Monday, 2 December 2013

Silence of the Lambs

Today the lambs went off on their final journey, bound for the slaughterhouse. It's never a happy day and it's one we dread but we cope with it and readers will know our arguments around the ethics of this stage of sheep keeping and lamb production so I wont go into that now.

This time it nearly came off the rails but for a very valid and unrelated reason. Our 'sheep-man', Kenny was back from his broken collar bone, he had inspected the sheep and declared them finished and was all lined up to help us catch them, load them into his trailer and haul them for us to the butcher, Ignatius G. Then a young lad and farmer he knows over in Mayo was tragically killed in a farm accident involving silage machinery over the weekend and he was suddenly tangled in the funeral and in helping the wife left behind with three young children and a farm to run on her own. He was, understandably, suddenly all 'up in the air' in his planning. I was waiting on him Sunday afternoon till he texted me saying we'd do it today (Monday), and then waiting on him again till 11 am when he texted to say he'd have to let me down today.

I sympathise - it can't be easy but my butcher had now been waiting all morning for my sheep and now it was 11 am and I had no transport. I phoned Ignatius to apologise and he saved the day by offering to nip up and collect the sheep in his own trailer. I met him in Lough Glynn and guided him home. He reversed the trailer into the top end of the cattle race forming a cul-de-sac and Liz and I were able to quickly call the sheep up from the far corner of the field and then bribe them across the yard and into the race, and then trailer, with a bucket of food.

That, specifically, is the bit of this job I don't like; it feels like such a betrayal. The sheep have only known this calm, gently spoken, quiet human to be the bringer of food and water and the tickler of ears. They have come to trust me and quite often nuzzle around my legs as we walk, in a group, to the food troughs. Suddenly, after 4 months I am opening the gate wide and encouraging them across the gravel of the yard where they have never been and into a trailer which they may only vaguely recall from the day they were delivered. They trust me though they are a bit confused and nervous.

Lichen grows vigorously on the hawthorn. 
Then with a creak the trailer gates and doors are closed and they will not see me again. My job is done, my responsibilities towards them are realistically over. Liz and I hang onto the almost cop-out story that we did our bit to the best of our ability and gave the sheep the best possible life while they were here, but the betrayal thing still nags a bit. I prefer the spring time when everything is new and young and has a future. These autumn 'harvests' can be quite trying. Now we just have to get used to NOT being shouted at by hungry (or at least cheeky!) sheep every time we show our faces in the yard or return from a trip in the car. The Silence of the (departed) Lambs?

Brawn cooling.
Talking of 'harvests' we are some way into processing the pig products. We have 'done' the brawn - an unavoidably gruesome process which I will let you look up if you need to know what I mean. It involves a lot of cheek meat. We also roasted the pig's ears as a treat for the dogs. These are now gone, scrunched and schlurped deliciously as only dogs know how. Also in process are the pig's trotters. This is an old fashioned recipe which recalls jellied eels and other less-affluent city market stalls but which was much loved by Liz's Dad.

Some Tete a Tete daffs put in an early bid for Spring 
We have tried it before but not really knowing what we were at we produced an almost inedible, tough, flavourless gelatinous 'ick'; not one of our most successful cooking efforts. However we now have "the POARK book" and have found a nicer looking recipe involving a mango chutney glaze with tomato purée, cider vinegar and garlic so watch this space.

In the tubs out front (actually old 'cauldrons' we inherited from the TK days) we notice we have tete-a-tete daffs shooting out of the ground already ("Well! That's not Right!" objects John Deere Bob in tones that suggest we are cheating in some way; he also says this about the fact that we still have that goose laying eggs in December).

Sheep movement paperwork
With the sheep now gone from the field we can invite mini-horse Cody back to use our field for the winter. He's been confined to Carolyn's yard since he took on one of our ram lambs, but has now pretty much lawn-mowed his way through all their grass, so he's welcome to our acre and a half of sheepy aftermath.

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