from I Eat Meat

  Sherry Thomas

Three years ago I decided that I had to learn to kill if I was to continue eating meat. This was not a moral imperative, but a personal one. I sent my lambs and goat kids off to butchers and stockyards and I wanted to know what that meant, what I was doing. There is no way to live with domesticated animals and not be involved with death. Almost all of the young males must be slaughtered and there are the older, “cull” animals which must be killed or sold, unless one chooses to spend money on the luxury of free retirements. Once becomes involved with death either remotely (by putting an animal up for sale and not actually experiencing the consequences) or very directly (literally with bloody hands). For me, the latter way is best. I know how my animals die and when and where. What I don’t need for my own use, I try now to sell to friends or to slaughter for acquaintances. I feel better doing it myself than sending my animals off to auctions and slaughterhouses.

I learned to butcher from my neighbors, two brothers in their eighties. The first time was probably as hard and as meaningful as it will ever be. She was Diesel, a “bummer” lamb I had raised on a bottle. Her mother was killed by dogs when the lamb was a month old and a nearby rancher gave her to me to raise. From the first, I knew she would eventually be slaughtered as she was a mutton-type sheep not suitable for my wool-type flock. Every day for two months I fed her on a bottle, cared for her, loved her and knew that I would someday kill her. She lived eight months as happy as any sheep ever does, a good, peaceful life. Then one day my neighbor shot her in the back of the head with a 22. She was grazing and never saw him; she fell, glassy-eyed before I heard the sound of the shot. Then he slit her throat to bleed her. I knew she had died without pain and without fear.

As my sister and I skinned and gutted her, I kept looking at her saying, “This is Diesel; I have taken her life.” I felt very conscious, humble and thankful. Later that night, I found that I was very shaken. When I closed my eyes, I would see Diesel falling dead or Diesel’s body being skinned. This was a very intense, but not a negative experience. I did not feel bad about what I had done, but I was feeling all of it. The act of killing is one we are very removed from in this society; for the first time, I was experiencing my place in the cycle of life and death.

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