It has been a week now since we took the cows into the slaughterhouse for 'harvest'. It was definitely an intense experience seeing it moment by moment, but I knew from day one that these cows were raised for their meat (not just for mowing and growing the grass...or for pets), and that we interns would have the opportunity to see them to the end.
I found out the day before harvest that I would be going to watch the process, so I didn't have much time to sweat about it. We all watched Michael and Sara sort the five cows from the rest of the herd. The five were oblivious...they just wanted company of each other, and some grass to eat. Our farm crew was much quieter than usual that day (besides Avana's rototiller dance to break up the mood...but that's another story :)
5 am came early on harvest day. Michael had a jolt stronger than his morning coffee when the loading gate malfunctioned. One of the cows backed into the gate and sent Michael airborn back a few feet. Good thing he was able to jump up right away before the thousand pound beasts continued to back up! We loaded the trailer and drove our way to Kersey, CO...about an hour east of Loveland.
After arriving at the meathouse and waiting for 30 minutes, the butcher came out to round up the cows. My gut reaction wanted to call him the grim reaper, only dressed in white with a happy yellow apron. However, once we got inside and he could see how nervous we were to observe, he smiled reassuringly...yes, he was human just like us.
I wasn't sure what to expect once we went inside. We could stand pretty much anywhere in the large factory room...though it felt very small at first...no real corners of the room to hide in either. I knew the toughest part for me would be the moment between life and death for the cow, but Kate pointed to the cow that had already been killed and was getting hung up by it's back legs. It was a standard black angus cow, so not one of the cows with any unique characteristics for us to recognize or become attached to...but those two unique ones were up next.
The pictures I was able to take will describe this process better than any of my words will. See here:
|Viewer Discretion Advised|
I winced a lot at first...mostly when the butchers were cutting the skin off the face and making the cow look more like meat than an animal. There wasn't much blood or fluids to see since most of that flowed into buckets below the hanging cows, and the butchers kept washing themselves and the floors. Some of it even looked more like artforms: the intestines looked like a sculpture...and the butchers so smoothly separated the skin from the meat. And once the skin was off and the lower part of the legs were cropped off (for health regulations), the remaining meat looked like that of an enormous chicken.
After seeing the process of the first cow, I felt a bit more comfortable knowing what part of the process was coming next and could stand a little bit closer to the action. Watching through my camera lens also created some distance between me and what was happening. When we were finished watching them half the cow, we toured the dry freezers where other meats were hanging. I'm not going to lie...the smoked meats smelled really good in there...so seeing the entire process obviously hadn't affected my tastebuds as much as I thought. It takes a few weeks for the meat to be dried and cut, so our cows will come back to us around mid-July.
And any of you readers are interested in seeing the process yourselves, come visit...this is open for viewing!
On our drive home we past a CAFO. It was in the middle of what looked a desert, there were hardly any trees...and definitely no grass. What a contrast to see all these huge buildings and piles of feed and trains and so many trucks spraying chemicals and stirring up dust on these pens of cattle. It may have been a sad day for five of our cows today, but it will never amount to the years of filth these cows live in. Yuck.
The rest of the day when I went to the store or when I went to Denver to visit friends and people would ask me how I was...I could hardly resist saying 'I SAW A COW GET SLAUGHTERED TODAY'...it just seemed like such a crazy thing to witness. So be happy if you don't live nearby to hear this story over and over :)
So after all of this I will remain an omnivore. I believe that cows are some of the most efficient sources of energy, and our happy cows are not only providing us with meat, they are drastically improving the quality of our land! Can we say the same about soy? or CAFO beef? I would like to still eat a lot more fruit and vegetables to keep low on the food chain, but from now on I will try to only buy 100% grassfed beef...appreciating every bite. And I will cook smaller portions so as not to waste any leftovers by letting them rot in the fridge. The beef was a life after all. Thanks happy cows for making my tummy happy :)