I woke up this morning and listened to a report on NPR about how the long-term unemployment numbers have not been this high since the great depression. Our house in Colorado has not sold. Our income is down considerably. I left a good paying job that I loved to move to the Inland Northwest to farm, but getting the farm going is slow due to limited cash. It’s cold and rainy. My husband is in Walla Walla most of the week. Was I nuts?

Today is the muslim day of Eid al-Adha, or the Festival of Sacrifice. It commemorates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to God.  At the last-minute, God intervenes and provides Abraham with a ram to sacrifice instead. You know the story. (Upon reviewing it today, I noticed that Ishmael was 13 at the time. If you have ever known a 13-year-old boy perhaps you can relate to why Abraham may have dreamed about such a thing?)

On this day, muslim’s traditionally sacrifice a goat, sheep, cow or camel to honor Abraham’s sacrifice. A local farm up the road from where I live has become one of THE places for local muslim’s to sacrifice a goat or sheep. The animal should be purchased and then slaughtered personally by the owner. If that is not possible, the owner should witness the slaughter. The meat is traditionally split up into thirds; 1/3 for the family, 1/3 for friends and neighbors, and 1/3 for the poor or needy.

Today I had an opportunity to witness this event. It rained about an inch last night. The ground was muddy where it was not outright flooded, and the day was damp and cool, but everyone was generally in good spirits. Here is what I learned. If you are squeamish about knowing HOW an animal actually died to feed someone,  you may want to stop reading now. No pictures today for obvious reasons.

  1. It is actually quite simple to kill a sheep or goat. The animal is held down onto the ground and the throat is quickly cut with a sharp knife. In less than a minute, the animal is dead with very little struggle. I watched one man gently pat the head of the goat as it died, a gesture I found profoundly respectful in its simple intention to give comfort and thanks.
  2. Once killed, skin the animal as soon as possible, as it is much easier to remove the skin while the animal is still warm.
  3. There really isn’t a lot of meat on these animals. By the time they have been skinned and gutted, there isn’t much left. But there are A LOT of guts. Must be all those stomachs.
  4. Some wanted the kidneys, heart, liver… some wanted just some of it, some didn’t want any of it. To each his own. I for one am NOT a liver eater. The liver is the body’s filter. Probably explains why dryer lint would taste better.
  5. This was clearly a rite of passage for some of the participants. Those who had been there before helped educate the “newbies” on the ins and outs. “Look for the front teeth to be larger than the side teeth. That is how you know it is old enough”. The animals must be of a certain age in order to be sacrificed. Each man (no women) chose his own animal.
  6. Skinning and gutting (and in some cases cutting up) more than 20 animals takes a lot of time, even when you can hang three animals at once and have help.
  7. A warm old labrador dog, leaning against your legs for as long as you are willing to pet him, makes a great heating pad.

Interestingly, I walked away from this experience feeling recommitted to farming. Not because there clearly is a market for goat and sheep meat, though clearly there is, but because it was so wonderful to see people taking full responsibility for the end of an animal’s life, with respect, despite the mud and time-consuming process.

There is something appropriate and holistic about participating in the slaughter of an animal that will feed you. No it is not fun. There is struggle and blood on the ground. It IS a sacrifice, every time we do it.  And to always remove ourselves from that sacrifice makes us less thankful. This animal died so that I may live, so I had better live well. That is the lesson of knowing where your meat comes from, and it is something I want to be a part of.

By the way, I’ve had goat meat (also called chevon or cabrito). It is becoming quite common at farmers markets. Give it a try. It is quite good, akin to lamb or venison, but not as strongly flavored as either, in my opinion.

Miles Away Farm Blog © 2010, where we’re miles away from owning any goat yet, but have big plans for the spring.