Lambs to the slaughter

*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.

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(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.)

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8 Responses to Lambs to the slaughter

  1. Angelicana says:

    I wept reading this entry. I am in no way a mean spirited person. I became a vegetarian a year ago. I can not fathom raising a baby sheep from a bottle and then once it has earned my trust, shooting it while looking into it’s face. How do we justify this? Do you happen to know how smart farm animals are? Pigs have an iq comparable to dolphins. Is it really necessary to bring these helpless animals into the world so they can live alittle while and then make the choice that it’s time to take their life. Do you happen to know how much protein is in vegetables or legumes? God put them on earth to feed us. Meat only started to come into play when man became starving. When there was no other choice. You killed something you loved? How does that make any sense? Do you remember their names while eating their innards? I feel very sick to my stomach. I just wish you could realize how unnecessary it is for these animals to die for our benefit. One temporary fleeting moment of pleasure on the tongue. Beans are very cheap…

    • Rina says:

      Hi, Angelicana, thank you for commenting and I apologize for not putting up more of a warning at the beginning of this post (I have since done so.) Several months ago, I was struggling with the same questions you are asking me now, and felt I got some answers from God. I wrote a blog post about it and you can read it here, but the simple answer to your question (“how do we justify this”) is that God Himself sanctioned – even commanded – the slaughter of animals for food (you mention that God placed plants here for our food, and I can give you an incredibly large number of scripture verses that tell us he did the same with animals.) For reasons I can’t begin to understand, God has set us up in a world where living things must die so that other living things can live. This fact is evidenced by the world, no matter what your religion and even humans are not exempt from this all-encompassing rule of nature. Every living thing, at some point, becomes food for another living thing. None of us can survive, otherwise. The death of our two lambs was much less brutal than that of a zebra hunted down by a lion and yet God created the lion to hunt the zebra. If this seems cruel and wrong in my eyes, but not in God’s, something is wrong with the way I’m seeing the world.

      Did I remember their names while my family ate their innards? Yes. And it was an experience of gratitude, awe, humility and love unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. The fact that I loved those two lambs makes me grateful for my food in a way that buying an all-vegetarian meal at walmart never could.

      One last question for you… obviously, you feel it was wrong of us to butcher our sheep. You mention their intelligence as if it were the reason that it’s wrong, so I’m assuming it doesn’t bother you that farmers spray crops in order to kill pests for vegetarian dinners (even “organic” farms will use organic methods to kill what they consider pests.) I’m also assuming that it doesn’t bother you that millions of animals such as mice and birds are dying from loss of habitat to support plants and it obviously doesn’t bother you that plants have to die in order to feed you, just as much as the lamb had to die in order to feed us. But in God’s eyes, is the carrot any less valued than the cow? If I could see the carrot the way God sees it, what would I see? Would I still hesitate more at butchering the cow, than at harvesting the carrot?

      I listened to a beautiful recording the other day that really challenged the way I see God’s creation, and the way I naturally tend to rank the value of living beings based on my relationships with them (i.e. the dog is more valued than the cockroach.) Being someone who loves animals as you do, I thought that you might like to listen to it also:

      God’s Cricket Chorus

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  3. Angelicana says:

    I value your reply. I just thought you should know we are famers as well. We grow all of our own food, everything we grow is organic and non gmo. We never shop at walmart. We recycle, constantly try to limit our waste and feed every animal on our farm from our garden. We are very aware of what’s happening in our world. We also value the life of a cockroach as much as our dogs. Thank you for the cricket chorus… I also have a video recommendation for you to watch that is very enlightening. It was made in 2008 and is called Food, Inc. I never meant to hurt or accuse, I just have compassion for every life, that is why I choose not to kill any living thing. My heart just aches when I think about the pain and suffering a creature felt so man can feel pleasure.

    • Rina says:

      Angelicana, let me start by saying that I appreciate your comments and I REALLY appreciate the kindness and sensitivity in your reply. I could imagine a lot of situations where that would not the be case.

      I don’t want to debate with you, and it doesn’t seem that’s your intention either so I’ll just respond briefly by saying that I hope you understand from what I’ve said so far that I have no desire to kill an animal solely for the purpose of satiating my desire for “pleasure.” My God, if that were the case there are much, much easier ways to do it!

      I did watch Food Inc several years ago, and thank you for reminding me of it. Butchering those two lambs has made me even MORE disgusted with the industrial food system, if that’s possible, and more determined to raise our own food. It seems that you are several hundred steps ahead of me in that and I’m in awe that you grow all of your own food! I someday hope to be where you are in supporting myself and my family.

      I may look at things a little differently, but I think our hearts are in the same place.

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  6. Bobbie says:

    A biblical worldview helps this all make sense. Death is in the world because of sin. When Adam sinned, God cursed the world, saying, “Dying, dying, you will die.” The first slaughter of an animal was done by God to cover Adam and Eve. (Gen 3:17-21) When Abraham offered Isaac for a sacrifice, God gave him a ram instead– a substitute. (Gen 22:11-14) Jesus, the Lamb of God, was sacrificed as a substitution for the eternal death we deserve for our own sin. (Romans1-3) Death is a picture– a constant reminder– of sin. But from death springs life– whether it be through the simple act of eating or through the profound truth of the resurrection. If we lived in a world absent of death, would any of us seek the One who created us, the One who can save us from it?

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