Apifera Farm - where art, story, animals & woman merge. Home to artist Katherine Dunn

Apifera Farm is a registered 501 [c][3]. All images are ©Katherine Dunn.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The secret exposed

Graphic language of reality is included in this post. If you don't like thinking where food comes from - or should come from- don't read any further. However, I hope if you mindlessly buy meat in a plastic wrap, you might stop for a few minutes and feel the heartbeat of a small farm- and consider finding a small farm to buy meat from if you do choose to eat meat.

The smiles on our faces are genuine, but mask the yearly anxiety I have the night before butcher day.

I witnessed their births, nurtured them, kept them safe and dry in rain, and kept them well hydrated with the river's finest water in heat. I did not baby them with goo-goo talk, but each morning, I touched them enough to promote trust to the human, knowing that come their final day it would be easier on them. I sent them off to work each morning, with the same salutation, "Do good work today. I appreciate it." Their job was clear - eat well, grow well, for your bodies will nourish us through the year.

The mobile slaughter company calls the week they are scheduled to come harvest the lambs, and gives us a firm day and time for the butchering. It is at that moment I usually get the giant uncomfortable feeling that hangs over me until the deed is over. Heartburn ensued this year. It's like I have this giant secret I'm keeping, and we all know keeping secrets has it's consequences on the secret holder.

I got them up this morning, and gave them my little blessing I have honed over the past five years. While I don't sob, I always get a tear in my eye. They look at me like they do every morning, perhaps sensing my anxiety. I try to do everything as normal as the day before. I've learned to stall up the goats and this year the ewes are way on the other side of the farm, so they won't witness anything. But they'll smell it when they return at night. I brought the boys out this morning and put them in another turnout area in the old barn. It's the stall where their mother sleeps. There they will have open air, shade, and a dash of hay to occupy them until the butcher arrives. The butcher will arrive in one hour, usually with an assistant. As I stay hidden in my studio, they will grab each sheep at the same time, and slit their throats, through to the spinal cord. Martyn has witnessed it. I only have experienced it with chickens. An experienced butcher, with a sharp and correct instrument, will allow the animal to feel nothing. They die instantly. [Here is a good source to educate yourself on the process, and to see links of actual scientific studies that have been done on this. The Muslims get a lot of grief for this butcher technique, and it is unfounded and I feel predjudice. 'Stunning' an animal as large meat processors do does not necessarily render it unconscious. My butcher helped me understand, that shooting a sheep can pose problems- they are so small that the bullet can go through their head [also a danger to butcher and other animals] and the animal can remain alive.]

They are gutted and bled out near the compost pile. All is done within 20 minutes or so. Their blood drips into the compost/manure pile that feeds the mangle of giant pumpkins now growing in it. The same compost pile nourishes worms and grubs nourishing hens nourishing internal eggs that we will also eat.

While the butcher cleans up before leaving, it's never thorough enough, and I always return there the second they leave, to wash down the area. The smell of blood is in the air. Boone is the only animal that will witness the gutting, he is stoic about it, like he takes any activity. The donkey will most likely bray, even though he is on the other side of the barnyard, out of site. The first year, Pino stood on that compost pile and brayed and brayed and brayed, a farewell of sorts. While he hadn't witnessed the butchering, he smelled the blood. A kinsman was gone, "Hail" to the kinsman." he brayed over and over.

While the hanging bodies, skinless, are trucked to the butcher facility where they will hang for a few weeks, their skins, heads, and feet are carried off in a truck, full of others that have died that morning. I witnessed the death truck once, as I returned to the barn to clean up the slaughter area, thinking the butcher unit had driven off, but they were just leaving. There on the top of the open backed truck was the little head of my lamb, tongue sticking out, eyes open.

Before the butcher drives off, he'll leave the organ meat in a small cooler, left for him in the barn. Tonight, as has become our tradition, we will eat seared, fresh liver.

So this morning I got the lambs up like usual, and tonight I will eat their livers.


chook said...

this is exactly how meat production should be, with dignity and kindness. (well, until the last part). i hope someday i will be able to emulate your success.

Paula In Pinetop said...


I have great respect for you.

Tina T-P said...

Neither The Shepherd nor I care for lamb - so our extra little boys are somewhat safe - we try to find good homes for them, but you know, sometimes even that doesn't work, and they become lamb chops for someone else.

Your chicken girls are growing up lovely. Aren't they just fun. T.

Cathy said...

I wish all meat animals could be raised and slaughtered with such compassion. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, dear Katherine.

Katherine Dunn/Apifera Farm said...

Thanks, All. It's a process, you do your best and act your best. I know this butcher does his best too and I always treat him kindly and calmly.

Hey Tina, raising lambs the reality is you can't keep all the males. Many have tried that are novice farmers or farmer -think-they-are's and it isn't healthy for anyone. I kept all 4 rams our first year, naively thinking I'd always sell my rams as breeding stock. You end up with adult intact rams in one herd, that's a lot of testosterone. We choose to never sell our rams as live meat lambs/wethers because I want to know how they are killed. And when we have ample rams, I usually pick the best for selling as breeding only. It's all hard, but in the end, you do your best with the information and experience you have, or that's my goal.

Barb Mowery said...

I admire your courage and dedication to your animals. What you and your husband do at Apifera is important, as is sharing this story. Most people probably don't give the wrapped-in-plastic-from-the-grocery-store meats a second thought. Thank you for reminding me that each package represents a life.

Claire MW said...

Oh dear oh dear oh dear. I had planned on sending a few lambs for slaughter this year, and have been trying to deal with it in my head. I should not have read this post. I thought I was ready. I am not.

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Thank you for reading! The farm and my art/writing keep me hopping, so might not respond immediately. Thank you for understanding. ~Katherine & Apifera ~