In defense of slaughterhouses

They saw I had a third sheep with me, one I was just transporting back to its flock.

¨We would take the third one. How much do you want for it?¨

I hesitated, she was the most bad ass little sheep I had.

Dwarfed from birth and too small to ever breed. Her fate had been decided by nature.

Knowing this did not make it any easier in the moment.

¨Same as the others.¨

¨But she is much smaller.¨

I had no response… not one that I would let leave my lips at least.

Her life is just as valuable to me.

I hate USDA regulations. I was willing to do anything to avoid the slaughterhouse.

They consulted each other. ¨we will take all three.¨

We pulled them one by one from the crate, brought them down to the ground and they hog tied them. As they lay on the ground, I could feel how aware they were of what was to come. This is what harvesting an animal looks like when you avoid the ¨cruel and unusual practices¨ of the efficient slaughterhouse system.

As they hog tied each one, I rested my hand on their necks.

Thank you my friend.

I lay awake for weeks wondering if what I had done was truly any better.

It was pouring rain. My partner and I had worked all day in the biggest storm of the year to retrieve these animals. I had known them since they were born.

I had watched over them, fought for their life at times… protected them.

Yet, here I was, in an effort to defy our system, trading their lives for dollar bills.

These were nice people, seemingly as desperate as myself for culture to be returned to the sacred art of harvesting other animals for meat. So desperate that they were willing to take on the heavy task themselves. Yet it was clear to me, that they knew nothing of my sheep. They may as well be buying them cut and packed off a grocery store shelf.

 

______________________________________________________________________ 10 months later

 

¨Can I go with you? If I am going to keep talking shit on slaughterhouses, I oughta at least know what I have such a problem with.¨

I rode in his passenger seat to the slaughterhouse. An animal in the trailer being gracefully pulled behind us. We arrived and backed up to a chute. The two men peeked in, ¨You weren´t supposed to be here til tomorrow.”

My friends eyes widened. Shit.

Our worst nightmare as producers is that we fuck up and our animals endure two bad days.

We all have that one bad day. We are not ignorant to this.

But we are also not ignorant to the fact that as producers of meat, we are responsible for making that one bad day as swift and calm as possible.

Many humans in this world are not given as much consideration.

¨Well, lets get him unloaded then.¨ 

The trailer door swung open, granting the cow access to the chute.

¨Come on now bud.” The men were in no rush, the pace was decided by the four legged here.

He stepped out of the trailer and walked calmly through the chute and down the alley way into a holding pen with other animals.

I was reminded of my own animals. The ones I had not given so much respect as to let them walk into their harvesting day.

There was no cattle prods, no hollering, in fact, there was not even a drop of aggressive energy to be felt in the place.

I agree, don´t get me wrong, that what we eat deserves respect.

My partner does not enjoy his salad each night because he is ignorant to the habitat he is removing when he cuts lettuce, or the soil organisms he is disturbing when he sows his radish seed. He enjoys it knowing it is a gift from mother earth, a sacrifice she makes for us. We are in debt to her for it.

I remember at a young age, shortly after finding out where meat comes from, asking myself who I was eating. Feeling [even as a child] as though meat tasted different, better, when the animal came from a life filled with joy and playfulness. This is why I chose to be a shepherd, to be sure that was the case.

I could not eat the 30 to 40 sheep we harvest each year. Nor would I want to, sharing those joy filled ribs and thighs is a pleasure for the shepherd who works hard to protect her sheep from fear, stress and the predators who would happily harvest them early.

Harvesting of animals is an intense and emotional job. I know this to be true and I have endured the weight far fewer times in my life than the individuals that do it for all of us. I have respect for them and their desire to be swift and skilled in what they do. I have appreciation that my animals are respected, enough that they walk into their fate with their heads held high, getting to experience what every prey animal does at some point in their life.

I understand that USDA regulations can hinder cultural tradition. To anyone standing up for a change to that, please know that I am with you.

But USDA regulation also requires that if you want to harvest an animal yourself, you must live with it. You must know it and be responsible for it, understand it, know the difference between its sickness and its health. While this is not the harvesting tradition of my own buffalo hunting ancestors, it is one that I have come to feel deserves as much respect.

The people who work slaughterhouses for us have spent a lifetime honing these skills so they could save me from the heaviest obligation a producer could choose to bear.

Slaughterhouses are efficient, it is true, but they are also filled with people who believe in what they do. Maybe we should too.

https://ucanr.edu/sites/grown_in_marin/files/83682.pdf

There is so many different approaches to slaughter. We are not limited to the two experiences I chose to share about. There is worse, better and everything in between. I hope you find what feels right to you. Let us be thoughtful and whole minded in our approach to a changed world.

 

 

Sheep Culture

The story of the 2018 Petaluma Transhumance told by one of the humans.

There are many documentaries about the dismal version of our agricultural state: driven by industrial progress and capitalism, a forced transformation into a state of becoming fossil fueled and high yielding; packed into feed lots and factory farms; oppressed by regulation; bled by a system unwilling to practice reciprocity.

What is the worth of the food we partake in, if it is paired with a story of oppression? fear? loss? Many, while fed, have entered a state of starvation. So last Saturday, an effort was made to feed our community, not just calories, but experience. The very experience we crave. An experience that gave us hope, hope for food to feed more than just our bodies.

The demand to evolve away from over mechanized and heavily industrialized agriculture is increasing for many reasons, but the subtle logic that stands out to me is our desire for CULTURAL SATISFACTION. The presence of this longing [for a food culture] suggests we do not need to be at war within our industry, maybe just creatively provide alternatives; Simpler ways of being.

There have always been individuals working tirelessly to preserve the cultures being trampled by this “progress”. Many of those individuals have been rolled over by our speed wagon economy, some killed, some stolen from, some just left feeling as though they have lost the battle. However, on Saturday, June 9th, in the city of Petaluma, another effort was made to preserve and create culture in our local food system… and lose, we did not.

One of the many effective practices lost in this push to become more efficient, is the art and action of Transhumance. From the latin origins, Trans- meaning “across” and humus meaning “ground”. Andre Voisin, Author of the book “Grass Productivity”, describes the phenomenon and its applications quite beautifully:

“The absolute necessity of adhering to these rest periods during seasons of drought leads to the practice of a special rotation, known as Transhumance, in spite of the considerable time and long journey it involves.”

Chances are if you ask any one of us why we did it, you’ll get a slightly different answer, and each one would be right. The necessity of this animal movement across the landscape has come to feel impossible with fragmentation and privatization. Expecting this to change, is irrational without increasing awareness of the challenge. Instilling that practice back into our society, is unreasonable without support. And enjoying the abundance this exercise would create, requires a culture be developed alongside it.

We herded the sheep through downtown, having prepared a list of reasons we needed to do so, and gracefully jumped through every hoop necessary to make it acceptable to the city government. At the other end of our journey, we knew there was no pot of gold, yet we found it was a place, not one bit short on wealth.

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Community members lined the neighborhood streets; children, dogs, coffee cups, and the occasional cowboy costume. The support was surprising and fed the soul as only the richest of experiences do. We wore matching shirts, “Keep the Culture in Agriculture” not as a uniform that removed our individualism, but as a uniting characteristic that made each one of us stronger. We wore beautifully hand died bandannas, made especially for our cause; it felt as though we each carried a flag through our town, for our cultures we were desperate to preserve.

We flocked past homes and businesses. We crossed busy main streets and bridges. Moments before we arrived to our destination all the sheep let out a buck as though to remind us this was a moment of joy and triumph.

We arrived and the sheep grazed through the evening. So we did the same.

We celebrated them, their offerings, their impact. We feasted. We laughed. We exchanged valuable knowledge. And of course, as most healthy cultures do, we danced.

 

We are young, and everyday we are making a stand for who we want to be; what we want our communities to be made up of; what we want to teach our children about us.

We are successfully defying the system that demands we take but not give. We are becoming a culture that respects life, honors death, embraces diversity, celebrates beauty and chuckles at the word impossible.

 

**All photo credit to Sonoma County photographer, Noelle Gaberman.

Thank you to the community members who came out and showed your support of good agriculture and got involved. Thank you to all the people who brought pieces of yourselves to the market place, the stage, the dinner table. Thank you to my dearest friends, each with their own vision of what this could be, for pushing through the busy weeks to get a us to beautiful moment we will remember forever.

Those who could not attend, I hope to see you at the 2019 Transhumance Festival!

This is Ours

pheasant

Everywhere he went, he took care of the land as if it were his. It was not until being in a place where he was constantly reminded that, legally, it did not belong to him, that he no longer practiced this. That was a low point in his life.

This is a piece of the story I heard last night, and it struck me to the core, knowing many of us in livestock care, land stewardship and agriculture often bare this same weight; face this same struggle.

A couple years ago, I decided to try and stop using the possessive pronoun, “my”. The reasoning for this was layered and often undetermined. I simply felt uncomfortable; being sure that my body, my feelings, my thoughts were the only energies I felt were truly belonging to myself.

Often times, it was driven by the disdain I have developed for the monetary system and the power it often gives undeserving individuals. This was most likely developed by the material driven culture I was raised within. I moved from a place primarily owned by all people to a county where 95% of the land is privatized. That probably fed the fire a bit.
Other moments, I felt a ping of fear as it came out: “my horse” “my dog” “my goats”– feeling as though I was risking my own freedom by condoning the commodification of other beings, human or not. I liked to [sometimes ignorantly] ponder the possibility of these being symbiotic relationships, ones that both parties were choosing to be a part of.
I found it lost all romance, unable to even describe the man I said yes to, as “my fiance”. It made me nauseous to be defined as his and guilty to call him mine. I feared in the use of this pronoun I was hindering his independence and my own. Unfortunately, we often became frustrated, feeling we lacked an alternative determiner.

This shared insight empowered a new realization; Perhaps this word is meant to be used, just more thoughtfully.  I desire for it be received from me not in any manner that implies possession, but as a declaration of commitment, responsibility and love.

This approach allowed me to imagine a healthier relationship with the landscapes and life surrounding us; promoting the dissipation of our battle with the economic system which has allowed -forced at times- all life to become commodities within it. Being granted the ability to purchase beings and ecosystems should not void the responsibility to care for them.

This is our land, these are our animals, this is our home. I truly believe we should not conform to a system that demeans them to dollar signs… and then often sells them to the highest bidder.

This can quickly and effectively remove a majority of us community members from the equation, decreasing the pride and care we take as we move through our shared spaces.

The included image came to mind which I snapped 10 days prior to now. When I saw this crushed pheasant [one I had consciously avoided only 12 hours before] I felt defensive of my community, my neighbors, my home. I wondered if the driver was from out of town, or was driving on their own roads too; had they consciously hit one of our neighbors or were they just driving carelessly through?

In beginning this discussion, I am determined to remain humble, hoping to feed more transformation in this word and many other terms of possession; we could possibly even redefine the meaning of ownership. Contributions and insights from your own hearts and minds are welcome.

 

If you own land, I imagine you have given thought to what it means to be a landowner. If you own animals, I am curious if you feel you belong as much to them as they do you. If you own none of the things one might own, I am curious if you feel your influence on the ecosystems you are a part of, is affected by your lack of possession. If you have no response to these topics, because you give thought to words made of more than two letters, your vocabulary most likely surpasses mine. Sometimes I am unsure I am using my brain power on the right things.  
Thank you for being here my friends.

So wild, we could taste it.

The fat from a single bear can provide 48,960 calories; that is enough to provide for 1 average sized human body the appropriate amount of sustenance for 24.5 days. That is just the fat. [Unfortunately for myself, this is not knowledge gained from my own experience, rather from the sharings of Daniel Vitalis’ personal experience with hunting and using a whole bear.]

Most people are surprised when it is revealed that my interest in rewilding the spaces we live, love or play in, is intensely motivated by my desire to rewild my own diet. However, as a farmer and shepherd, my experience of living with the land and receiving the abundant gifts of nature, has cultivated a desire within me to see ecosystem health become a priority to our society.

I deeply enjoy being partnered up with the animals that I trust and feel safe around; I see us moving through and tending to the land together as a great start. However, as the health of the landscapes increase and they begin to flourish, the energy required to maintain their balance is increased. In this pursuit, the need of our planet could become more than land stewards and domesticated species can impact at the appropriate rate. Who better to tend to this achievement of ecologic abundance than the bear; the elk; the antelope; the bison?

If we arrive one day to our home being once again shared by the wild hooves, the black bear, the lion, the wolves, I wonder if we would restrict the earth’s ability to thrive in that achieved health by arguing over the one right way of being on the land? The bear population could move into your area, grow and be thriving before your government has even realized it was an issue, let alone followed protocols to deciding how to deal with it. Hunters provide a huge portion, sometimes all, of the funding for conservation of wildlife and habitat. Hunters provide food. Hunters provide a disturbance on the landscape that is necessary in order to create biological diversity.

I am not [yet] bored with the 10 meat options given to me at the butcher shop, but I am definitely bored with the landscape being void of diversity. I am bored with the cows. When I drive up or down the coast, I imagine herds of elk sprinkled throughout. Antelope running, goats climbing, bear tromping, birds of every shape and size soaring and diving. I imagine the mountain lions I can not see and the wolves waiting for the right moment. Do not misunderstand me, there are cows out there, being managed in ways that could lead right into this fantasy; for those cows, I am deeply grateful.

This is only the beginning of the conversation and for those who live in california with me, we probably have a long time to discuss it. But for now, I will continue to daydream about a landscape full of the animals I would love to share it with. I will continue to dream of a space where no one is hungry. I will continue to dream of a food system so rich and diverse that our minds will wander to what we wish to taste rather than what we wish to own.

For those of you interested in exploring this idea more, Daniel Vitalis hosts a fine platform for conversations about such captivating topics, and the following podcast with the inspirational George Monbiot [author of Feral] is educational, moving and pretty radical to anyone tapping into their primitive side.

http://www.danielvitalis.com/rewild-yourself-podcast/rewilding-land-people-wildlife-george-monbiot-171

 

** Please do not misinterpret my words, I have mad respect for the domesticated bovines and the people who work with them to improve our landscapes and provide food for our species and other species we love. I have no interest in removing them from the food system or the land, just in finding the capacity to share those spaces. 

 

Sahara

Today, When I woke up, I moved my sheep and goats and then I walked to the edge of the woods.

I walked to the edge of the woods, despite having a million things to do elsewhere. When I arrived there, all those other things I could be doing disappeared and I experienced something new with an animal that I thought had left me.

With me to these woods, I took a body. The body was one I sometimes called Sahara.

Sahara, with her name, was gifted to me with some other alpines, and now she was the lead goat. From the moment I brought her home she seemed to respect and resent me, seemingly all in the same breath. I knew she respected me because she never pressured me, always kept her distance and moved away from me when I walked towards her. I knew she resented me because while she did so, she maintained steady eye contact. Looking me right in the face as if to say, “I am not yours.”

Sahara became a part of my herd and not a single goat hesitated to make way for her. She was not a bully, maybe just confident; or maybe so wise that no one questioned her.

When we would go on walks she was the last to catch up to me. Always staying behind for an extra moment to look at a view or eat one more pull of something. Sometimes half the herd would hesitate and turn back to follow her instead, but then she would decide to catch up as if she had proved her point.

If the herd was spooked she was typically the last to turn and run, preferring to stay and ponder the possibility of fighting back. I would think, Stupid goat, that is how you end up eaten, all the while growing fond of her fearlessness.

The herd would get out sometimes. When they arrived back home and I greeted them with hay, everyone typically seemed happy to be safe again. She seemed as though she was just making sure I was still where she left me.

When I brought home my buck with horns more than two feet tall, the goats ran from him. Sahara walked right up to him, horns less than half the size of his and nailed him in the shoulder. What a flirt.

I won’t get into details about why she died, but I knew three days ago that I should have killed her. I recognized the feeling, I knew it was time, and yet, I pushed her to stay alive.

The last time I made the mistake of making an animal die “naturally” (which by the way can be excruciatingly painful) I cried in my sleep for several days. That’s a blog post for another day.

This time, I did not shed a tear; that would have meant nothing to her.

I knew I had done her wrong, and I needed to make up for it.

 

When we got to woods, I removed her coat. Then I broke her neck and removed her head. I knew this goat would be disappointed in me for letting her death be less than purposeful. What I did not know, was how deeply I could heal from seeing it through.

It took me 3 hours. Typically I would hang the animal and use the body as leverage so you don’t have to get the hide dirty or push against the flesh with your hands. I did it with her on the bare soil. I could feel her muscles tug against me as I pulled the skin back. I swear I could smell the earth below us come to life as it prepared to thank her for what she would give it.

A very primitive mentor of mine has told me that to make use of an animals death this way, brings it back to life. This morning I felt the truth in this. I had the realization… or maybe it was a whisper in the woods, maybe the last bit of energy leaving her physical body: To her, she was not my goat, but now it was true that I was her shepherd.

I did not waste time apologizing, wishing for a different reality, or pretending she would forgive me even if she could. I thanked her; I learned from her; I sent her off in a way I hope someone sends me one day.

 

So many people eat meat assuming the animals meant nothing. The question of who was this? is often never asked, maybe because… well, that would be weird to talk about at dinner. But when you buy from shepherds, cattlemen and women, hunters… that animal that you decided to eat, did not take their last breaths without being thought of (in our case, these animals don’t take any breath without being thought of). That animal did not die a death full of fear or suffering and it lived a real life as a part of this world. If you can’t handle the idea of partaking in the flesh of an animal who died with a loving shepherd by their side, than by all means, become a vegetarian. I can’t tell you how much respect I have for that movement. But if your body needs meat as much as mine, and you understand the lands’ craving for hooves and manure (and the shepherds struggle to be paid for providing this impact appropriately), then at least eat meat that doesn’t have anything stored in its fibers other than happy memories.

 

*I appreciate you taking the time to hear me. I know death is not easy to discuss, but I have made it a long term goal to better understand how to handle it and make it more meaningful. If you have taken efforts to do the same, I would LOVE to hear about them.

 

**Sahara will be appreciated by me for the rest of my days as a human. If you are interested in learning more about the process of tanning a hide, PLEASE reach out to me! I will be hosting a two day workshop sometime in fall.

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Enough.

I am so grateful to my fellow humans when they express themselves, their true selves. Not just the facts and figures we memorize about the world we live in, but our ambitions, our feelings, our dreams and desires. It was not that he brought to light something I had not thought of; he brought to light that I was not alone in those thoughts. And in that, for the first time in a year, I found so much hope, comfort, and community.

There is not enough time in this production oriented world for genuine friendship. There is a pressure [created by our capitalist driven economy] to always be moving upward that outweighs the desire to be patient and wait. How difficult it is to get to know someone when it requires sitting still, listening and contributing to a relationship that may never provide you with more than a warm embrace or a lended ear in a time of need.

Enough.

I am not the only one saying it.

Friendships, Community, Neighborly acts, Relationships built on trust, respect and care for one another. Those are how I will be determining the density of my richness. Those will be the units of measurement in calculating my wealth. Those are the things I want to be remembered by. Not the fact I am hard worker. Not my willingness or ability to hustle. Nor that I am a mover and shaker. For too long people have appreciated those things about me, and I have resented myself for it.

I listen. I care. I love. I bring comfort to friends. I create calm in the world that seems to never stop storming. That is who I want people to think of when I become nothing but a memory.

I am not sure how many of us there are out there in the world. I don’t know if our population has grown, or if we are just now finding the words to describe the way we feel. But we very much so exist, live and interact in this world. We are discovering how to live those lives we desire. Not within the current system, nor against it; but separate from it.

This woman continues to inspire these thoughts, even after passing on from her human form: http://www.ursulakleguin.com/LeftHandMillsCollege.html

Maybe that is where it started, us coming back to our bodies, rediscovering our native tongue. With her words spoken 35 years ago.

Maybe it started there and many other places, all at different times. Maybe it is starting right now, in you, reading this. It is our connection to each other and the world around us, that can make this life so satisfying to the soul.

Thank you for connecting with me here.

May all our minds feel free to forge new trails.

This is the season I find myself encouraged by the dark and cold to spend more time inside. My most loved indoor activity is writing. I’ve worked tirelessly on several different pieces this season, only to store them away in my drive for no one else to see. I wanted to share them but the desire has always been outweighed by the following recurring, insecurity-based train of thoughts: first, I should become a better writer; then I will share; I should find a focus, no one is going to read my writing if it is just about me; I like reviewing my tools from the experience of a woman… maybe I’ll blog about tools. No wait, fuck that. 

A single pebble tips the scales once again. I shared a genuine part of myself recently, with people I call friends, but who barely know me. To describe the post-share sensation as something that “felt good” would be an understatement (or at least proof that I, indeed, did not become a better writer before starting this blog). I discovered that once I shared some of my deepest feelings, they were able to evolve. My mind felt invigorated to expand and grow, like a perfectly pruned fruit tree. 

I find clarity on a topic to always be hidden in the creases of it. So, the longer you take to unfold it and shake it out, the more obscure it seems to become. Sharing through expressive writing is how I unfold my most intense thoughts. It isn’t just pulling them out of the drawer and shaking them hard, so when put down later, they find those same folds and become blurry all over again. Sharing my writing feels like I am bringing those thoughts outside on a warm summer day with the perfect breeze. I am hanging them out on the clothesline, to become completely fresh feelings.

I am sure that this has been enough explanation for why someone with as many responsibilities as myself would take time to start a blog, but one last comment must be made to introduce it:

Thank you for reading. You are the perfect breeze for my musky, wrinkled thoughts.