On Deck.

Last weekend I made a nice drive down to Deck Family Farms in Junction City, OR. The reason for the trip was threefold. First, I've been curing bacon for Deck for a few months now, so it was time to get more bellies. Second, I wanted to see the farm and a family friend of theirs wanted a butchery lesson, so we made plans for a big dinner. Third, I had with me Marissa Guggiana, the writer of 'Primal Cuts'. She came along to see just how I play the game of meat. The book features the country's top 50 butchers, Joel Salatin, Tom Mylan and Tia Harrison are also in the book, I am more than honored to be included.

Just as my previous farm visits, the day took be to an overwhelmingly bucolic landscape. The day also started with a surprise. I had been planning on a butchery lesson, but I did not expect the animals we'd be cutting to be waiting, cluck-clucking away. This would be the day I had been waiting for, my first slaughter. I realize this is something that doesn't get many people excited, but it was an elusive next step in getting closer to taking full responsibility for my meat consumption. I was nervous, but ready to learn. I jumped right in, placing a rooster in the killing cone as directed, then stood back to watch John Deck do the first two. Ready to take the plunge I took the knife and went for the third rooster. I took a moment and made my move, quickly, and then it was over. Humane slaughter is an idea that gets many people up in arms. Let's think a little about what that really means.

It would be ridiculous to say that these animals enjoyed dying or felt great about being upside down for the last seconds of life. What it means to me is that in addition to having the best life possible before said slaughter, every step is taken to ensure the last few minutes are as free of stress and fear as possible and that the slaughter itself is fast and fleeting. What I saw that day were animals who were treated well up until their last breath. They weren't thrown around like ragdolls and the horrors of the more gruesome methods of chicken slaughter were avoided as the killing cone is agreed to be the most humane method. Essentially a traffic cone turned upside down with an enlarged hole at the tip, the killing cone does a few things to speed up the process. The shape of the cone cradles the birds in a way that calms them and just like when you do a headstand, the blood rushes to their head and makes them a bit woozy. Once they are in the cones and calm, the fatal cut is made and they are gone in seconds. Just like that.

Several people have asked how I felt. Was I scared? Nervous? I was definitely a bit of both. However, in that moment, it was not my place to be fearful or anxious. I wasn't the one to be concerned about and letting my fear become hesitation would only hurt the rooster. It would be unfair to pretend that moment was hard for me. I don't think that this was an experience that every omnivore must have to rightfully eat meat, some people can't handle looking at a scraped knee. What we all must reconcile is the fact that a life was lost for our meal. Know it, respect it and be thankful for it. One of my butcher's pet peeves is people that don't want to think or talk about the fact that their burger once walked around, (hopefully) grazing fields and chewing cud. This is what The Ethical Butcher is all about for me, challenging myself to truly take full accountability for every part of the the journey from farm to table. I am a butcher and chef, so I won't likely have a part in the slaughter of every animal I serve. However, after every farm visit I feel like I have gotten closer to what life is all about.

After our big dinner we headed out for a tour of the farm as the family performed their evening duties. We brought the goats back from the far end of their 320-acre farm and watched as the beef cattle were moved from one paddock to another. We then followed the goats back up the gravel road that traverses the property, toward the house and barns. Just as we rounded the bend near their home, two of the Deck daughters came running, shouting that two calves had just been born. Born to two different heifers, the calves apparently weren't expected for another 1 and 2 weeks, respectively. We eagerly set out for the opposite side of the property, a trail of us farmers and farm visitors alike, trudging across the farm in search of new life. We had to take the shortcut through the pigs and stopped to give a few back scratches along the way. Durocs and Hamps snorting and rooting, doing their piggy business. One followed noisily us as we left the barn and began to cross the field. With moms and babies finally in sight we were all walking with purpose, until a muddy bog attempted to foil our plans. The pig grew tired of our sojourn at this point and turned back. We, on the other hand, had a goal. The caravan forged ahead and our muddy shoes and soggy socks would soon prove no match for wait awaited us.

Two calves were up and testing their legs as their mothers munched grass. They weren't the least bit wary of us as we approached, a good feeling when you are near two tons of mommy cow. It was getting late and the sun was almost behind the ridge, Christine Deck said we had to get the new additions into the barn right away. Now we were really going to see what life on a farm entailed. It took three times as long to cross the muddy bog with two tired heifers and two new brand new calves. Christine even carried each of the calves for some time. I was in awe as she carried one up the final hill before the gravel road.

With everyone safe and sound in the barn, we finished the tour by meeting lots of turkey and chicken chicks. The decks then loaded us down with duck and chicken eggs, raw cream, honey and many other treats before we made the drive back to Portland. The duck eggs are perhaps my favorite thing of all. Ah, I love my job.

Many thanks to Deck Family Farm! Check them out at farmer's markets from Newport to Portland, and tell them The Ethical Butcher sent you!

Below is a slideshow of my visit. If you've read this post, it should be clear that some images may be considered graphic. There are lots of pictures of cute animals, too. It's all a give-and-take...

No comments:

Post a Comment