Monday, July 19, 2010

Numbered days

We've had the land now for almost two years and the animals for one and a half. That equals something like 25 round bales, 30 bags of range cubes, 10 salt and mineral blocks, and countless hours worrying. Day to day I forget why we purchased the animals. I forget about ag exemptions and all the rules that go along with them. I forget that they are cattle; not pets. I forget on purpose.

Tonight Jeremy brought up the inevitable discussion that I had forgotten was coming. Or, rather, I hoped he would forget. We talked about selling Rooney for beef. Maybe you're already familiar with the ins and outs of livestock; those that are worth a lot for many reasons, and those that are worth a little for only one. The steers are worth a little for meat and only meat. They were castrated at a young age and cannot be used for breeding. They were born and bred for food.

And yes I knew this jumping in. Intellectually, I understood where steers fit into the food chain. Emotionally, I was hooked as soon as they had names and let me scratch their ears. Naming livestock is a tricky business. Our new country friends advised that the only names a steer should have are of your favorite cut. For example: Dwayne's little steer is Porterhouse and Keith's is T-bone. This was among the stupidest concepts suggested for breaking the natural inclination to love the animal. Now I understand that it defines them as food from the beginning. Pet them all you want - they still have but one purpose.

For many, this is an incredibly sensitive subject, especially the notion that a castrated animal serves only the purpose of food. I wholeheartedly understand this sentiment, and I used to agree. But also like many I choose to eat meat, and because I love animals, I want my food dollars to support humanely raised, healthy meat. Food contributions we make with our beef, albeit small, keeps one other family's food dollars out of feed lots. I can support that.

Rooney has, by all accounts, lived one hell of a lovely life. He has had all of the sweet grass, fresh hay, clean water, and space to roam that a tiny cow could want. And after spending time with cows I am certain that this is all they want. I am on the fence about the whole thing, but the fence is leaning, and I know what we must do. It's one thing to quote The Omnivore's Dilemma from my soap box but it's a rare chance to, well, put my money where my mouth is. As a practicing omnivore, this is my personal opportunity to get behind what I support and encourage friends and family to spend their food dollars on local, healthy beef from an animal raised with care and appreciation. Maybe not such a dilemma after all.

(I'm sorry if this was offensive. It's not a decision we take lightly, and it's not a decision that's been made.)

1 comment:

YourFinancialCoach said...

We might have made that mistake, too, by naming our chickens and by getting them as babies!

I heard a good piece on NPR last week about a woman who raises her own chickens and 'harvests' them. (She doesn't 'kill' chickens, as that implies murder in her mind). It might help to use that term instead of kill and slaughter. And like you say, that cow has lived one heck of a life considering the alternatives.