My beautiful boy highlands were harvested, but it did NOT happen the day after my last post, as I’d planned. My local butcher Mike did show up on schedule, and we walked over to the cows; I’d brought them into the lush pasture spot up near the house which they loved and would make for easy slaughter and the primal butchery he’d do on the spot, cutting the gorgeous beef into easier-to-handle sections after they were gutted and skinned. But I didn’t help things as we approached the herd- I was really nervous about all of this, and then the wind was wafting the scent of Mike’s truck towards them, the “death truck.” His on-farm slaughter truck has been in use for many years and it had no smell that I could detect, but the cows could and knew something was up. Jen said the bull might have to go too if I couldn’t separate him, as bulls can react erratically to the sight and smell of blood. Well, I had planned to have Mike come back to harvest the bull later in October, after I’d hoped he’d had his time with my lil’ Lola who should have just been at the age to be going into heat. Anyways, even though I put a halter on Lola to be the “judas” to her steer buddies, the rest of the herd (Ruby is still looking pregnant, but I have no idea what’s going on with her!) all rapidly took off to the hayfield and Mike said “you know, it’s ok, you don’t live far from me- I’ll come back with the generator next week and I can do it out in the field.”
I had 3 intense happenings on my list in September- the cattle harvest, my egg room inspection, and my Auntie Coral coming to visit from BC, and with her, my siblings having a bit of a reunion at the farm with my darling niece. I’d hoped to have the cattle harvesting done before their visit, as 2 of my sisters are vegans. But that didn’t happen, and it was ok. They camped out near the cows and we watched the lunar eclipse together on the soft grass, after stuffing our faces with a homemade giant vegan falafel meal spread.
My Egg Room inspection went GREAT, I have to say. I know what they want to see and hear, and that is what I practice. Cleanliness, order and high quality. As the egg inspector candled my ducks’ eggs she was kind of astounded, I got a 100% Grade AA!!!!
Last Friday Mike came to harvest my boy cows. After what Jen had said, I knew I had to also include Boon, the bull. I don’t want a situation with Lola like I am having with Ruby, with such uncertainty of when her calf will come. If the bull is gone, there’s an end date to when she would calf. Also cows giving birth or even just being heavily pregnant in the depths of hot and sweaty summer is not good for anyone. So the latest Lola would be calving next year, if she WAS bred (and interestingly my friend Angelica said she has not once witnessed a breeding with her highlands, she said they are stealthy about it for some reason) is 9 months from last Friday. I sort of had to compromise getting her bred for sure versus the safety of the butcher, and balance that out with the “summer calf” reasons not to keep the bull around longer. The morning Mike was due to arrive, I went to the hayfield and brought buckets of apples with me, as I’d been doing occasionally to get the cows to come to me. Usually they’d placidly wander over when they saw me with the buckets, but on this day, the boys’ last, Ochre, Nillo and Lola all came a’galloping towards where I stood dumping out the apples.It was an exhilarating and bittersweet moment to feel so in love with these cows, and know it was the last day for some of them.
The wind was blowing the right way so the cows did not smell Mike’s truck when he arrived. I braced myself and summoned my bravest heart, the cows had come back up to the watering area and I feared they’d once again take off to the hayfield. But I brought my apple bucket and spread out my offerings to them, whispering gratefulness and awe towards my beautiful cows. Mike stood to the side of the outhouse and with one shot each, the three boys landed on the ground. They didn’t see it coming or know what was happening, they just were eating apples and then dead, instantly. It was terrifying and perfect. No one wants to die, but damn if this isn’t the best way. No suffering, no stress, no pre-knowledge of what is happening. The hardest thing was Lola, she went to Ochre’s fallen body and smelled him, and stayed there wondering what was going on. After a few minutes, I rearranged the fence to keep her and Ruby off that area, and they stood and watched for a while, but they didn’t spook or freak out. They eventually wandered back out to the hayfield with MayMay on their heels.
The ONLY thing I would have done differently was to salvage even more than I did. I wished I’d gotten all the “skirt steaks” when Mike’s nephew was gutting the bodies, not just one. Did you know skirt steak is actually the cow’s diaphragm? It is what pushes the lungs up and down (or back and forth in a cow) in breathing, and it also separates the two sections inside the body cavity- the breathing/heart section and the digestion section. I also would have spent more time carving meaty chunks from the heads. I cut out the cheeks and some muscle chunks from around the necks -of course I saved the skulls, they are up on the roof of one of the sheds to deteriorate and get cleaned off by the wild birds over the winter. The beef bits I collected from these majestic beasts is unbelieveably delicious. I kind of had a feeling it would be, but what a pleasure to have that verified! The bull, the steers= equally wonderful in flavor and texture, OMG yummmm. Grass fed YUM!!! I’ve made two pots of beef stew, shared some of the cheeks with Andrew, but I chickened out on preparing the bull’s balls and so I stuck the cleaned testicles in the freezer for later. The skirt steak took a long and patient while to clean the fascia from, and I have it marinating for a visitor coming later this week. I had my first skirt steak from my pastured veal calf last year and it was incredibly tender and flavorful. I did save the livers and hearts, but I forgot to ask for the kidneys. The livers and hearts are ENORMOUS. Each liver is easily 15-20 lbs, and the hearts are each almost the size of my head! Heart can be slow braised and used just like any other meat, liver is much more intensely flavored so I plan to be busting out some allspice infused pates and maybe try making braunschweiger.
To counter all this meat talk, Coral and I watched a documentary one night during her visit, called “Cowspiracy”- definitely worth watching. Initially it made me feel rather defensive, as a small scale farmer trying to do the right thing by raising animals on pasture with compassion. You just have to see it, he’s basically arguing that animal agriculture is what is causing climate change, more than any one other issue. I know it is the factory farms that he’s talking about, but it’s hard to not open yourself up to pondering whether it is good to be raising animals for meat at all, in these almost-too-scary-to-absorb times as far as the future of humans on this Earth. We talked about this documentary extensively for the next few days, it was really that thought-provoking. At the end of the day though, I am happy with the life I’ve chosen and live, and extremely proud of all the good I do as a farmer raising animals- transparency, compassion, pasture, natural and contented lives, with delicious healthy food as the output.