Friends. Happiest new year. And I pray it truly is for you. For us, we have had the extraordinary realization of a dream we have carried since our earliest days married. Raising meat is almost a cult. Our hunger to engage and participate was astounding and was you’re hooked, “you’re hooked”. Our first harvest is now packed in our freezer, with some in our bellies and much wonder tucked in our hearts.
Not What We Expected
Yvan and I ‘took a leap’ last Spring and decided we would “try” raising a beef calf to slaughter in the Fall. I know how gruesome that sounds to a suburbia or city bound reader. I suppose I still am one too, in many ways of the heart. Admittedly, it disturbed me on some level to “meet my meat” and join in the process. Caring for and witnessing the slaughter of your food, certainly adds another element of emotion to the neat packages in the fridge at your local grocery.
But this was a profound realization of a dream. Yvan had always been ‘chummy’ with local farmers in his hometown, and as a homeschooled American child, I longed for field trips to Amish Country. Dreaming of a homestead came easily the first few conversations of marital life together. “Imagine “tasting” FOOD we had our hands in raising?”. “Think of how much healthier food will be for our children some day if we do it ourselves.” Discussions flew every date night and moment stolen in between work life.
Bringing home “Angus” was surreal. I couldn’t quite imagine us eating him. His eyes were so soft and lively. He was a joy to visit each morning, sticking his long slurpy tongue out for kisses before sunrise. Yvan began walking him like a dog on a leash. Maybe we could keep him…as like a “pet”. A huge, high maintenance pet.
Oh no. We were freaking attached emotionally to our meat calf!
And in our ‘attachment’ we decided to add another calf….just ‘in case’…you know…he ended up being like a superior creature that belonged in a circus rather than our stomachs.
The next calf we loved, but did our best not to adore. A feral surprisingly difficult with living creatures.
A Deadly Error
One day, I discovered my 5 gallon pail of flour in the back of my pantry, had been ‘broken into’ by a curious toddler who decided flour is better with water in it. He must have created the mixture the week before, because I use that flour frequently and there was now a film of moldy blue and black chunks mixed on top of the “sludge”. He was all too eager to happily admit it was his creation. Thankfully there was only a small layer of flour left at the bottom of the pail, so I had not really lost much of my baking staple.
I set the pail out on the side porch, so the children would not access the moldy mixture at the bottom, making note to myself to go scrub it out outside after I finished with the kitchen clean up. In the meantime, one of our diligent children, who loves helping feed and water the animals, ran and grabbed the same moldy bucket. Assuming it was the water pail, they filled it with water for Angus, not noticing the mold.
When I went to look for it afterwards, I assumed Yvan had grabbed it and washed it out for me. But much to our bitter dismay, Angus has guzzled the moldy water, and within 24 hours became deathly ill. We called on local specialists, but they all said there was nothing to be done, but provide him food and clean water and hope for the best.
He gave us one promising day. We truly hoped with all our hearts he would recover. But the following morning, Yvan was with him when he breathed his last.
The Silver Lining
If I could be grateful for one thing, in yet another tragic moment on our homestead, it would be that we never had to eat Angus. We irrationally became attached to him, but we learned a hard lesson too.
We ended up faced with the decision to slaughter or keep our dairy calf. In the end, we remembered our goal in raising meat. With our kids in mind and our future ahead we thanked her for her life and accepted the gift of it for our family.
The Gift of Raising Meat
Tears poured down my flushed cheeks. Grief and gratitude are so interchangeable when life is valued.
This is a gift. The eggs my children hand me daily are treasure. The grass fed beef that is stocked in my freezer now is humbling. You appreciate the life that was given to feed your family SO much more than purchasing from the supermarket. There is a sort of “awe” that comes over you. I see the same feeling in the faces of those who hunt for their families food. It is seen in the labour weaved ridges of fishermen who bring home the daily catch for their children. My grandfather was such a man. I am honoured to be a part of a legacy and a heritage that is fading, but not yet forgotten.
We also had the privilege of eating our own backyard raised roast Duck, fresh eggs daily ( even in winter!) and we still have some bunnies (we gave a few to friends and a fox stole some) that are just too cutesy right now to eat. But our most profound harvest is from our beef calf. Absolutely remarkable experience.
There is little true ‘wealth’ in life greater than producing your own food with the strength of your arms and the sweat of your brow. How far we are removed from the dignity of it in our modern world.
After getting a “taste” of raising meat ourselves, we have high hopes for the Spring and Fall. Tike will tell. Stay tuned.
What Do Our Kids Think of Raising Meat?
I honestly believe children bear so much wisdom. Some were horrified. Others wanted to watch the whole process. All of them grieved the calf they helped raise. But it taught them the value of what they have on their plate.
Honest Answers from interviews with Our Kids: “What do think about the process of raising our own meat?”
Our Six Year Old: “It’s kind of sad, but it’s better because the meat at the store prolly has canola oil in it.”
Seven Year Old: ” LOVE it! It was so much fun. Really cool. And it tastes much better and the cows have a better life.”
11 year old. “I think it really helped with my fear of guts and things. It almost doesn’t;t bother me now. “
3 Year Old. “Bad. Because I like cows. They don’t scare me. Can we get some MORE cows?”
5 Year Old. “I don’t like eating cows. I like the ones from the store even better because those cows make milk and I love milk.”
9 Year Old: “Sad. I’m disappointed we have to kill them. But if we can make ground beef for burgers I am fine with it. “
And there you go. Honest answers on the process of raising meat from the kids on our homestead to you.