*Warning: this post is a somewhat graphic account of the butchering of our two lambs and may offend some people. I seriously considered not posting it at all, but as this is my journal (albeit a public one) in the end, I wrote what I wanted to remember. If you are a vegetarian or simply do not wish to read about the death of an animal, I’d advise you not to read this post or, if you do, you might want to read this first: Why I’m not a vegetarian* and this one: Should We Kill Animals for Food? and this one: You could never kill an animal? You already are.
Yesterday, I took the lives of two of our sheep. Two healthy animals, less than a year old. Cedar was a bottle baby we’d raised in our home, who took turns sleeping with my children at night and followed Bitty around during the day (it’s him in the heading picture above.) Blackberry was raised by his momma but moved to the goat pen when we weaned him and I’ve spent the last few months slowly earning, and eventually gaining, his trust. When it was time, they stood near me, eating calmly and I shot them in the head.
This is not the first time I’ve killed an animal on our farm. I’ve butchered chickens and put down a sick goat, but nothing about those experiences prepared me for the death of those two sheep. Jon and our friend Patrick helped me through it, both physically and mentally. Patrick was standing beside me when I shot Blackberry and, although fatally wounded and, I believe, completely unaware (having been shot at close range), he ran a few steps before falling against the fence. Mentally, I was incapable of handling that and I gave the gun to Patrick and asked him to do it (actually, I didn’t ask… I was incapable of being kind or polite in that moment and I took advantage of our friendship by demanding that he end it… which is, he told me later, why he was there [to help me through whatever happened.]) The image of Patrick walking toward that lamb to finish what I’d started is one I’ll never forget. He took care of him. He took care of me. And both he and Jon talked me through it, when it was over.
When it was time to butcher Cedar, Jon suggested I do it and I agreed. Not only because I needed to overcome what had happened with Blackberry, but for the same reason I’d been the one to pull the trigger in the first place. These animals are here because I brought them here. I’ve feed them and sheltered them and in some cases bottle fed them and saved their lives as babies and if they’re going to die for our benefit, I can’t put that responsibility off on someone else. At least, not right now. There are too many things I need to experience, things I can’t put into words. There are things I need to feel. There are things I know God wants to teach me.
Cedar’s death was much more peaceful. He trusted me completely, even as I placed the gun on top of his head. One moment, he was standing beside the person who’d raised him from a baby, more his family than the animals he’d been living with, and the next moment, he was gone.
We saved as much as we could from them, cutting up most of the innards for the cats and chickens (and some for us), starting a tanning process on the hides and saving the bones for broth. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to save even more next time, for if I’m going to take care of these animals – if they’re going to sacrifice their lives for me and those I love – then I want to honor that sacrifice by making as much of it as I can. It would be wrong to do otherwise.
Those two sheep died for us. They died here, at their home, with the people who loved them. I’m not sorry that they died. I’m not sad. But what I feel is an ache… a pang of thankfulness I can’t begin to express.
That’s the way it should be.
(If you’re wondering… the children are fine. We’ve done a lot to prepare them for this, and they’ve actively participated in other aspects of processing both deer and chickens so in a lot of ways they were more prepared than I was. They took part in helping us process both the sheep, even helping to harvest the brains for tanning [I’m not so sure I could have stomached that, myself.] I’ll have more to say about that later.)