Sunday, November 24, 2013

On being a butcher...

Recently we killed our lamb. 
We killed it and then we butchered it. I've not done anything like this before. 

Was it difficult? No, not at all. I felt at ease throughout the whole thing. I was reflective, yes, very much aware of the life we were taking for our own sustenance. However, not disturbed or upset. This sheep had had a good life, wandering, foraging, lying in the shade, eating  a lot of grass and saving the use of petroleum powered grass mowing equipment while also enhancing the carbon in the soil. The quality of the life and death of the animals I eat is my concern, not the fact of eating animals. I think the ethical question of whether or not to eat animals is a valid consideration for some humans at this juncture in time, however it's no longer a dilemma for me. Some might say this makes me heartless and unaware. I don't agree. I think that consciously eating meat makes me more human and more connected to the phases and processes of the world around me. You might be forgiven for assuming we're rampant carnivores. It's true that there are a lot of posts here about chickens and pork and rabbit and now, lamb and despite the fact we raise our own or buy from local producers we know,  meat remains a privilege for us, we eat it no more than twice a week. Yes we think and talk a lot about that which we do eat. This may make things appear a little skewed. 

Our friend David is a self-taught home butcher, he taught himself from some online videos and has successfully butchered two of his lambs so it made sense to work with him on this, our first killing and butchering of a four legged animal. It's actually remarkably straightforward. I'm not sure why I was surprised by this. I guess because meat processing is such a hidden part of life for most of us in the west. That mystification promotes the notion that it is in the realm of the specialists. I think I might have liked to be a butcher in a different life. An artisan kind of butcher, kind of like this gorgeous guy.

I'm not ashamed to say that we will kill again. It's not that it's enjoyable, it's just that it feels right to eat animals we have a connection with. Animals that have led a life expressing their natural instincts. 
The lamb was killed and hung. Then we skinned it. The animal was still warm. This warmth combined with the moisture of the fat amounted to a pretty amazing experience sensually. This awareness aided the process and enhanced my consciousness about what we were doing and the significance of taking this life in order that we would eat. The sheep was killed, skinned and eviscerated in the place it had lived its life. No stressful abattoir experience. In fact before it even knew what was happening, it was dead. 

 After we'd skinned it, we pulled out "the guts".  

"Getting the guts out", as the kids like to say.
Our kids love talking about guts. Possibly because of the amount of animal gut activity they've seen this past year. I'm reluctant to rave about Olive and Oscar on this blog, mainly because everyone loves their children and thinks they're special and also because when parents rave about their kids I feel they're often really (consciously or not) talking about the product(s) of their supposedly superior parenting. Having said that, we felt very proud of how non-squirmish the kids were about the process. For them, it was just another part of life. They were fascinated and enthralled and full of questions, yet absolutely accepting. It became a wonderfully hands on real life biology lesson. The carcass was then left to hang overnight, with a bag of ice inside it. 

cut into quarters, plus the neck

The next day, we cut the animal into five, including the neck and from there it was really very obvious where it should be cut - Two legs, two shoulders, four shanks, many cutlets, backstrap, ribs, some random bits for dogs and some other bits for mince. Oh and the head had been removed the day before. Don't worry, it was in our freezer awaiting a special use. More on this at a later date. I loved the process of slicing and arranging and trimming. We took our time and ensured a careful job. This felt good. 

New mincer, what a success!
That night we ate well. We ate the way I most love to eat - making the most of what we have in our garden or from a very local source. The cutlets were marinated in a simple blend of lemon juice, garlic, oregano and olive oil. We made a salad of fresh picked broad beans, baby chard, mint, parsley, fetta, lemon juice and olive oil and another of steamed fresh dug potatoes with finely chopped herbs and a bit of Bega butter. It was utterly delicious. The meat was tender and sweet and the vegetables so fresh and truly yum. During meals like this I find myself musing on how lucky we are. Food this fresh, this local, this delicious is just so good. Enjoyed with a little wine and conversation and I find I'm wanting for nothing more. 
uber-delicious taste of the local

Oscar Rose, the happy little carnivore


  1. You're right to rave about your kids (not that it was a rave, really), they are very special and they're enjoying an incredible upbringing. We are working up the guts to dispense with our non-laying backyard chooks and I am really looking forward to the experience - our elderly european neighbour is going to show us how to kill, dress and then cook them. A little bit of community loving in deepest, darkest suburbia!

  2. Hi Jo, thanks for taking the time to comment. What a great little community you've got going there. How very excellent. I hope the killing, processing, cooking and eating all goes well... Best of luck

  3. Saw a link to your blog from elsewhere and was hoping to see talk of building houses as promised, instead saw this post. Certainly, obtaining your meat in such a direct manner perhaps has value over the disconnect most people enjoy buying from a shop, but the callousness and disregard for a beautiful sentient being with a life of his/her own that he/she was enjoying astounds me. And your children are 'excited' about meat and therefore killing!? Animals are not ours.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment Sarah. We're sorry that you were led to believe our blog is only about building. We do have many many posts about building with strawbale, though this is not the only thing we write about. We have tags (at the right of the page) to help our readers find the posts they find most interesting.
      With regards to your comments regarding our food choices, I'd love to know how you as a vegetarian or vegan (I assume) ensure that no creatures are harmed by the modes of production you obtain your food from, or for that matter the sources from which you obtain other things in your life - building materials for the houses you design, oil for plastic for the computer you use, petrol for your car.

      After many years as vegetarians and vegans, we came to the decision that our taking responsibility for our own meat consumption in an environmentally and ethically sound manner far outweighed many of the potential issues of eating a healthy, vegetarian diet in Australia. Amongst other issues, we were aware of the incredibly detrimental impact of deforestation and habitat loss due to cash cropping, pesticide use, GM crops (especially with regard to soy products) etc, not to mention the issues of transportation of these food stuffs. Based on many years of reading and learning about these issues we made the decision that taking responsibility for our own food production - meat and otherwise - was the most ethical choice we could make, in that we are able to know with much more certainty the number of creatures (animal and vegetable) who are harmed by, and the environmental impacts of the food we eat. We also know that no animals and/or habitats were harmed in the transportation of our food.

      Unfortunately, being a human in our part of the world, in our culture, is intrinsically linked to killing. Whether it be on a small scale - animals being 'incidentally' harmed by habitat loss, mining, and for that matter the farming practices that produce the strawbales we used to build our house - or more 'direct' - animals being killed, like our sheep, for human consumption. For us, the decision to keep things closer to home means that we inadvertently offend people like you.
      Thanks again for taking the time to engage with our blog. We do enjoy active engagement on these kinds of issues. Please feel free to have a look at the tags at the right to avoid future disappointment. We hope you find our posts about strawbale building to be informative and interesting.