This is the moment that I told myself I would be there for his death.
The 2 year old, 800 lb. steer moved closer to my son, curious about this small human in the pasture. I watched from a distance as the beast sniffed curiously at the small boy in front of him, moving cautiously. My breath stopped and my heart pounded as his nose met my sweet boy’s nose. Mark stood nearby watching closely for signs of aggression or danger. I trusted his relaxed body language and bit back my fear as D3 reached out to sniff my fragile, human, 8 year old son and the two made an incomprehensible connection. This was a moment we would all remember, not just because of the photos I took but because of the purity of the moment, two innocent souls connecting on a primitive level.
That was over a year ago. Since then we have had many of these intimate moments with the cattle; witnessing the birth of newborn calves, giving Trixie or Sofie a good scratch, earning the trust of a less social animal with alfalfa treats and patience, and herding the ones we call the Naughty Boys back into the pasture when they wander off into the yard or down the road. We love these creatures. We bond with them. Even the males, who don’t get names because they will be “harvested” (I hate this word. It takes the life out of them and puts them in the same category as vegetables, but it is softer than “slaughtered”, “butchered”, or “killed”) at 3 years old for meat, have places in our hearts.
“You eat them???” I have heard this question and seen the accompanying look of recognition and horror countless times as friends, omnivorous and vegetarian alike, make the mental connection that these stunning animals are not pets, they are livestock and we breed and raise them for meat. I can understand their feelings. Prior to meeting Mark I had never had a close, personal interaction with an animal that I would later consume.
I am a yogi but I am not a vegetarian. With multiple food allergies and sensitivities including a long list of vegetables, nuts, eggs, legumes, wheat, dairy, and fish my non-meat options are extremely limited. The simple fact is that I am healthiest when I eat a diet based on animal protein and yes, I have tried. I have tried diets, detoxes, nutritional programs, fasting, gut healing probiotics, ayurvedic cleanses and more.
Years ago I attended a Detox Weekend workshop with Seane Corn, who is a strong advocate of a vegatarian diet. During the portion of the workshop where we discuss nutrition, someone in the group brought up the question of “free range and humanely raised” meat, which were relatively new concepts for the average consumer at that time. Seane questioned how anything about raising an animal for food could be called humane. She talked about the energy of fear, muscle memory, and how the energy of the fear and trauma the animal experiences in it’s final moments at the slaughterhouse was stored in the muscles and iconsumed by us when we eat it. How could it possibly be healthy for us to eat that? How could raising an animal with the intent of killing it be humane? She challenged those in the group who believed that it was ethically OK to eat meat to be a part of the process. “Go to the farm,” she said. “Meet the animals. Spend time with them. Watch them taken from their homes and loaded onto trucks. Watch them moved from trucks into a slaughterhouse where they can smell the blood and fear of the other animals.
Then see if you feel the same way.”
Her statements had impact on all of us. Maybe some stopped eating meat. Perhaps more of us reduced the amount of meat we consumed or paid more attention to the sources of our meat. I would venture a guess that none of those 40 or so participants that day actually went to a slaughterhouse and watched the death of an animal but I do believe that each of us left there thinking differently about meat.
In the hundreds of hours I have spent in workshops and trainings with many amazing teachers, this is one lesson that has always stayed with me, and that is why I made the decision to be there for his death. “You don’t have to do this,” Mark said. “It’s not an easy thing.” I knew it wouldn’t be easy and honestly, I was more than a little terrified. I am a highly sensitive and emotional person. I had no idea how I would react. Would I cry? Would I ever be able to get the image out of my mind? Would I pass out? Would I become a vegetarian? I didn’t know, but I knew I needed to do this. The most important thing the teachings and practice of yoga has brought me is to be mindful in everything I do. I try to be conscious, to look beyond the surface and see the bigger picture. I try to be honest, even when it is difficult. Especially when it is difficult. to do this.
The butcher arrived at our farm in the afternoon. Because of this, because we did not ship the live animal to a USDA approved facility for the killing, all of the meat from this animal will be packaged and stamped “Not for Sale”. What we cannot use ourselves we will share with friends and family. This part is important to us and we do it this way whenever we can. Our cows are born at this farm. They live here and they die here. They never experience the fear of being taken away from their herd or of being put on a trailer. They never know the smell or feel of a slaughterhouse. This is not the case for the animals whose meat will be sold.
Mike, the butcher, pulled up in his pickup with a hoist on the back. He stepped out and loaded his rifle, his 6 year old son staying in the truck playing games on his iPad. He and Mark walked out to the pasture. I stayed near the barn, far enough away to be safe in the event something went awry but close enough that I could see D3s face, his eyes. I watched as he unconcernedly meandered towards Mark and the butcher. By coincidence, he was already off by himself so they didn’t have to lead him away from the herd. We spend a lot of time with our cows, making sure they are comfortable with us, so having people in the pasture was no cause for alarm. He was probably wondering if the guys had brought him any treats, as visitors often do, and moved closer.
At about this point I realized I had moved myself into a state of emotional detachment. As a defense against my own emotions I had separated myself from what I was watching, as if it was a movie. I was cold and detached. I brought myself back into the moment, fully aware and present. I was frightened because I knew what was coming. D3 was not. Before the sound of the shot even registered in my mind D3’s knees buckled and he was on the ground. One moment he was home, content, and the next moment his existence changed. I cannot explain this but he went from being a something with a soul that was evident when you looked in his eyes to being a body, in an instant, even quicker than an instant.
It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t pleasant. It is not something I will ever take lightly but after this experience I have decided that I will honor each of our animals by being there for this moment when I can. I respect them enough to be a part of this process. I hope this is how I go when it is my time. I pray I go quickly and quietly, with no fear and with people who love me nearby.
My purpose in sharing this experience is not to change anyone’s mind about eating meat, whether they are for or against it, or tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t do. We don’t all have the opportunity to participate in the process in this way and I don’t expect anyone reading this to seek it out. I am sure some who read this will be horrified by what I have written. Shock value is not my intent either. I simply wish to share this experience because we all need to make conscious choices guided by reality, experience and facts, not media or dogma. Where our food is concerned there is a huge gap between reality and our decision making. New movements in urban gardening and local food sourcing have begun to connect us to the truth of one of the most important things we do in our lives, nourish our bodies. I hope I have shared this experience in a way that is more than truthful. I hope that I have communicated this experience in a way that is honest. Take it for what it is. Think about it.