Yesterday I took my first batch of this year’s lambs to the abattoir. This is quite an organised process and begins a good few weeks beforehand. First I have to check with my butcher when it’s convenient for him to cut them and book in the required space at my small local abattoir. After these arrangements are made we bring in the lambs and sort through them; marking up any ewe lambs we want to register as replacements or which we can sell for breeding stock. We then select a group of the remaining largest lambs for slaughter, after checking their weight.
The afternoon before I take the lambs in they are brought into a freshly strawed pen to dry out and stay clean overnight. I belly-out and dagg them; this means I shear a strip down their bellies and clean up the crutch area if necessary. They are then settled for the night with a trough of whole oats, new hay and water. First thing in the morning I drive them to the abattoir in Hatherleigh, only two miles away. Half an hour later the deed is done; I collect the skins and I bring them home to salt straightaway. Later I’ll take them to the tannery where they will be cured into the most beautiful long lustre-wool lambskins: I believe in not wasting a thing from my animals. As for the meat, after a week of hanging to ensure the very best flavour, it’s cut, packed, labelled and, with a bunch of fresh seasonal herbs from the garden, is sent out to my customers in iced, insulated boxes.
I have a friend who loves good food though rarely eats meat, unlike her elderly mother who she looks after.
She buys my meat for her mum and has recently begun eating it herself, much to her amazement. “I like it” she says. Today we were talking about the whole bringing up animals, killing them thing. K is not a country girl and feels squeamish and sad about the whole process, though recently she is hesitantly beginning to see there may be another side.
“You know my mother can actually taste it’s not your meat? I bought some of the really expensive ‘taste the difference’ lamb the other week and she could tell the moment I began to cook it. That’s not Paula’s she said, and refused to eat it!”
“Also, you know, she’s so much happier, healthier when she eats meat from you. It’s quite extraordinary, really.”
“It’s the energy.” I explained
“What do you mean?”
I described very briefly the principles of biodynamic farming, where you work with the natural rhythms of the universe and the earth. Food produced this way is, they say, alive, full of energy, which it then imparts back to you again. I am certainly no expert in biodynamics, though some of the philosophies and values resonate strongly. And when I get feedback that the food I produce is having a very positive effect it interests me even more.
K’s not wholly convinced yet! But I have persuaded her to come to the tannery with me on Monday. It’s the most extraordinary Dickensian experience. Ancient vats, boiling and bubbling, seething and steaming, manned by beings out of some bewitching fairy tale! Maybe it will be the nail in the coffin of her ‘meat’ experience, or maybe it won’t!