The day finally came. Even though I’d been conditioning myself to face it, it was still hard: my steer left for the butcher’s on Tuesday.
In a way, when we raised the pigs last year, they were easier to do than Hamilton. The pigs were here for just a short time – only 6 months – and while they were cute the first month or so after that they acted and ate like their name: Pigs. So it wasn’t a tearful goodbye when it came to loading them up and shipping them off (in fact we were ready to use the 22 on them ourselves by the time we finished loading them but that right there is another story).
But with Hamilton it was different. He was a good boy – right from the beginning – as cute and fuzzy as a teddy bear. And what made sending him off so difficult was that he was here for almost 2 years, plus he’d do anything I asked.
He got stuck once, tangled up in a mess of crushed fence, and being tied with a 50 foot length of rope he had pulled it to the end and couldn’t turn around. Of course I rescued him. But he was a big boy – weighing 850# at just over 16 months! I put my shoulder and back into but just the same, he needed to cooperate.
“Lift it, boy! Lift it!” I coaxed over and over. “C’mon, lift it. Atta boy! Good boy! Lift it, lift it!”
And he did. First one huge hoof came slowly over the crushed, mangled fence, then the other, and with a bit of shoving and tugging on my end he cleared the back feet too. Good boy.
So when the day finally came to load him up and send him away I cried. And as my kid brother put it: “He went like a lamb to the slaughter.”
I raised him the best I could. Mama’s milk, all the fresh green grass he could eat, a bale of hay every day, and even organic cornmeal, mixed with barley, oats and wheat middlings. He ran around; enjoyed the sunshine; was stupid and stood in the rain instead of going in his barn (but maybe he wanted to get wet). He had a good life. I gave him that much.
Raising our own source of food is difficult especially when it comes to this; and as hard and emotional as it is (because it cost something dear it’s life) I’d rather do this again than buy meat from the store. Our beef might be leaner and tougher but it will definitely be healthier. And when I stop and think about it, and I hope this doesn’t come across callous and unfeeling, there really is no other purpose for the boy animals in the bovine world except to raise them for food. You either dispose of them at birth, one book said (which seems ruthless to me) or you wait a couple years when hopefully you’ll get a freezer full of meat in return.
Not everyone can do this. I’m still wondering if I can when we drive out to pick up our order. It’s a mindset, a way of life. And I just discovered it’s an experience too.