Ranch Diaries: Should we name the animals we raise to eat?

The point of our company is good food but it's bittersweet to see our calves go.

 

There’s a taboo about naming the creatures you eat, but I’m guilty. “Twisty” was one of the first calves born last year, a red Angus heifer whose spine curved to the left. “Della” was one of our Gap 4 Natural Beeves who’d somehow severed a tendon in one of her front legs in the weaning pasture.

Twisty lived most of her life out on the range, walking a little to the left. Her growth was so stunted I knew she’d be destined for early slaughter. When Sam brought the calf that became Della into the corral, maggots had already taken over the wound. We walked her up to the squeeze chute where I could get a better look: Her left leg hung useless. After excavating the maggots, I cleaned the wound out and wrapped it.

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I gave it my best shot. Several times a week I walked Della into the squeeze to doctor her leg. Soon, I had just to open the gates and she’d go in on her own. She would eat cottonseed cake from my fingertips after I finished wrapping her up, and come when I called. While she became more mobile, and the wound closed remarkably well for a tendon injury, it was clear that as she got larger, she would have a harder time navigating.

This fall, when we sorted and shipped the calves, Twisty stayed behind with Della. They had a big pen to themselves and all the alfalfa they could eat. I knew where this was headed.   

A few weeks ago, we made a date to look at a new milk cow from a dairy in Roswell. There was a nearby butcher shop that had room for our two calves. Sam loaded them at 4 a.m. on the following Friday morning. Since they’d been in a trailer before, they walked right in. We stopped at the dairy to look for a potential nurse cow, whose job  — in addition to occasionally providing us with fresh milk — would be to raise any dogie calves. Twisty and Della peered from the back of our trailer, seemingly surprised at the surrounding thousands of cattle. In the back of my head was the irony of wanting an animal to support animal life (dogie calves), while at the same time using the lives of two animals to support Sam’s and my animal lives.

I sat in the cab of the truck at the butcher’s. I heard Sam unload Twisty and Della, saw them trot into the load-up that led to the kill floor. They nibbled at weeds growing just under the fence. They stood with their heads level, not elevated in alarm.

They seemed peaceful.

I felt like I should get out of the cab and say something, but I didn’t. I felt like crying. I’d seen these heifers from birth. I loved them in the way you love what you pour your heart into.

Now Twisty and Della are neatly wrapped packages of ground beef. They are ribs and femurs the dogs have been gnawing on. They are soup bones I’ll use to help make the February chill bearable.

Eating the first Triangle P beef is bittersweet: it’s the point of our company, after all, to raise good food. And I’m going to take the position that we change the “don’t name what you eat” rule. Naming something forces you to empathize with it, to relate to it, to personalize it. If it’s going into my body, I want to know the sacrifices that must happen in order for that to occur. I know firsthand the love and care and hard work that went into raising those two calves.

I am in awe that it comes back around to nourish us.