Learning to kill so that I could eat was an important transition for me in my journey to self-sufficiency. As a woman, it was an even greater transition I feel because “that is not something that women do.” We care for, we love, we nurture. But we can do that in death, too. We can care for how we kill so that our animals suffer the least way possible. That moment when I know it is coming and they don’t. I shook. I could not help it. I felt such immense responsibility to make it as easy for them as I could. But I learned how to deal with the fact that an “instant death” is not reality. Nothing in life is instant—not even death.
And if my first shot, or my first blow was insufficient. I learned that my horror must be surrounded by calm and efficiency so that I could right the wrong swiftly.
And then, it is done. I ease them out. I pray for their spirit so that it passes to where its journey continues. I ask their soul to be a guardian of our homestead, their presence always welcome here. Their body is our food the way our bodies will feed others one day. So life continues.
I rejoice then as I process that body into food for us. It is a joyful thing. It is a beautiful thing. Not one tiny part of that body is ever wasted. Every part feeds something else, whether it is me, or my dogs, or my soil.
I do not feel embarrassed that I made little hoods to put over the geese’s heads on their last day. Their eyes are such that they can see behind them. Why not shield them from seeing that glint? They know. Why not give them the shroud of darkness, to lesson their fear? It is no trouble for me.
If the animal is small, I hold it while it passes. I hold it so that I never take for granted the life that leaves. I hold it so that perhaps it can feel my love and take some comfort of my gratitude.
If large, I lay my hand upon them. Even as I cut the throat, I lay my hand and pray for them. As their blood feeds the ground, I honor them.
But then there is Beanie. Selene Beanie. She was our first milk cow. I used to say that she was the cow that jumped over the moon. THE cow that did that. She had spirit! She had personality. She had soul! She was my friend. Even though she was a brat and aggravated me. She was funny, and we played games. She was the troll that guarded the gate, and I paid my passage with treats until she smiled.
But there was that accident. When she was crazed for “a man.” She broke out and ran down the road towards the seductive song of that bull at that farm down there. Her son running behind her.
We found her AFTER that farmer stuck her in his field with his herd. Was he hoping no one would come looking? Because she was little, and his bull is BIG. And he broke her. She could not get off the ground. Sad Beanie. She pulled herself along to try to eat some grass. And we brought her water. And we tried to raise her. And the vet came and went.
And in the end, we had to put that bullet in her sweet head. Big, silly Beanie. I put my forehead against hers to show her I loved her and she put hers against mine to say the same.
And it was loud and it was over, and there she was. Laying there. But I will not waste what she has to give, so every part of her becomes food for something else. Some for the dogs, because they guarded her. Some for the chickens because they scratched her dung and helped keep her pen free of parasites. Some for us……
Only she was my friend. They are all a part of me, a part of my family. I tried to honor her passing by taking her inside of me, to feed and sustain me. But it hurts. I look at it and still see my friend.
Not this time.
Her son has been raised for food. I know it from the beginning. I make my peace with it. That sweet little bull calf will become a dangerous bull. And he has a destiny.
But Selene Beanie—she was my MILK cow. She was my girl. She was the one who swatted me with her tail but gave me her milk, and her friendship.
I will not waste her. I will give her to my dogs. My dogs are my heart and my joy. They guard my farm, my animals and my soul. They can honor her needless death and let her live another day through their joy as she sustains them.
I cannot look at any part of her and not see my friend.
Maybe some will not understand that.
But that’s okay. That’s okay.
Beanie understands. And I loved her.