Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Goodbye Lenny and Squiggy

Yes, our baby boy lambs have gone on to their destiny. If this upsets you, please stop reading. If you don't want to know where your food comes from, again, stop reading.

I want to take a minute to talk about what it was like for me to say goodbye to our boys. Of course I shouldn't have named them, but I did, and I'll do it again, and that's just that.

Born on January 1, with no assistance from us, Miss Laverne gave birth to these precious baby boys. For 6 months, we never had a lick of trouble with either of them. I named them Lenny and Squiggy, to coincide with their mom and their aunt's names. Lenny quickly stood out as the trouble maker, and the one more likely to wander from mom's side. Of course, when he would look up and realize he was alone - he'd bleat and bleat and bleat. Squiggy was our goofball who ate his food while standing IN the manger. Lenny was the one that let people pet him. Heck, I could even hug him.

I knew from day one that these boys were destined to be food. Larry told me not to name them, but I couldn't help it. He said if they were boys, they were going to be food and not to get attached. We even asked the neighbor to verify that they really were boys, as I was hoping to get girls so we could keep them for breeding stock. It wasn't to be - the horns and some other highly visible components were obvious. We had ram lambs on our hands.

When Larry told me that the meat locker had an opening in their schedule - and to check with the neighbors to see if their GTS (Goat Transportation System) would fit on our truck bed, I knew it was time to say goodbye. Larry wasn't home that night, so I got to hang out with my sheep that last night for the boys. I will post pictures later tonight, I promise.

I went outside and sat in the pasture next to Lenny. Knowing I could pet him, I thought I would take advantage. Next thing I know, all 4 sheep consider me their favorite new snack/scratching post/interesting thing to sniff. I had Lenny sniffing my hair, Squiggy using my knee as a scratching post, Shirley trying to eat my fingers and Laverne trying to eat my wedding ring. I was surrounded by sheep! I took the opportunity to pet each of them, give hugs to Lenny, let them sniff me and nibble my clothes, and look right into their little sheepy eyes. I took them to the front yard for a snack. They love the lawn, and it's too tall for the manual mower now, so we are using sheep to mow the lawn. I think I stood and watched them eat for 2 hours. When they went to the barn, I closed all 4 of them in for one last time.

The next morning, we got some treats and tried to coerce the boys into the truck. Well, those 4 aren't often separated, and trying to get the boys in and the girls out - it just wasn't working. We had to result to using their halters, and Larry had to lift them into the truck. They bleated to their mom for help, and mom couldn't help. I thought they would bleat all the way down the road, but they settled down in the truck and laid down for most of the trip. We finally got them to the house, and sent them into the corral. I got one last pet in with my boys and said goodbye. I was sad for them, to be in an unfamiliar place like that. Our chickens don't even know what's coming. They wander around in the grass until we pick them up. No car ride, no strange people, no weird corrals and gates. As Larry went in to handle some paperwork, I grabbed the butcher so we could talk. I wasn't sure I wanted to know, but I had to ask - what are you gonna do with my boys? Larry was telling me awful stories about shooting them with guns, or hitting them over the head. (Seriously, stop reading if you can't handle this) But they were MY boys, MY responsibility - I wanted to know how their lives were going to end. Was he going to be nice to them? I mean, he had to kill them, but you can CARE about it or not. He said that killing lambs was the hardest thing for him to do, so he made sure to give extra care. He said he was taught to slit their necks and let them bleed out. But he didn't like that method, because they die slowly. He said he has learned, in one swipe (seriously, stop reading...) he cuts their artery and bends their neck back to break it. That way they die quickly and don't suffer. He said he holds them between his legs to help keep them still. (Can't do that with a cow!) OK, either way I was sad that my boys were going to die, that they were separated from their mom, and they weren't out in a nice grassy field for the first time in their lives. But this guy - he cared about the animals he processed. He wasn't heartless, he wasn't a brutal killer. Without guys like him, those of us who eat meat wouldn't get to eat meat. He said it's a good job, and that it isn't easy, but that he's good at making it quick and painless, and knows how important that is. I'm glad my boys got to spend their last minutes with him.

These were never going to be pets, it had to happen. I can't tell you I'm not crying about it. I can't tell you I don't miss them, and being the first, I probably will remember them more than any of the lambs that are to come. And I tell you, it's heartbreaking to hear Lavern bleating for her babies, that aren't lost and won't be coming home. She RAN out to the pasture this morning, calling for them. I wonder how long she will search for them until she realizes they are never coming back. That's heartbreaking too. It's hard to realize that I have a part in causing Laverne's sadness and confusion. That I (and Larry) decided it was time for the lambs to go. Even though logically, I know they had to - if we kept 2 rams and 2 ewes, we'd have quite a herd in a few years if none of them left! And this is our business now. Those 2 lambs will feed and nourish a lot of people, including myself.

But that doesn't mean I won't miss them. And it doesn't mean I won't be sad about it. Because I am.