Farm | What Their Last Day Looks Like

grass-fed beef and lamb madison wisconsin - humane farm - grassfed

What their last day looks like

This has always been a hard topic for me, the last day. Even-though I believe that cattle and sheep were created for us to eat, there is something very sad about that lingering date on my calendar, the date a life ends to give us health and well-being. While it’s an extremely graphic topic, I know there are those of you like me that while it hurts to know, we have to know. I think it’s the most important part of being a responsible meat consumer and thank you for caring enough to learn the whole process of what it takes to get your favorite meat on the table.

So, if you’re with me, I’ll wipe away the tears that fall when I write this and share what the last day looks like for our livestock.

it starts like every other day

Thanks to a MSU (mobile slaughter unit) we’re able to harvest our animals here on the farm. Which means that their day starts out just like any other. If they’re on pasture, they’re grazing when the sun comes up and if their harvested during the winter in our dry lot they wake up to bales of hay being thrown in the feeder.

This is what’s so special to me. That their morning doesn’t start off with a trailer backing up, a small holding pen. It doesn’t start with them being forced to load into a trailer and leaving home for an unknown destination.

when the truck pulls in

They get curious. Any visitor to the farm does not go un-noticed. Our butcher, steps out, says hello and gets to work prepping for the harvest. He loads his gun, he starts up the generator to keep his truck cool, he puts on his boots and smock and then he asks ‘who’s going today’. THAT’S the hardest question to answer, not because I don’t know, but because I’m finally acknowledging the end. If it’s a steer I point them out and give him tag numbers so there is no guessing. If it’s lambs I have them corralled in the barn and again give him the tag numbers.

The inspector put’s on her (usually her) or his white gown and boots and is ready when he’s ready.

then it’s time

I whisper a little goodbye as I hand over those tag numbers and I shed a few tears. If it’s a steer (our male cattle) I walk the butcher and the inspector out to the field. Then we pause, because it really makes us all sad. The gun is loaded and then I look away and wait, for that one shot. The shot comes, a single shot that takes the animal down, it’s gone. There is a heavy sigh from all of us and our butcher cuts the throat to let the blood run out.

If it’s a lamb (fully mature) it happens a little differently. They are corralled in the barn. The butcher instead uses high-voltage to kill the animal. The lamb lies down quickly from the voltage, it’s gone. Again, the harvest is never without a sigh and the butcher cuts the throat to let the blood run out.

To be honest, I don’t watch my animals go down, I haven’t mustered the strength to watch. I just wait for that shot and walk them back to the gate, the lambs I watched once to understand the process and now I walk out of the barn.

It’s really, really hard for all of us. BUT, it’s fast and in their home, just like harvesting a deer in the wild and that’s what brings me some comfort.

the processing

After the steer or lamb is gone, it’s brought to the truck via a skid-steer or wheel barrow, and the butcher skins it, guts it and if it’s a steer quarters it all with the inspector there to watch. After the animal is clean he closes the door, takes off his smock, thanks the inspector and waves a tense goodbye.

The final carcass is brought to their processing facility where it is aged, cut and packaged for pickup

it isn’t easy for any of us

I’ve received some very harsh words when I share my heart on this subject. I’ve been called ‘psychotic’, ‘sick’ and I know there are those who will always feel that way. What they don’t know is how much each and every person involved in harvesting our animals DOES care. The butcher, the inspector and the I, the farmer, all want what’s best for these animals. We want it done humanely, without pain and quickly. No suffering is what we all care about. None of us are in this industry because it’s easy and none of us are immune to the sadness. That inspector has to watch hundreds of these a week and that butcher has to perform hundreds a week and they both admit it has a high emotional toll. As the farmer it’s hard to pick a date where you’ll be forced to say goodbye to something you’ve cared for for so long, something you’ve watched born and bottle fed as it’s mama.

We do it because we believe these animals deserve the best and you deserve meat that was actually cared for, meat that came with tears. So, never believe that the last day was met without a trio of heavy hearts. It isn’t easy and none of us feel to should EVER be easy.

Thanks for reading, for wanting to learn and for supporting those who care.