We said goodbye to our two black Angus beef cows last night. Because of government regulations, the only animal we can legally process start to finish and sell here are the chickens. All other meat animals get picked up and transported to Hirsch's Meats, the local slaughter facility. Mondays are the days when pickups occur, so we had a very busy day. First, we had to get the cows into the barn. Although they have been with us since July 2008, they have been out to pasture since about May with no real human contact except running up to the fence when we threw corn stalks over for them to eat. Luckily for us, they remembered the sound of feed rattling around in a feed scoop and followed us into the barnyard and then the barn without too much trouble. They even remembered where their stalls were and let us put collars on them so they could be tied up for the afternoon. Next we had to catch the two lambs, so the easiest thing to do was lure all the sheep into the barn. My older ewes came on the run at the sound of the feed scoop with the rest of the flock following right along. Unfortunately about half of the goats snuck in too. Just as we were shutting the barn door to sort out the male lambs, a black lamb jumped through Dan's arms and out into the barnyard, Of course, that was one we needed! Luckily he ran into the lower part of the barn and was caught. Upon looking at the younger of the two ram lambs, he had done better than expected on a grass-only diet and was even bigger than the first, despite being a couple months younger. So he was sorted out into the holding pen, and the rest of the sheep & goats were shooed out of the barn. Lastly were some pigs out in the movable pig tractor. It was too muddy & far to move it down to the barn, so we put a crate on the trailer behind the pickup and loaded the pigs onto the trailer, then backed the trailer into the barn. Using portable gates to make a kind of runway, we simply opened the crate and the pigs backed out and followed the path we had to the pen. So far, so good!
Later in the evening, well after dark, the trailer arrived. We had spoken to the driver before he got here, so he knew where to back in. I don't know how he gets that big stock trailer backed around, but I guess he's had plenty of years of practice. The pigs were the first to be loaded. To avoid a pig trying to squeak under the trailer to freedom, we wedged bales of hay in the opening. It gave them a step to get up into the trailer, too. We set up the gates again, opened the door of the pen, and all went according to plan. I've watched enough pigs get loaded by now it doesn't bother me to see them go, especially when there is a new batch of cute little babies running about. The lambs were next, and we kept all the females this year, so there are still 4 for me to try and tame down this winter. They each weighed less than a big sack of feed, so Dan was able to just pick them up and carry them to the trailer and put them where they needed to be. Last to load were the cows. When we bought them they weighed about 200 lb each, so they could be pulled or pushed to load onto our little trailer without too much problem. They gained 700-800 pounds with us, putting their weights around 900-1000 pounds, so that wasn't an option. Dan tried to lead Bandit, the steer, who walked right along until it was time to step up into the trailer. He then refused to budge, and no amount of pushing, pulling or tail-twisting could convince him otherwise. Monica was missing her buddy and really trying to get loose, so we untied her and she ran right for the trailer. She started to go in, but her hoof got caught in the twine holding the hay bale together and she pulled back. By this time Bandit was loose too, and with a bit of yelling, arm waving, pleading and poking, they did load. We've had these cows for over a year, and I'll really miss seeing them. I was even getting a little sad when I walked into the barn to help load the trailer. I was glad they were a bit uncooperative, because they really weren't that bad (no one, human or bovine, was hurt), but my mind was more focused on the task at hand than on where the trailer was headed. We do still have 3 more cows here, and the best part is that when we get the beef back, not only will we have some money to put into various projects around the farm, we'll be able to buy more cows! Although it's so hard to watch an animal you've raised go to be killed, every animal on a farm has a purpose and not all of them are glamorous. I wasn't going to name or pet or feed snacks to the cows when we bought them, knowing that they were going to have to die, but Dan reminded me that just because you aren't going to keep an animal for the whole of its natural lifespan, that doesn't mean it won't appreciate love and cookies. So that's how I look at it too. They had a good life while they were here, and now I get to fill the empty spot in the barn with adorable little cows who will get more love and cookies.