It seems we acquired a calf this last weekend.
He’s a Jersey, which means he sports huge, liquid black eyes with long lashes. His nose is broad, and his tongue is busy. This calf can easily slide his tongue up inside one nostril, then the other, a skill that makes me both queasy and envious. He is three months old, just like a little toddler with busy hands. The calf licks everything, tasting the wall, the gate, our boots, our jeans. He gazes up into the rafters, enchanted by the dark cobwebs against the lighter wall. He watches the chickens, fascinated.
He was born to a dairy cow. Because the dairy needed the cow’s milk, the calf likely got some of it, but was soon sold to another farmer to be bottle-fed. We bought him from this farmer. Our job is to feed him, keep him healthy, shelter him in the winter, then—when he’s 18 months or so—take him to the butcher. He will weigh over 1000 pounds. He will provide 800 pounds of meat, enough to keep 3-4 families in beef for a year. He will become T-bone steaks, hamburger, and shoulder roasts.
We also raise lambs and take them to the butcher, but our lambs form a large flock of anonymous speckled and white faces. We don’t fall in love with any of them because there are so many.
But this little calf is the only calf on our farm. He already likes us, and stretches out his neck for a vigorous scratching. How we are going to raise a single beef steer on this farm without naming him is a mystery to me. It’s already become apparent that the only way not to fall in love with one calf is to have many of them. I feel us sliding down a slippery slope toward a cattle ranch. Help.
I’ve had a brilliant idea, however. If we become total mush-heads, unable to butcher him, we will use him as an educational tool for visitors to our farm. Too many people want to ignore the fact that meat comes from the flesh of an animal, and I say this is wrong. Because animals die so we may live, we should honor that act by paying closer attention, by meeting our meat, by accepting we are consuming animals.
So perhaps when our no-name calf grows into a massive brown steer, I will mark dotted black lines on his flank, illustrating where the roasts come from, where the loin is, where the spareribs come from. Maybe people will learn that because their food has a face, they should make sure that animal is raised with as much compassion as possible.
I suspect that I, at the end of these next 18 months, will learn that while it is important to meet your meat, it is not a good idea to fall in love with it.