Last Friday was a big day of birth and of death and new sights for me.
A new calf was born--wobbly-kneed and big-eyed, it was about the size of a black labrador retriever. When Juvencio and I approached it slowly, it was lying in a patch of tall grass, its mother separated by a fairly large expanse of green. But with us there, the mom came over to shield it, and it stood up on its silly soft bowlegs and shyly looked at us from behind the mother. I call it "it" because I can't remember if it is a girl or boy...but now I am thinking girl.
That morning, one of the pigs--my favorite because of it's cute short snout and patchy orange coloring--was found dead in their pen. Juvencio thought it was because it had had trouble breathing and he'd seen it collapse once. It was about four months old, and I watched his siblings (I think they are siblings..) look at him and prod him with their snouts. We had to load the animal into the bed of the tractor (bed?) for it to be moved and buried, but of course there was no delicate lifting--he was dragged by his hoofs on his back into the tractor. All the pig was already "promised", in half sections, to CSA members who wanted it, which made it all the more sad because this would likely have gone to Lyn and Juvencio's family and now they would go without it.
On the heels of that death, was the goat. It was only a few months old, and injured at the joint of its front leg, so it staggered around in a three-legged hobble. Its mother had already turned a bit of a blind eye to it, and it was obviously living in a lot of pain. So Juvencio made the hard choice that it was best to kill it. "I hate doing this, but it is something that--on a farm--one has to do. My family will eat it for dinner one night. It is all a circle," he said, sharpening the blade of a knife and getting his 22-rifle from the barn.
We brought the goat into the corral (for lack of a better name, a roofed, straw-covered area where the goats can be in the barnyard) and, after petting it to try and calm it down (it was making terrible bleating noises, it sounded like a baby crying), Juvencio brought the tip of the rifle to the tip of the goat's head and pulled the trigger. I covered my ears but didn't look away. I was struck by how slow-motion it seemed to fall. Its legs buckled, but the goat hadn't stopped moving yet, and he brought the knife to its throat and gently supported its collapse so it lay on its side, bleeding out. Than the goat was carried to the barn and strung up by its hoofs to a rafter. When they are killing animals for public consumption, it is done via a certified butcher in Boring, OR, but because this was for their own use, Juvencio did it all by hand. "Important for young people to know how to do--even just for survival in the wild, many take this skill for granted but it is an art, of sorts," he said, as I pushed a wheel-barrow below the goat to catch the insides.
I watched him skin it, watched the petting-zoo like animal turn into the muscled, sinewy sort of thing I'd seen hanging in outdoor markets in the Phillippines and Thailand. The skin fell over the head like it was a tshirt being pulled off, and so when he cut off the head it was shielded. By the time we got to the guts (and it was no quick process--the careful dance of avoiding cutting into the organs, of separating the right things and not too much) I was fairly at ease with the whole thing, which scared me a bit. I'd told myself that as a meat-eater I would have to be able to watch this and come to terms with it, and I was doing okay, albeit the feeling that what was now being sectioned into a wheelbarrow had previously been petted by me an hour before. Lyn came in and, as a doctor, and using her knowledge and my pieced together memories from anatomy last year, we took a tour of the innards as they piled out into the wheelbarrow, which was fascinating. Being a ruminant, it was put together a little different than humans, and one of its stomachs was covered with a honeycomb like pattern--so strangely beautiful. I always thought I could never be a surgeon because of queasiness, but I surprised myself by staying calm and matter-of-fact.
Finally, they cut it, cleaned it, and put it in a big steel cooking pot. And that was the goat.
So Lyn and I went to pick flowers for farmer's market bouquets, gathering the rainbow of dewy blossoms and sorting them in clean, white buckets...