One week ago, on a clear, sun-filled morning that followed a night of rain, I drove myself to slaughter, in a manner of speaking.
To be more accurate, I drove Andre to slaughter, and in this case, Andre was a steer.
How this scenario–a man named Andre driving a steer named Andre to slaughter–came to be, dates back to the fall of 2016 when a young bull calf was born.
With a face like a twist cone of vanilla and chocolate soft-serve, this Hereford/Angus bull calf was somewhat unique from the get go.
Upon his birth, and because routinely naming cattle after their friends and family was never even up for debate, my neighbors dubbed the wayward calf Andre and let me know right away that he was going to proudly carry on my namesake for years to come – at least until I butchered him, of course.
I’m sure they got a kick out of thinking about the day when the bull calf would transition into steerhood, and I’m sure they could envision me taking a big gulp and sweating as the rubber band would be cinched tightly, erasing any chance that the calf would ever be a baritone in a cattle choir.
Regardless of why they bestowed such a name upon him, the name stuck, and Andre was known by my name for the rest of his days.
When it came time to take him to the abattoir last week, with my farm lacking a decent corral setup, I got him onto my trailer the only way I knew how: by convincing him it was in his best interest to do so.
Two weeks prior to his scheduled departure date, I parked the trailer in the pasture and began putting alfalfa hay in a feeder on the rear bumper of the trailer. Being the most inquisitive of my herd and always ready for a special snack, Andre quickly got with the program and made a point to reach the trailer first to satisfy his gluttony. As each day passed, I moved the feeder further and further into the trailer, and finally, on his fateful morning marked on my calendar, I moved it all the way to the front of the trailer. When he stepped fully inside, I closed the rear gate behind him.
One might suspect that the worst feeling surrounding the taking of an animal’s life for food is the act of killing itself, but I’m not sure if that’s entirely true.
Even after the 90-minute drive to the processing facility, his unloading and our last eye contact, the toughest moment of our relationship was that when I closed the trailer gate behind him when he was unsuspecting. Every other element of his last day was done face-to-face and eye-to-eye, which gave me peace, but his back was turned to me when I closed that rear tailgate. The creaking of the hinges and clang of the hasp involved trickery, and for the human mind, trickery breaks with our ethical code.
Writing and reflecting now, knowing that he has been halved and is also halfway through the aging process in a walk-in cooler, I’m happy to say that while I don’t have any regrets, this past week has been a time for persistent and frequent reflection. Slaughtering an animal is, if nothing else, a wonderful opportunity for appreciating what is sacrificed when meat is put on a table. In this scenario, one part of what made the closing of the trailer gate the hardest was the fact that he had a name–my name, for crying out loud–and, of course, that steers, unlike pigs or chickens, draw us more deeply into their personalities than other farm animals simply because it takes them much longer to reach market weight than their barnyard cousins.
In my time on the farm, I’ve driven many animals to slaughter and slaughtered many myself, gun and knife in hand out in the pasture. Is it easier when they don’t have a name? Yes. But when they have a name, the appreciation for their yield of meat and their sacrifice is amplified. And when it comes to eating meat, animal appreciation is something that could use more amplification.
Andre LaSalle is a former Messenger staff writer.