This week sees us reach an important milestone in our smallholding life, an event that we have seen coming and been preparing for for the last five months. On Monday, we took the concept of "homegrown" to a new level by taking two of our lambs to the abattoir.
It was very hard and, if I am honest with myself, I am not completely at peace with doing it. I feel conflicted as I wrestle with the ethics of it... is it right for an animal to be born and then slaughtered for meat a few months later? It feels a little crazy... Yet, if I am going to eat meat, isn't eating home-reared meat the best way to go about it? I know exactly how the lambs I will eat have been raised and looked after. I know they had a good life, raised naturally on grass with as much freedom as possible, in a small flock with plenty of space. What I am completely at peace with, however, is how, as their keeper, I have loved, cherished and looked after these two lambs during their time with us and how eating meat reared in this way is sustainable.
So when the time came to say goodbye and let them go, it was tough! I saw the lambs being born in the Spring, even assisting with the birth of the ram lamb and over their five months with us, I forged a bond with them. Naturally. It is all part of the process of keeping animals. People have said to me that it is a mistake to name the ewes or the lambs and that it is best "not to get too attached"... How do you even do that? Each of our ewes has a name and so have the lambs. I don't think that not naming them would have helped me feel less pain on Monday. The pain was always going to be there because when you lose someone or something you have an attachment to, it hurts. There is no getting away from it. It is a normal response and I am completely ok with feeling the emotional pain of letting the lambs go.
I was teary when we got to the abattoir and the man there totally understood. He was kind and helpful to me with the paperwork and the arrangements for collecting the meat at the end of the week etc and he also handled the lambs well, which made the whole process a lot easier to experience, especially for our first time. I had arranged to bring their skins back with us - as I want to turn them into rugs - and he handed them over to me with such sensitivity. I am grateful to him.
I am salting the two skins at the moment and when they are cured in a few weeks, I will send them away to be organically tanned. I am looking forward to the finished lambskin rugs, a memento of our lambs that we can put to good use for years to come. That feels good. We are getting the prepared lamb meat on Saturday and I am looking forward to that too and the lovely meals we will share with family and friends.
There is no doubt that I am feeling challenged by and sore from sending two of our lambs to slaughter. And, at the same time, home rearing our own meat fits with the lifestyle we are creating for ourselves here (for me at least, as the meat-eater). We are not interested in having lambs to send them away to market to feed others. There are already plenty of producers who do that. It is not what we want to do here. We want to keep things small to produce what we need to feed ourselves - and share any small surplus we may have. The whole lambing process has been a useful experience that has helped us reinforce our values, re-affirm our aims and continue to create the lifestyle we want.