A friend of mine from church (let’s just call him “Shawn”), mentioned that he would like to buy a goat and slaughter it himself one day. He mentioned this on the first day that I met him. I requested that if he does this, that he would invite me to it. I’ve always been slightly concerned that I was too detached from the meat that I eat. They come in nice packages at the super market or wrapped neatly in a big mac wrapper. If I’m going to eat meat, at least I should make the connection at some point between the flesh I’m eating and the source it came from. I should warn the reader that this entry does have graphic elements, and if you’re sensitive to those kinds of things, this is a good place to stop reading.
The day finally came. A few days ago, Shawn told me that he had purchased the goat, and that he’d be picking it up Saturday morning. Now that the credit card had been swiped, it seemed much more real…. and much more like a bad idea… For a few days, there was an image that kept playing in my mind…. That disturbing moment between life and death. A vision of holding a large mammal while life slipped away from it. I told Shawn that the idea is making me sad. But, he insisted that I show up and help him. Inside, I felt an obligation not only to Shawn, but to animals.
There’s an immediate gut reaction that killing an animal ourselves is wrong. But, the fact is that every time we buy a meat product, we are essentially killing animals. We’re just making other people do the dirty work. The killing is done behind a veil so that we can eat our steaks and McNuggets guilt free. I owe it to the animals that make up my diet to witness the ugly side of my habits. I should appreciate their sacrifice. Shawn shares this concern, and we’ve agreed that this is what is driving both of us to go through this ordeal.
In preparation, I watched several YouTube videos on goat slaughter. They were not fun to watch, but I dreaded the worst case scenario even more. The worst case scenario was that due to our amateurish bumbling, we make the animal suffer needlessly for 10-15 minutes… for hours because we either lose our nerve, or because we lack the skills. The worst case scenario would be watching the goat run around half-crazed in between life and death due to the inadequate injuries we’ve inflicted upon it. The videos all seemed to be fairly consistent in their methods. Several men held down the animal. One man held the head, then cut the throat with the sharp knife. The blood drained, and the animal went from alive to dead.
After a family lunch at the local teriyaki joint, I showed up at Shawn’s house in my work jeans. Two others were already there. I went into the backyard and saw the goat. He was smaller than I thought. He was cute. He was friendly. I went up to him, and scratched his head as he nibbled on Shawn’s garden. He seemed to like it. I was sad. One of the guys that was there showed up behind me and said, “His name is Farkus.” The other guys chimed in and said, “You shouldn’t name things that you’re going to eat.”
Things happened very quickly from there. Apparently, Shawn was waiting for me to get going. He brought out a tarp, bucket, and several sharp knives and laid it down in a corner of his backyard. We brought the goat out to the tarp. I told Shawn, that he’s quite friendly. Shawn seemed ambivalent. I told Shawn, that I was sad about this. He said, “Me, too.” It seemed like there was a moment where Farkus could have just become Shawn’s family pet. But, that moment faded as one of the guys urged us to continue.
We laid the goat down on the tarp. This was perhaps when Farkus was the most vocal. I think we all became quite self-conscious at this point, and we all started looking around for neighbors…. Shawn quieted him like a child, and the Farkus soon stopped struggling. Farkus’s front legs were tied together with shoestrings, then his back legs were tied together. I was asked to hold his back legs which were very strong. It took all my strength to keep him subdued. Another guy held his front legs. Shawn kneeled next to me and held his head. He had his knife in his other hand. As he felt up and down Farkus’s neck, I saw that his hands were trembling. This was the moment. Everyone’s heart rate was very elevated. Shawn’s was probably beating out of his chest. He held a fold of skin on the neck and took a deep breath as he looked around at everyone, as if asking, “OK, I’m going to do it now. But, if there’s any reason I shouldn’t you should stop me now.” You could tell that he was torn between feeling obligated to do it, and not wanting to take this poor goat’s life.
Then he looked down, and he plunged the knife into the goat’s neck. At this point, it was kicking hard, and I struggled to keep hold of its legs. Consumed in my efforts to keep the animal in place, I missed most of Shawn’s work on the goat. In less than 10 seconds, the goat stopped kicking. There were just minor involuntary jerks. Some of the blood was caught in the bucket laid next to the animal’s neck, but most of it just pooled on the tarp. Within 30 seconds, Shawn had completely taken the head off of the animal. We all stood up and looked down at the carcass. The moment was over. At this point, it was now just a carcass of meat, and there laid ahead the tedious work of butchering it. It was perhaps about as quick as I could have possibly imagined it, for which I give Shawn a lot of credit.
Shawn went quickly to work. We brought the animal over to a tree and hung it up with more shoelaces by its hind legs. Shawn did most of the work of taking the skin off of the animal. Then he split open its chest and removed the GI tract, as well as other internal organs. After that, the animal was quartered, and within an hour, what remained looked like something you’d pick up at a supermarket.
A few observations:
1. I was surprised at how little blood there was in the animal. Shawn mentioned that there was about 6-10 pints in a human, so this animal probably had about half of that. It’s amazing to think how little blood there is, and how quickly it can all drain. It’s amazing what this little amount of magic liquid does in our body to keep it alive.
2. I was probably most disturbed at how similar the goat anatomy was to what I expect inside a human. The disembowelment became a dissection project. We removed the lungs and felt its spongy texture. We saw the liver and the gall bladder attached to it. We find the heart wrapped in a layer of fat. We saw sacks filled with poop pellets and urine. The disturbing part was how similar we are to this goat. And how easily the lines could become blurred between the sacred human and this animal that I just helped kill.
3. This evening, I went back over to Shawn’s house with my son, Caleb, to eat the goat. I ate some. Caleb ate some and said he liked it. Throughout the goat slaughtering process, there was a smell. A smell that I now associate with goat. A smell that I could not get off of my hands even after multiple washings. And, as I ate the goat, I was overwhelmed by this same goat smell.
Finally, the ultimate question – do I feel guilty? This is the question I’ve wanted to answer since this ordeal began. Either I should feel guilty and stop eating meat… or I should feel at peace about eating meat. After a day of reflection, I don’t think eating meat is wrong. I don’t feel guilty. But, I do feel an appreciation for the sacrifice an animal endures for my sake. The sacrifice is not trivial. And every time I choose meat, I know that an animal somewhere had to endure this sacrifice that I witnessed this morning. For this reason, I feel like a strong urge is developing within me to refrain or at least reduce my meat consumption. We’ll see if this is a lasting affect of the experience.