Every 3 or 4 months it is judgment day at the farm. You work hard to give your animals the best life they can have and you pay more attention to their diet than your own toddler's just to make sure the final product is the highest quality. Of course you spend your free time reading everything and anything in Italian, English and Spanish ever published on animal nutrition, just to ensure you are doing everything humanely possible to make your animals happy and the pork something worth the feast of a king, because this is the only way to celebrate their lives.
Then, the X day comes ... time to load them up, drop them in Clark's hands (the guy that slaughters them). You will see them on the other side. This is where a butcher, a farmer/butcher, and another human being differ -
Normal people at this point are thinking "oh how sad, it is hard, it will be horrible, how can you handle it?"
The butcher thinks "ok, it is time to get into action, I gotta get into the zone"
The butcher-farmer thinks "oh boy, this is the time I will know whether I wasted my past 14 months."
So the butchering day arrives, and every single drop of sweat you produced over the taking care of the animals, every cold bucket of water your dropped on you head in the sub-zero degree, everything ... is there in front of your eyes, and it is time to see if it was worth it. You spend 30 to 60 min to prepare the cutting room to make the process fast (which never is!!!) and then .. time to bring the first half in. You place your hands on each key part of the carcass, examining the fat quality, the amount of back and internal fat, the color and the size of the muscles, and for these first 10 minutes all you can hear is silence - people around you are silent because they may not know much about color and consistency of the fat, but they know enough that the verdict developed in these few seconds will dictate how miserable their day will be: Is this going to be a day with happy music, people dancing and throwing knives up in the air and other people tossing piece of meat and slap them into vacuum sealed bags? Or is there going to be silence and the occasional "No, not that knife, pass me the other?"
The feeling of cutting into the first carcass and seeing what you were hoping for, seeing a beautiful tenderloin, a great ham, an impeccable Boston butt.. is priceless .. when you get there you nod to your self - you did well. At this point you meet your fellow butchers in their zone - dissect, identify, organize - quick. But even at that time, every once in a while, you stop and admire the piece of art in front of you.
You think of that pig (often I can identify which exact pig that was), of the last time you said goodbye. You think of the extra carrot you gave him and wonder if that made a difference. You step back, look at what is in front of you and nod to yourself - yes it was worth it. The day is intense - barely enough time to pee - you do not even realize you need to pee. You just go go go , cut cut cut, and before you know 4:30pm arrives and at that point everything is done. Over. You gotta close. Everything left unopened on the table is not inspected - not for sale - wasted. So run run run.
6:00 pm arrives and you first become aware of reality around you? You are in the car, half way home with a truck full of cuts. Of beautiful cuts.
Still no time to stop, you contact all your customers, organize orders, and the delivery schedule. The next day arrives, you rush to the barn to see all your animals - you did not see them for almost 24 hrs (to a farmer, not seeing their animals for that long feels like a lifetime). You check everything to make sure you did not miss any important change in their development, and then you begin the deliveries. And that is when it kicks in ... not only all the days that went into the making of this final roast were worth it, but this is the only thing that is worth doing.
You meet the families that will center their meals and their celebrations around what you have worked on. You know you have produced the healthiest meat for this family. You know that your pig had time to dig his nose in the dust, run feeling the air flopping his ears, roll belly up while getting a nice rub, getting into a ear biting fight with his friends and even break through the fences to go visit the field on the other side of the road (which ought to be better than this one!). You know your piggy was fine, you know you cared for him from the time he was born and, most importantly, you know that, that promise you made when you first petted him, that his life would not go wasted, is well respected.
One of my customers mentioned shake-n-bake as a way to cook my pork chops (he was joking), I said I would not be selling him my pork (I was not joking).
The thought of being able to provide this type of meat not only to my family but to my community, and to be welcomed by so many families is the best feeling. Indeed, for years,every time we had a piece of our meat, I would complain to Charles "it is not fair, why are we not sharing this with the whole world ... how can you enjoy this if other people do not know this?" So now ... we are in the fridges of more families than I would have ever thought possible ... we feed a number of families we have never met before, but nevertheless they trust us with the nutrition of their little ones. And we take that seriously not only health wise but ethically too.
So, isn't this a good reason to feel high?
Good night and if you have one of my piggies in your fridge, please enjoy to the fullest.
A message from my desperate husband: "if you are even remotely interested in talking about pigs and pig nutrition please call Ale as soon as possible, because there is only so much I can handle!!"
Today, while shoveling pig manure, I started thinking about gender stereotypes for farmers in the Western world - because this is what you do when you have a shovel, 30 minutes of idling time and a PhD in psychology. See, recently I have received a number of invitations for special workshops and events that specifically target "female farmers." It looks like we are a rare breed that needs protection in Vermont and perhaps across the nation. Also, the other day I saw a poster at a friend's farm with a picture of a woman the poster said "without her there would not be a farm." A nice thought, but a thought that indicates that people need to be reminded that women are farmers or that women are behind the scenes.
Truly, I do not get this and let me explain why:
as a farmer, I spend 60% of my time feeding my animals, 20% of the time making sure they are warm and safe, 10% curing those that are sick, and 10% playing and petting them. Since I am a mother, I feel I am extremely qualified for all these tasks since, with my toddler, I spend 60% preparing her food and feeding her, 20% dressing her and making sure she is not killing herself, 10% taking care of her colds or flu or other medical problems, and 10% spending time singing songs and playing with her.
Indeed, being a farmer prepared me to be a mom and being a mom makes me a better farmer.
My stubborn sheep do not want to go in the paddock I prepared for them? Not very different from Eva not wanting to wear the clothes I prepared for her in the morning. Pigs getting into silly fights with each other do resemble brothers spending their afternoon fighting. My ram is sneaking out to go see the ewes ... well ... now I am fully prepared for Eva's attempts to go out at night during her teen years!
And yet, the prototypical farmer in the US is a male. I find it a curious thing since all the skills you need to take care of the animals are really the same you use to raise a child (or a drove of 40 children). This also makes me think that many good male farmers would be excellent primary care providers for their children and yet they believe that women are better at that.
I always find it interesting when society pushes us to think that there is such a big gender difference, especially when, in reality, the difference between women is a lot greater than the difference between men and women. Indeed, I have yet to find a convincing argument that women are so much different from men in any specific area, other than in some obvious upper-body strength difference. But again, as Waldo, my landlord and experienced farmer always tells me, "farming is about working smarter not working harder" so the muscles have little to do with farming - I am sure when he figures out how I used his words he will roll his eyes ... and smile.
In any case, if I need to dig a post I will ask for help to the manly guy down the street (or to my husband), I do not have a problem with that, but in the meantime, I will keep running the farm and make sure we are getting the money to pay the manly guy to dig the post. And in my free time I will attend some of those women farmers gathering so I can hang out with other women that can be feminine and shovel pig sh#t at the same time.
Am I wrong?
Here is Eva and Thelma, one of our Buff Orpington, plotting for their next mischief