Life & Death on the Farm

On Saturday afternoon a family came up to the farm to buy a goat. They are originally from Kenya and who have been buying products from our farm for years now. They chose the animal they wanted and we led it to a spot not far from then sugarhouse and I slaughtered it for them. My animals know me and are comfortable around me. I slaughter the smaller ones like lambs and goat by severing their carotid artery and holding them while they bleed out. A friend of mine was at the farm that day and he had never witnessed a slaughter and wanted to watch the process so he stood nearby while it took place. I was mindful of his experience as well and when it was over- something that lasts a minute or two at most I looked over at him to see if he was alright.

Death is something humans understand in a way that no animal fully comprehends. We dwell on it, memorialize our own, think about our own demise, craft legal documents, build tombs and tell stories. It fascinates us because we understand that life is finite in a way that animals do not and because we are human we project our concerns and fears onto animals and make them their own.

No living thing desires death, but all life comes to an end. With animals meant for consumption by humans, their lives are- when raised on family farms- well lived. They are fed, looked after, treated with kindness and compassion. The word husbandry came from this relationship rather than the one used in marriage and it reflects the responsibility one feels for his livestock.

After we slaughtered the goat the family went to work on it, skinning, eviscerating, cleaning and butchering the animal together. They use every piece, every organ, every scrap to feed themselves and the way that they worked together was a wonderful thing to be a part of and something I have enjoyed every time that they visit us. Afterwards I took them out to the back forty to pick raspberries and before they left I brought out some syrup for the younger ones to taste and they paid me for the goat and for my time. They left me with the skin which I will tan and later sell to a guy I know who makes drums and the horns that will go to a knife maker for pommels in skinning knives like the one I used on the goat. The dogs and the barn cats got to clean up where the blood puddled and with the exception of the waste we removed from the entrails which will compost back into the soil under the maples where we slaughtered, the only thing left will be the memory of that afternoon.

My children are far more familiar with the concept of life and death than I was when I was their age and I am grateful for it and think it is a healthier way to go through life. They understand that every living thing on Earth requires the death of some other living thing to go on, that all flesh is grass and that the soil itself made up of the residue of all things dead is filled with more life in a single handful than the human populations of all our cities combined. They know that when I die I wish to be cremated and to have my ashes spread on the fields so that in some small way I might be able to return something of myself to the nourishment of others. If that is any stranger than to be pumped full of chemicals and placed in a concrete box too deep to ever rot, I’ll have to live with that;-)

I try to live my life in the most efficient, responsible and thoughtful way possible and to raise my children to be better than I am. What I eat, I produce, I harvest, I prepare. I do not pass on my responsibilities to other people nor do I accept their judgments as my own. Those who claim the moral high ground when it comes to issues as fundamental as the food we put in our bodies are rarely the ones who do the same. It is often with the best intentions that they posture and intone, but the road to hell, as they say is paved…

This morning before I begin to work again on our fields and with our animals I will feed myself and my family with the harvest of this piece of land and it will nourish us in many more ways than to simply fill our bellies. And as long as I am able I will do my best to make the lives of every living thing around me a little bit better than it was before I passed through.

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