This post is not easy to write. Neither of us especially want to share this experience, not for reasons of stigma or sadness, but rather because harvesting your own meat from animals you lovingly raised is personal and tiring, an encounter of life and death. We each slept in a little longer this morning. Our bodies ache. This is rather how it should be, we decided, at least once in your life. And if not ever, it would surely do every person a measure of good to know someone who raised animals for meat with consideration and care. Relative to the arc of human existence, the industrialization of meat processing is a very new advent. Not so long ago, humans took on the responsibility of the raising, the feeding, the slaughtering, and the butchering. Mid-twentieth century, the strange thing would have been to write an article on families raising meat because it was normative. Now it would seem the strange thing is to write a blog post, complete with images of these animals' faces, because it is un-normative. But this matters. This is a huge part of our lives, and if pine needle cookies make it onto this space, surely our experience raising livestock should, too.
This present moment of reflection feels admittedly surreal. For the past eight months, our everyday reality has included caring for these two animals. We gave them names and, so often, they resembled pets more so than livestock being raised for meat. Even in their last moments of life, we were running around the barnyard with them, giving them cheek scratches, and letting them climb all over us. It's safe to say that we loved these goats. But that love was accompanied by a purpose separate from companionship. In the early days of summer, we wrote, "The ending to this chapter that we are just now beginning has already been written." Our intention was clear from the start. We were to become truly conscious consumers of meat, directly participating in all that the choice to eat animal protein entails. We aimed to do things the natural way: raising the animals outside, on pasture, with room to roam & plenty of natural forage and browse to eat. In other words, we allowed our goats to do what they wanted to do—to live the life for which they were evolutionarily suited. We tried to go the extra mile for them—even in loving them—with full knowledge of the ending that we were choosing for them.
All these many days & nights later, our intentions have been fulfilled. It feels, at once, like a weight off the shoulders and a heaviness in the heart. Any heaviness, though, is incomparable to the deep sadness felt when an animal dies from illness, especially illness that might have been detected sooner. If you've been following our blog, you know that the first two goats we started raising both died of coccidiosis. Despite intervening, we half-suspected Dill and Tuna would go the way of the first two. But they didn't. Instead, we thoroughly enjoyed eight months documenting, encouraging, and admiring their development.
We made an eleventh hour decision to try preserving their pelts in order that we might use every part of the animal. There is a tannery in Vermont — the only natural, environmentally safe tannery in the U.S. — that we'll work with to have the goatskins tanned, assuming the preserving piece goes according to plan. No, we did not previously know how to skin, prepare, and cure a hide; nor how to dress an animal carcass & process it into meat. But with the aid of our neighbors, books, and the Internet, we are giving it a go, just like we gave this tiny meat herd a go. By viewing the whole animal with respect — from the skin to the bones — we are working towards improved stewardship of land, of animal, of planet. To borrow a beautiful, honest phrase from our favorite author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, "Death, constant beyond love."