Until Wednesday, I had killed 3 animals in my life, 2 birds and one lizard, all mercy killings to put dying animals out of their misery. I spent 19 years vegetarian, many of the latter vegan, and so in many ways killing and eating something I raised marks a signpost in my life. Today I am tired in the way that I think you can only understand once you have slaughtered an animal that you raised, and then spent hours skinning and gutting it.
This evening, doing the closing routine of feeding and penning up the animals for the night, I caught myself filling the feed bucket a grain ration including the boys. I stopped, mid grain pour, realizing that there were no longer boys to feed. And it did not feel sad or tragic.
It felt, strangely, as though everything had returned to normal. The boys had never really been a part of the family here. They were loud and awkward and our bond was tenuous. Only now does it occur to me that they had always felt a bit like interlopers, and now it feels as if they were exchange students returned to their homes, leaving in their wake a peace that is palpable.
Perhaps it was their impending death, looming, that made it near impossible to connect with them. The end was always too near and too ominous.
I pulled the trigger, and I can say with full certainty that the boys, each suckling blissfully on a bottle at the time, felt nothing and went instantaneously. Killing is, in fact, the easy part. The battle against time and the processes of nature comes next.
A carcass is a cruel master. Now I know. Once the bullet is brainbound, the race begins, and it is brutal, and cannot stop cannot stop cannot stop is relentless.
There are things you can never un-know. This is one.
Severing a jugular creates a great gout of blood, and the animal makes it’s final motion, a combination of all the motions of life, legs flex as though running in a dream, tail wags as if in joy or anticipation. Meanwhile, you must hold this body running through all it’s physical routines, as the lifeblood runs out of it, must apply pressure and pump the front legs to move it out. With a heart beating so hard that for a moment it is impossible to tell if it is the animal’s or your own.
And the rest is just procedure. Just meticulous, exacting, heavy duty physical labor of separating a hide from a body, removing all the vital organs, and doing it as quickly as possible to fight the natural processes that begin breaking us down the moment our hearts stop. The constant cleaning and sharpening of knives, the swatting of mosquitoes, the second guessing of which cut comes next.
I will not go into detail except to say that having been a massage therapist for 16 years, the experience of the fascia, the layer that encases all muscle tissues, that holds skin fast to flesh- experiencing this separation, being the cause of it... was a beautiful thing. To see and feel how this system works was fascinating. And to feel each fiber tighten with each minute that passed was a wonderful reminder of how swiftly we were to move to do this properly. How quickly things change when life leaves us.
I believe that the cover of night made the entire process more palatable. What with the smells and the blood and the constant motion of dressing the body, the cover of night helped to make it more surreal, less technicolor. Without the two people helping, this would have been near impossible. While I keep emphasizing speed, what is perhaps not clear is that we were working for nearly 4 hours. It just lasted forever, as the stars grew bright and the moon moved across the sky, we had our hands and arms inside still warm, quickly cooling bodies. There is no way to describe this properly.
I spent a moment with each of the goats, Plug and Cabrito, pressed against their still-warm bodies, thanking them for being here, thanking them for giving their lives, honoring them with my gratitude. And only now, writing this three days later, do I feel a welling of tears.
It is a grave and intense honor to take an animal’s life. I finally feel as if I have come by my food honestly. I wish that every one of us who chooses to eat meat could partake in this process at least one time. Everyone would eat less meat, or at least eat it more mindfully.
I am grateful for the strength to be a part of this process, and know that this is the beginning of my life as a farmer and a steward of the practices that give humans their humanity.
I would not choose another life.