You can love the animals and honor them, but still eat them. – Allison Bryant, Four Mile Farm
It was a dreary, chilly, wet day the second time Mr. B and I made our way through the gates of Four Mile Farm in Ball Ground, Georgia to meet with farmer, Allison Bryant. Definitely not the bright sunny day with glistening green pastures and spring lambs that we had experienced on our last visit just a few days earlier. The sheep were still in the midst of lambing season, but, on this day, we were not there for the lambs. Allison had invited us for a different purpose. We were going to the slaughterhouse.
Many of our discussions with farmers involve the fact that most people are disconnected from their food sources. Some of this disconnect is because of a lack of interest in the subject or a distance from the farms. Most people are content to purchase a bag of greens or package of shrink-wrapped lamb or beef at their local supermarket and not consider where it came from.
As one of my readers commented on my first article about Four Mile Farm and lambing season, “There is a certain irony with seeing all these gorgeous pictures of sweet little lambs, and adorable little Gwen and Allison, strolling amongst and cuddling with the dear little lambs…and then…raw lamb chops being marinated in garlic and olive oil and rosemary and then seared over an open flame…” Do people really want to look at the newborn lamb pictures and then see us firing up the grill to cook loin lamb chops in a recipe at the bottom of the post? Do they really want to know what happened to the lamb in order for us to be able to eat the chops?
It’s one thing to pick your own strawberries or buy green beans and fresh corn at the local Farmers’ Market, but it’s very different when you talk about where that New York Strip Steak or pork loin came from. Do you want to have the conversation about the way chickens are raised before they are braised in your Le Creuset Dutch oven? Probably not. As Allison Bryant told me, “If you knew how those chickens were raised, you would probably eat more red meat.”
My father hunted and fished when I was young girl. While this was sport to him, we ate everything that he killed, including pheasant, venison, other wild game and fish. To this day, I’m still somewhat traumatized by the vision of a doe strapped to the top of his car after one of his hunting trips. I was not fond of venison and was convinced he shot Bambi, but that doe was soon supper. We never wasted any animal or fish that he shot or reeled in. The site of the dead animal made us more aware of the fact that this was a living, breathing thing that died for our sustenance.
When Mr. B and I received a late-night call from Allison asking us to travel with her early the next morning, I had mixed emotions, but we were impressed with her operation and her compassion toward her animals and knew this would be an important experience. She was taking in one of the cows we had seen just days before, fondly known as Buffalo Cow. We would watch the process of loading up the cow at her farm and then take him to the slaughterhouse.
We headed to Ball Ground, Georgia early the next morning.
Purchasing a package of ground beef in the grocery store is something I have not done since I learned about corporate farming practices. That one package of meat could be sourced from as many as twenty cows from as many as three countries (usually the United States, Canada, and Mexico). Do you know how those twenty cows were raised and treated up until the day they were processed? There are countless horror stories of corporate farms and inhumane conditions and methods of treating and slaughtering these animals. I never wanted to think too much about this topic until I started visiting family farms, talked with the farmers, and got close to these animals.
I look back at that day when we took Buffalo Cow to the slaughterhouse. I cannot tell you that I cried or felt ill. I felt sad. Mr. B was sad. Allison was sad, too. Her little girl was with us on the trip to the processing facility in Ellijay, Georgia. It is part of life when you live on a farm and raise animals for food. You love them and give them the best life possible while they are on this planet. When it’s time to take them in, you do it as calmly and humanely as possible and you go to a processing facility that upholds those same standards.
It is important to lower the stress of these animals during the transition. It affects both the humanity of the process as well as the taste of the meat. Allison separated Buffalo Cow from the herd the day before the trip. Buffalo Cow had bonded with one of the other cows, so the two were moved together and stayed together overnight until it was time to load the trailer, in order to keep him calm as long as possible.
As Allison loaded Buffalo Cow into the trailer, it was difficult to see him taken away from the cow that he had bonded with during his time at Four Mile Farm. They wailed out to each other. The cow that was left behind was released in the pasture with the rest of the herd and kicked and bucked as it went off to find the others. It was a heart wrenching experience for me.
The ride to Ellijay is about an hour’s drive from Ball Ground. I was surprised by the size of the facility. It was small. They only handle about twenty cows per day. Allison backed the trailer up and Buffalo Cow walked right into the holding pen to be greeted by a much larger cow that was “waiting her turn.” Buffalo Cow seemed calm as he stood there while the trailer pulled away and the gate closed on the pen.
David, the owner of the processing facility, came out to chat with us. He explained the process the animals go through and told us they had just been approved by Whole Foods Markets as a humane facility. It is a small business run by a family that has been farming and raising animals for many years. Allison will return to the facility in about two weeks to pick up the cuts of beef and ground meat from Buffalo Cow. She keeps some of the meat for her family and will sell the rest at two nearby Farmers’ Markets.
While we did not see the slaughter itself, we did see the next steps in the process with other cows. We were not allowed to take photos during our visit and I am not sure showing them here would be appropriate.
I was surprised at the amount of unusable and inedible parts that come from a cow. Due to Mad Cow Disease, any parts of a cow’s body associated with the nervous system are considered hazardous waste and must be treated and disposed of as such.
We got back in the truck, hauling an empty trailer, and headed back to Ball Ground.
Arriving home later that evening in Atlanta, there was a piece of local grass fed beef that had been cooking in the sous vide for forty-eight hours, awaiting us for dinner. We started the cooking process long before we knew we were going on this trip.
Will I continue eat beef? Yes. Am I okay with slaughtering animals for food? Yes, as long as they are raised humanely and their life is treated with compassion and dignity to the end. When I go to the market, I purchase local meats and I make a concerted effort to know the farms and their practices.
My gratitude and respect for these animals began with our visit almost two years ago to Carolina Bison. Looking in to an animal’s eyes and feeding it by hand knowing that it will soon give up its life to feed you, is a truly humbling experience.
I saw Buffalo Cow’s eyes that day we took him to Ellijay. I know where that cow came from. I saw the kind of life he lived at Four Mile Farm and traveled with him to where he spent his last several hours. I am okay with that.