies to back us up.  Instead, I will allow myself to feel the sadness of their deaths of Lola and the other two steers.  I will recognize the importance of their part in a much bigger picture and I will give thanks and gratitude for their lives.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Slow and Low: How to Cook Grass Fed Scottish Highland Beef

I remember the first time I grilled steaks from our cows.  They were horrible.  Really, truly horrible.  I cooked them just the way I always did my grass fed steaks, on medium high heat for just a few minutes on each side, enough to sear the outside and leave the inside perfectly medium rare.  Overcooking a good steak makes it tough, right?  So I couldn't understand why these steaks were so tough!  Someone suggested that grass fed meat is just going to be tough and I could marinade it in Coca Cola or Sprite to help break down the fibers.  It seems this is a common practice to which I say, "UGH!  Why bother with good quality meat in the first place?" I could also make my roasts in the crock pot in a plastic roasting bag for easy cleaning (along with BPA , phthalates, and other plasticizers) with a packet of meat marinade (aka chemical shit storm).



But, after gnawing away unsuccessfully for a few minutes I decided to throw them back on the grill for a while and after cooking the steaks to what I would have previously considered incredibly over- done, they were not great, but at least edible.  The flavor was good and they were tender.

Since that time I have had quite a bit of practice and what I have discovered is that the meat from our cows is quite different from even the best quality grass fed beef I used to purchase at the co-op.  It is denser, richer, and not as lean as what you would typically expect from grass-fed  Most cooking sites will tell you that grass fed beef is leaner than conventional beef but this is a generalization.  The amount of fat and the overall texture of the muscle will vary greatly from herd to herd, not only because of different food sources but also because of variance in breed, climate,  and lifestyle of the animals.  I guess our Scottish Highland cows have a pretty laid back life because their meat has some really nice marbling.  The quality and flavor of the fat is different as well.  Even though there is a nice amount of flavorful fat in our cuts, the fat does not render the same as beef from other sources I have used.

To get the most flavor and tenderness out of our Scottish Highland beef I have had to disregard everything I used to know about cooking beef.  Slow and low is the way to go and I cook my steaks to more "doneness" than I used to.  To get a really tender and tasty steak you really need to cook it slowly to medium well.  Otherwise it's going to be tough and fatty.  I know, I resisted too.  Everyone I know who likes their steaks rare or medium rare has trouble with this point but you just have to trust me on this one.
Cast Iron on top of the wood burning stove - yum!

Here are my tips for a perfect steak or roast:

1)  Thaw at room temp before you put it on the heat.  After you have completely defrosted the meat overnight (or longer) in the refrigerator, set it out on the counter for 20 minutes to an hour.  The amount of time you leave it out will depend on the size of your cut.  You will need more time for a 5 lb. roast to come to room temp than a 1 inch steak.

2) Cast iron is best. Stainless steel is an acceptable second choice.  Teflon coated or other non-stick pans?... Nope!

3) Bones add flavor.  When I was pinching pennies I always bought boneless cuts.  Who wants to pay for the weight of a bone?  But a cut of meat with the bone attached will have more flavor than one without.  When you can,  cook meat on the bone.  I save the bones, throw them in a crock pot with water, some cider vinegar , onions, carrots, celery, and a few seasonings and let it cook for at least a day - sometimes up to 3 days. Strain this into jars or just pick out the bones and you have made your own amazing and nutritious bone broth.

2) Always sear.  For steaks, start with a med/high heat and just a few minutes on each side before reducing the heat.  I like to put a layer of salt & pepper on the meat before searing but you could make up a seasoning rub with just about any dried spices or herbs that you like.  For a roast, sear all sides before putting it in the roaster or crock pot, especially on the side with that nice layer of fat.  Let it start to render.  Add a little broth, wine or water to your pan to help scrape up the brown bits and pour that into the roaster.

3) I have had great luck with my steaks in the broiler.  I like them even better than on the grill.  I use a cast iron pan and sear one side on the stove top.  Then I flip the steak and put the pan under the broiler.  My broiler doesn't have a low setting but I can reduce the heat by putting it on the lowest rack, far away from the heating element.  If you like it a little crustier you can always move it higher for the last few minutes of cooking time.

4)  Cooking time varies by cut, thickness, starting meat temp, and other factors.  Don't rely on a set amount of time.  Never walk away from a steak.  Pay attention, check in, and test for doneness by pressing on the steak.  It's firmness will tell you how tender it is.  This might take a little practice to learn how it feels when it's just right for you but, again, too many variables for a one size fits all description.  Please,  I beg you, do not check for doneness by cutting into the steak.  Much of the juices will drain out and your steak will not be as good as it could have been.

5)  Cook slow & low.  This gives the fats time to break down and distribute their flavor into the meat. A higher heat can cause the fibers of the meat to contract, making it tough.

5) Let it rest.  Give the meat a good 10-20 minutes, again this depends on the size of the cut you are working with.  During this time the rendered fats and juices will be distributing and cooling in the fibers of the meat where they will impart their juiciness and delicious flavor.  Don't worry, did you know that new science shows that fat from healthy, grass fed animal sources is good for you?  It is! And it's delicious.  So enjoy!

*Note:  If you are following a favorite beef recipe you might try just dialing back the cooking temp and upping the cooking time a bit.  This has worked for me with recipes from cookbooks and other blogs.  For my first Prime Rib I used a recipe from the Complete America's Test Kitchen cookbook which is, by the way, the absolute best cookbook ever.  Everything I've made from it has been the bomb.  It turned out fantastic but I did cook it on 250 for almost 5 hours.

This handsome fella is D3.  

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

One Word

We start the new year with such good intentions. Whether it is a resolution or an intention, tradition says that the first day of the year is a good time to change something in your life.  According to online statistics, as few as 8% of people consider themselves successful in their resolutions by the end of the year.  This is obvious when you compare attendance at gyms & fitness centers from January to March. 

I remember the time I resolved to quit smoking. I think I made it until 12:01 AM.  Eventually, I did successfully quit but, like most life changes, it took time and a few failed attempts. This was also the year that I quit resolutions.  Why set myself up for failure, knowing that for me, change takes time? 

Many years ago, sitting at a table with a group of friends, I had an "Aha Moment". It was one of those moments where you see yourself in a situation clearly, as others do, and you cringe.  I reflected on that moment for days and after a time I 
accepted that this habit, or personality trait I had that I wanted to change was deeply embedded. It wasn't going to be easy.  I thought about it more and asked myself what could I use as a reminder when I found myself in certain situations and I chose one word.

For a long time (years!) I would remember my word too late, after the fact, but I remembered. I kept bringing that word into my mind. I started to recognize situations sooner and to bring in that one word sooner. I chose that word over 15 years ago and I still use it at times.  

Last year I realized that it was time for a new word.  I had become aware of my reactions & responses to other situations that I did not think were useful or in my best interest.  Again, I boiled it down to one word, one word that reminded me to step out of my habits, my insecurities, my conditioning, and see clearly.  I will carry this word for as long as it serves me and when I'm ready I will add another.  Each of the words clears away more of the dust that has settled in my mind and on my heart over the years and honestly, makes my life brighter, sweeter, and infinitely easier.


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Give Your Furnace the Cold Shoulder

It’s October and temperatures have dropped quickly here in Wisconsin.  In just a few days we went from overnight lows in the 60’s to lows in the 40’s.  The cattle are frisking about the pasture, absolutely joyful to have a break from the summer heat and humidity.  The pigs cannot get enough to eat as their instincts are telling them it’s time to start packing on the fat (they don’t know that Mike the Butcher is coming tomorrow).  Many of my friends are posting on Facebook that they have given in and have turned on their furnaces or that they are thinking about it. Even though I am the personification of the term “Freeze Baby” and there are few things I love as much as a fire in the wood stove, I am not ready to give in just yet.  

Not much comes easily here and we don’t take much for granted.  The other day, we were talking about firewood with some friends, fellow farmers.  Someone said, “It’s not like it grows on trees.”  Well, literally speaking, yes it does but it takes time and energy to cut, haul, and stack.  Or you shell out the hard earned dough to pay someone else to do it.  So, even though I am the first one to complain about being cold, I will be one of the last to light a fire in the wood stove or turn on the heat.  No, I won’t be walking around my house bundled up in outerwear.  Socks and a sweatshirt?  Sure, but no abominable snowman attire needed.  Here are the little things we do the keep the cold at bay for a few more weeks and keep fuel usage in the coldest days of winter.

Take advantage of the daytime sun. 
Open curtains and blinds on East facing windows in the morning and on West facing windows at night.  Close the blinds when the sun isn’t shining directly in.  I am constantly amazed at how much heat the house picks up from the sun, even on really cold days, when we do this.

Close doors. 
My son lives with me for a week, then with his dad for a week.  When he is not here, his bedroom door is closed.  We also have a small room at the front of the house we call the “summer kitchen”.  It has large windows and protrudes from the living space so that it is less sheltered by rest of the house.  The door separating this room from the rest of the house is closed at night and open it in the morning while the sun is shining in, allowing the warmth that gathers in that room to flow through the house.  At the top or bottom of staircases many homes have doors.  We have a heavy curtain at the top of the steps.  I open or close the curtain to regulate the temp between the upper and lower levels as needed. 

Get in the kitchen.
In the summertime I do not cook pot-roast. I buy my bread and cookies and other baked goods from the Amish bakery down the road or the Co-op.  Now that the weather has cooled it’s time bring the roasting pans, cookie sheets and crock-pot up from storage in the basement.  During the early fall when days that are warm and nights are cool, I bake cookies, cakes, crisps, bread, and other baked items in the evenings.  Crock-pot oatmeal adds a little overnight heat and takes the chill off the morning air.  Later in the season I will add crock-pot meals on weekdays when I am not home to come home to a ready meal and a warm house.  On work from home and weekend days I will simmer soups and sauces, make stock from the bones I freeze all year long, and slow cook roasts, whole chickens, and ribs.  I will pull the produce that I froze earlier in the fall from the freezer for canning, adding both heat and moisture to the dry, cold winter air.

Some of these things may seem simple, “no-brainers” for many of you.  But I never thought of these things when I lived in an apartment in the city.  I didn’t need to.  I just turned on the heat when I got cold.  Opening and closing doors and curtains is about as simple as it gets.  If you are going to cook anyway why not make the most of it? Maybe you’re not a baker or don’t love to cook.  Crock-pots are excellent tools for those who don’t love to cook or think they don’t have the time and there are many simple recipes that just take a few minutes of prep time.  These simple measures can reduce your fuel usage, reduce your heating costs, and reduce your carbon footprint.  Please share your simple ideas in the comments below!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Broken Human Beings

I was grocery shopping the other day and witnessed a toddler throwing a tantrum.  Screaming and twisting in the seat of the cart, he threw his bottle on the floor. Mom calmly picked up the bottle and gave the boy a pacifier, which he threw back at her.  "Fine", she said as she put the bottle and the pacifier in her purse.  The boy turned, reaching for items from the shelves to throw and when mom moved the cart to the middle of the aisle, he reached into the cart behind him and grabbed a bag of chips.  As he was winding up to throw, she quickly unbuckled him and scooped him up out of the seat and into her arms.  Cradling his head against her chest, she rocked back and forth whispering, "What's wrong, My Little Man?  Why are you so upset?"

"Owie!" he cried.  By this time I was at the far end of the aisle so I did not see what she found or did but when she put him back in the cart a moment later he was babbling happily, asking for his bottle.

Later that same night I woke up to the sound of my dog chewing on his bed.  I told him "no" and I took it away.  He immediately began to search for something else to chew on.  He grabbed a pair of pants from the hamper.  I took those away as well.  When he started to gnaw on the corner of a cabinet I put him in his kennel with a few toys until morning.  This morning I will take him for a long run because I know that I cannot cure the anxiousness or boredom that is causing the destructive behavior by removing the objects he wants to chew.  For every object I remove he will find another.

I believe that most people, regardless of their religion, political views, or personal beliefs would see the reason behind the actions taken to resolve these two very different problems.  That is why I'm having a hard time understanding why so many people's attention, when faced with another instance of violence in the news, is focused on the weapon rather than the fact that a human being is compelled to not just end the lives of others, but to do so in a way that terrorizes all of us.  If a person has a desire to kill and they do not have access to a gun, there a many other ways to accomplish their goals that are just as accessible.  Home made bombs are quite simple to make and the ingredients can be purchased at any Walmart.  Driving a vehicle into a crowd would certainly cause massive damage.  Poisoning food?  Water?  Air?  These are just the simple, obvious choices.  Someone with a true desire to cause harm would, I'm sure, come up with more creative and media worthy ideas.  Timothy McVeigh did.  So did Andrew Kehoe, who executed one of the largest school related mass killings in US history.  And the two brothers who killed their family in their home just a few months ago. We didn't even hear about them on the news.  There are many more examples here under point #3.

I am a gun owner.  I am not a member of the NRA.  I am not opposed to background checks. I am completely in support of keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill however, I do not believe that is an attainable goal. Rational thinking tells us that someone who intends to use a gun to break a law (homicide,  theft, assault, etc. ) will not be deterred by the fact that owning a gun is against the law.  Historically, gun laws have not reduced instances of gun violence.  During the years in which the D.C. handgun ban and trigger lock law was in effect, the Washington, D.C. murder rate averaged 73% higher than it was at the outset of the law, while the U.S. murder rate averaged 11% lower. In 1997, Britain passed a law requiring civilians to surrender almost all privately owned handguns to the police. The homicide rate in England and Wales has averaged 52% higher since the outset of the 1968 gun control law and 15% higher since the outset of the 1997 handgun ban.  In 1982, the city of Chicago instituted a ban on handguns. This ban barred civilians from possessing handguns except for those registered with the city government prior to enactment of the law. Since the outset of the Chicago handgun ban, the Chicago murder rate has averaged 17% lower than it was before the law took effect, while the U.S. murder rate has averaged 25% lower.  On October 1, 1987, Florida's right-to-carry law became effective.  Since the outset of the Florida right-to-carry law, the Florida murder rate has averaged 36% lower than it was before the law took effect, while the U.S. murder rate has averaged 15% lower.  Guns are not the problem.  Knives and bombs and poison are not the problem.  Broken human beings are the problem.

I've been thinking a lot about the hero, Chris Minz, in this most recent attack.  An army veteran, he rushed in from the classroom next door when he heard the attack instead of running away.  Unarmed, he tried to talk the gunman down and was shot several times.  I wonder how things might have turned out differently if Chris Minz had been carrying a gun that day.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Humanely Raised

This is the moment that I told myself I would be there for his death.

The 2 year old, 800 lb. steer moved closer to my son, curious about this small human in the pasture. I watched from a distance as the beast sniffed curiously at the small boy in front of him, moving cautiously. My breath stopped and my heart pounded as his nose met my sweet boy’s nose. Mark stood nearby watching closely for signs of aggression or danger. I trusted his relaxed body language and bit back my fear as D3 reached out to sniff my fragile, human, 8 year old son and the two made an incomprehensible connection.  This was a moment we would all remember, not just because of the photos I took but because of the purity of the moment, two innocent souls connecting on a primitive level. 

That was over a year ago. Since then we have had many of these intimate moments with the cattle; witnessing the birth of newborn calves, giving Trixie or Sofie a good scratch, earning the trust of a less social animal with alfalfa treats and patience, and herding the ones we call the Naughty Boys back into the pasture when they wander off into the yard or down the road.  We love these creatures. We bond with them. Even the males, who don’t get names because they will be “harvested” (I hate this word. It takes the life out of them and puts them in the same category as vegetables, but it is softer than “slaughtered”, “butchered”, or “killed”) at 3 years old for meat, have places in our hearts. 

“You eat them???”  I have heard this question and seen the accompanying look of recognition and horror countless times as friends, omnivorous and vegetarian alike, make the mental connection that these stunning animals are not pets, they are livestock and we breed and raise them for meat.  I can understand their feelings. Prior to meeting Mark I had never had a close, personal interaction with an animal that I would later consume.

I am a yogi but I am not a vegetarian. With multiple food allergies and sensitivities including a long list of vegetables, nuts, eggs, legumes, wheat, dairy, and fish my non-meat options are extremely limited.  The simple fact is that I am healthiest when I eat a diet based on animal protein and yes, I have tried. I have tried diets, detoxes, nutritional programs, fasting, gut healing probiotics, ayurvedic cleanses and more. 

Years ago I attended a Detox Weekend workshop with Seane Corn, who is a strong advocate of a vegatarian diet.  During the portion of the workshop where we discuss nutrition, someone in the group brought up the question of “free range and humanely raised” meat, which were relatively new concepts for the average consumer at that time. Seane questioned how anything about raising an animal for food could be called humane.  She talked about the energy of fear, muscle memory, and how the energy of the fear and trauma the animal experiences in it’s final moments at the slaughterhouse was stored in the muscles and iconsumed by us when we eat it. How could it possibly be healthy for us to eat that?  How could raising an animal with the intent of killing it be humane?  She challenged those in the group who believed that it was ethically OK to eat meat to be a part of the process.  “Go to the farm,” she said.  “Meet the animals.  Spend time with them.  Watch them taken from their homes and loaded onto trucks.  Watch them moved from trucks into a slaughterhouse where they can smell the blood and fear of the other animals. 


Do that.

Then see if you feel the same way.”

Her statements had impact on all of us. Maybe some stopped eating meat. Perhaps more of us reduced the amount of meat we consumed or paid more attention to the sources of our meat.  I would venture a guess that none of those 40 or so participants that day actually went to a slaughterhouse and watched the death of an animal but I do believe that each of us left there thinking differently about meat.

In the hundreds of hours I have spent in workshops and trainings with many amazing teachers, this is one lesson that has always stayed with me, and that is why I made the decision to be there for his death.  “You don’t have to do this,” Mark said. “It’s not an easy thing.”   I knew it wouldn’t be easy and honestly, I was more than a little terrified. I am a highly sensitive and emotional person. I had no idea how I would react. Would I cry? Would I ever be able to get the image out of my mind? Would I pass out? Would I become a vegetarian?  I didn’t know, but I knew I needed to do this. The most important thing the teachings and practice of yoga has brought me is to be mindful in everything I do. I try to be conscious, to look beyond the surface and see the bigger picture. I try to be honest, even when it is difficult.  Especially when it is difficult. to do this.

The butcher arrived at our farm in the afternoon.  Because of this, because we did not ship the live animal to a USDA approved facility for the killing, all of the meat from this animal will be packaged and stamped “Not for Sale”.  What we cannot use ourselves we will share with friends and family. This part is important to us and we do it this way whenever we can. Our cows are born at this farm. They live here and they die here. They never experience the fear of being taken away from their herd or of being put on a trailer. They never know the smell or feel of a slaughterhouse.  This is not the case for the animals whose meat will be sold.

Mike, the butcher, pulled up in his pickup with a hoist on the back. He stepped out and loaded his rifle, his 6 year old son staying in the truck playing games on his iPad.  He and Mark walked out to the pasture. I stayed near the barn, far enough away to be safe in the event something went awry but close enough that I could see D3s face, his eyes. I watched as he unconcernedly meandered towards Mark and the butcher. By coincidence, he was already off by himself so they didn’t have to lead him away from the herd. We spend a lot of time with our cows, making sure they are comfortable with us, so having people in the pasture was no cause for alarm. He was probably wondering if the guys had brought him any treats, as visitors often do, and moved closer. 

At about this point I realized I had moved myself into a state of emotional detachment.  As a defense against my own emotions I had separated myself from what I was watching, as if it was a movie.  I was cold and detached. I brought myself back into the moment, fully aware and present.  I was frightened because I knew what was coming. D3 was not. Before the sound of the shot even registered in my mind D3’s knees buckled and he was on the ground. One moment he was home, content, and the next moment his existence changed. I cannot explain this but he went from being a something with a soul that was evident when you looked in his eyes to being a body, in an instant, even quicker than an instant.

It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t pleasant. It is not something I will ever take lightly but after this experience I have decided that I will honor each of our animals by being there for this moment when I can. I respect them enough to be a part of this process.  I hope this is how I go when it is my time. I pray I go quickly and quietly, with no fear and with people who love me nearby. 

My purpose in sharing this experience is not to change anyone’s mind about eating meat, whether they are for or against it, or tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t do. We don’t all have the opportunity to participate in the process in this way and I don’t expect anyone reading this to seek it out. I am sure some who read this will  be horrified by what I have written.  Shock value is not my intent either. I simply wish to share this experience because we all need to make conscious choices guided by reality, experience and facts, not media or dogma. Where our food is concerned there is a huge gap between reality and our decision making.  New movements in urban gardening and local food sourcing have begun to connect us to the truth of one of the most important things we do in our lives, nourish our bodies.  I hope I have shared this experience in a way that is more than truthful. I hope that I have communicated this experience in a way that is honest.  Take it for what it is. Think about it.