Wednesday, April 20, 2016
We've had cattle grazing here every summer for the past 10 years or so. They've always been someone else's cattle - a neighbor down the road with cows and calves, a nearby rancher and his yearling replacement heifers, unwanted feral bucking bulls (that's another story) and so on. When we had horses, the cattle and horses grazed together. We've never had one we actually owned until last summer.
Last April the nearby rancher (and now good friend) mentioned that he had a yearling steer he couldn't sell to his normal buyer because of a couple of antibotic shots the steer received for an infection when he was a young calf. Did we want him? Over the years we've considered buying a steer to grass-finish and put in the freezer at the end of the grazing season but we've always resisted because neither of us were entirely sure if we would end up with a freezer full of homegrown beef or a 2000 pound pet oxen. We decided that 2015 was the year to give it a try.
No.3 (his ear tag number) arrived with his half-sisters in early May to graze away the summer. I always work with the cattle over the summer because I enjoy it and it makes them easier to handle. In an attempt to keep our relationship professional, I resisted the urge to scratch No.3's chin, give him a pat on the back or even eye contact, something most of the heifers enjoy.
About a month before "the End" I started enticing No.3 and an older, barren cow into the corral to enjoy a handful of alfalfa pellets. It didn't take long before they would come in on their own for their little treat.
In June a new butcher shop opened in town offering on farm processing - the perfect solution to a stress-free experience for everyone involved. On "the Day" we walked No.3 and his friend into the main corral to enjoy their pellets. Then I quietly moved No.3 and his pan of pellets into a smaller corral where the butcher ended his life with one rifle shot. Of course I stood on the other side of the barn.
I like to think that No.3 enjoyed his last six months of life. He had the company of his siblings, shelter and lots of fresh grass, and then it was over. No time spent at a disgusting feedlot, fed a massive quantity of grains that cause great intestinal distress and illness; no cramped trailer ride to a slaughterhouse when the smell of fear and death permeate everything.
When I go to the freezer I think about No.3 and thank him for his sacrifice. I also think about how fortunate we are to have meat that was raised in a healthy and humane manner and whose footsteps and manure will help improve our soil for future grazers, both domestic and wild.
From Fleur Creek Farm