I have an embarrassing admission to make. In my life I’ve fed, raised and traded thousands of cattle and yet, as far as I know, I have yet to eat a bite of any of them. I never fed out a homegrown steer or stuffed our freezer with hamburger from an old lump jaw cow. I gave any calves that died to my banker because I didn’t know what nasty disease had killed them.
Before you condemn me, please know I’m not the first rancher to not eat my own meat. Some of the most famous ranchers in history never ate their’s either. They ate their neighbor’s.
It’s not because I didn’t know how to dress out a carcass either because I’ve dressed out and eaten everything from my neighbor’s old cow to an ugly ocean-dwelling fish that I caught. Although I must admit to feeling bad after the fish, but I think it was more a case of indigestion than it was a guilty conscience.
My first project in FFA was to raise two lambs and my ag teacher made me kill and dress one myself. Later I would dress out any sheep I killed while I was shearing them, which, I admit, wasn’t much of an advertisement for my shearing services.
I raised thousands of rabbits which I processed and sold, and they were yummy. I had no moral dilemma in eating them, other than the fact I worried about the sanitation practices of the processor. And there was one terrible nightmare when I was attacked by 10,000 white bunny rabbits with revenge in their fiery pink eyes. I’ve even eaten home-raised chickens without feeling any pangs of guilt, although they did leave a bad taste in my mouth.
At the beginning of my career in the beef resource extraction industry I did have a few qualms about eating an animal I raised. I may have even shed a tear or two as my first show steer was hauled off to the abattoir. And I remember feeling sad when we killed our two comedic ducks, Chester and Charley. I would NEVER think of eating my wonder horse Gentleman or super dog Aussie, but I never felt guilty for eating the fresh corn and beans we grew in our garden. As a result I formulated two rules: don’t ever name anything you intend to eat and don’t associate a face to any meat while you’re eating it.
There was one close call. I had raised the county fair Grand Champion steer that I named Abe and the nice man who bought Abe was going to barbecue him and sell tickets to raise money for charity. My mom made me go to the barbecue and despite being given “visiting dignitary status” it was one of the worst days of my life. At the end of the buffet line a Rotarian with a big knife cut off a huge chunk of Abe’s loin, put it on my plate and said, “Enjoy!”
I almost lost it right there.
Do you remember when you were a kid and you tried to hide the lima beans, kale, liver or Brussels sprouts by covering the distasteful food with other parts of your dinner so you didn’t have to eat it? Well, I built a tent out of garlic bread and plastered it with mashed potatoes and then covered Abe and company with my napkin. But folks noticed and made wise cracks about eating my best friend. “Pass the Abe please,” they’d say. “Abe tastes great, har har!” Or, “Tell me all about your steer,” one said with Abe’s bodily fluids dribbling down his fat chin.
I looked around for a dog to feed but, as usual, there wasn’t one when you needed it. With a gurgling in my gut I accidentally-on-purpose dropped my flimsy paper plate on the ground. “Oops!” “No one could expect me to eat Abe with dirt and pebbles all over him, could they?
I threw what remained of my best buddy in the trash can and was trying to make a quiet exit when the buyer of my steer saw me, ran over and gave me a hug and a big package of “Abe Jerky” to remember him by. I swear, I would have lost my lunch… had I eaten any of it.