“Hand me another tissue, please, Susan. They're back there somewhere,” I pointed with my right hand to the back seat of the truck. Susan and I had just dropped a cow named Cocoa off at The Local Butcher and I was stressing out.
I don't usually stress out this much when dropping off an animal at the butcher, but it does happen from time to time. After all these are animals I cared for, bonded with and some times became friendly with. Yet whether the animal is a friend or not, how much better to process an animal that lived a good, full life than an anonymous critter that was subjected to who knows what lifestyle?
Farm life is enchanting. I often ask myself if I would ever return to my corporate job with its liberating salary at HP. And while it would be nice not to wonder each month if I'll be able to pay the mortgage I know I won't go back. The animals make me laugh, sometimes they make me swear but always they enchant me. Pebbles, Cocoa's last baby, loves to lick my hair and Topper, one of my working steers will watch me until I give in to scratch his neck.
The other side of enchantment is financing. With a $20,000+ yearly hay bill, insurance, payroll and equipment costs I can't afford to keep “pets.” Every animal on Miles Smith Farm has a job and each animal lets me know what he or she wants to do. Some cattle like people so they become “ambassadors” which means riding cows or working steers. Others make great mom's so they produce babies. Occasionally a great bull is born here on the farm and he becomes a breeding bull for cows he's not related to. Then some go into the beef program.
So many folks say to me, “I don't know how you do it? How can you ship an animal you've raised to the butcher?” Well, believe it or not, every package of beef was once a cute little baby and loved at least by it's mother and most likely by a farmer as well. The question is, do you want to know that animal was respected and honored? Can you honor that animal? Wouldn't you rather share the life of an animal you knew, knowing that it lived a full life and was respected.
If a beef critter is handled throughout it's life it is far less likely to be stressed when time comes to be processed than an animal which was never handled. When done correctly the soul of the cow is here one minute, then it is gone. It's just those of us left behind that grieve, not the cow.
I still miss Cocoa. I was her time to go. Her life would have been miserable if we had kept her. Her udders were dragging and cracked. At some point she would have stepped on them causing great injury and pain. As a farmer it's my duty to my charges to make sure they don't suffer. I said, “Goodbye,” to Cocoa in the holding pen before I left her for the drive home. Dear Cocoa looked at me as if to say, “Its alright, I trust you do the right thing,” then I left.
Ninety five percent of the decisions I make, as a farmer, are joyous and fun. It's that 5% that makes farming hard. But those decisions have to be made so the world can eat and I can pay my hay bill. So thank you dear Cocoa and all your sisters and brothers. We all cared about your life and we thank you for your gift of life.