Monday, August 4, 2008

A Service for Gentlemen Farmers


Ideas for what to blog about on my Service Blog come to me in odd ways. This one came as I was on Francis Road, a winding county road that cuts through farmland and is the back way from Mount Vernon, where I work, to Sedro Woolley, where I live. I got behind a mobile slaughter unit and thought, aha! I have intimate knowledge of what a service that is.

At the beginning of my Mother Earth Decade, from about 1974 to 1984, I was determined that, when we got our farm, we would do everything ourselves, including slaughtering and butchering of animals we raised. I had read lots of books and, to practice, we bought half a pork and prepared to cut it up ourselves. It had been scalded and scraped, so the skin was still on it, and as we laid it out on the kitchen table, it was all there: half a snout, half a face, one ear, one eye, two legs (one front, one rear), half a body, and half a tail.

I drew dotted lines on the pig carcass to match the ones in my cookbook showing cuts of pork, and my husband waded in with a meat saw. We ended up with some extra parts, including the half-head and hooves, but we did well enough that I was confident we could do the whole thing, from live pig to wrapped-in-the-freezer, when the time came.

Fast forward two years. We’ve got the farm. We’ve got the pig. The pig has grown beautifully on reject cannery corn and is now ready for slaughter. We’ve re-read the books. We have the barrel filled with water and a fire under it for scalding. We have a tripod with a winch set up over the barrel so we can manage the dead weight of the pig. We have a sheet of plywood adjacent to the barrel to provide a clean surface, since the pig has created a muddy sty of his pen. My husband puts some grain out and, when the pig obliges by tippy-toeing up on the plywood and begins munching, hubby raises his rifle to his shoulder.

Now, my husband has done this before. He knows where he needs to place the bullet. However, he hasn’t reckoned on the pig bobbing his head as he smacks his lips over the nice last meal we’ve provided. Blam! He pulls the trigger at just the wrong moment, and, instead of the pig folding up its legs and dropping on the nice clean plywood, he heads for the tumbledown barn that is representative of all we’re trying to do here, squealing all the way.

The kids and I stay up by the tripod and scalding barrel while my husband follows the pig to the back of the barn. Blam! Blam-blam! Blam-blam-blam! I began to wonder how many bullets he has in the magazine when, finally, there is silence.

A moment later, the mighty hunter appears in the barn door and says he needs help. He has been trying to drag the pig through the barn, but can’t manage by himself. We add our combined strength, but pretty soon it is obvious that we will never be able to drag the pig to the scalding barrel. By that time, the water is simmering, so moving the barrel will be no small task, either. We end up skinning the pig, rather than scraping it, a process not covered by the books we've read.

That was just the first of a series of experiences, all equally instructive, that convinced us that it was worth the money to call the mobile slaughter unit. They offer a great service, driving up in a big truck, dispatching the animal, taking care of whatever needs to be done as far as hide and innards, and driving away. A week or so later, you go to their office and pick up cardboard boxes of frozen meat, all wrapped and labeled. Then you take it home and put it in your freezer.

However, I'm glad we had the experience as a family of providing meat for the table from start to finish. Our children learned early that, when you order a Big Mac or some chicken nuggets, they don't appear by magic at the drive-up window. There's a process which involves an animal dying and a lot of work for someone before it gets to you, and we wanted them to have the chance to consider that as they bowed their heads and gave thanks.

Return to Neighborhood

1 comment:

Anne Bradshaw said...

I felt bad laughing, but couldn't help it. Poor old pig. I thought you were going to say he'd become too much of a friend to actually kill! Aargh! The things we do for food :-)