Thursday, December 19, 2013

Reality check

It is only too easy to forget, living in our lovely, private valley that there are two reasons for having sheep in our fields. First, they exist to eat the grass so the golf fairways do not need to be mowed every other day. The second is for the ewes to give birth to lambs which we feed, then kill to eat.

For many years we were intermittently protected from this reality because various third parties dealt with the problem, selected the lambs, took them away and paid us. The other way of avoiding the reality was to sell live lambs to engraisseurs, keep a few for friends, ourselves. But I still had to take those to the abattoir and get the carcasses cut up.

Then, a great stroke of luck! An organic co-operative decided to hire a butcher. His task was to select and collect animals, take them to the abattoir and cut up the carcasses ready for sale. The various joints were vacuum packed, weighed and labelled. This made it so much easier to sell – half a lamb, pre-packed, freezer ready.

This butcher, the best 'third party' of all, invested heavily in a laboratoire, so that he would meet all sanitary and bio regulations. Unfortunately, success went to his head and he quickly opened a butcher's shop – not in a good location – and started to visit local markets.

Of course, he equally quickly went spectacularly bust, six zeros if one can believe local rumour. Of course I felt sorry for him – but slightly less than I felt sorry for me, back at square one. Fortunately, in 2012 I was put in touch with a young farmer who was just starting to breed Clun Forest sheep – he bought all the lambs with great enthusiasm. Promised to buy this year's lambs, so I was quite serene. Silly me.

But another engraisseur who lived closer by was a retired sheep farmer who missed his sheep. So he took all bar five that I kept for autoconsommation. Audrey, Alexandre and I (actually mostly A&A) had to work out a way to get the lambs to the local abattoir and then to find a butcher. By leaning on friends, discussing euro charges, the lambs got taken to the abattoir and we found a butcher who would help.

However, we ourselves had to pick up the carcasses, in my car. I vacuumed the boot, lined it with sheets and off went, Alexandre and I, arriving at the secretariat at 08.30 a.m as instructed. The secretary was there. I paid the charges and asked if the carcasses could be loaded.

The secretary said the director had gone to have a blood test. We asked when he would be back. She did not know because he had just gone for his blood test. We commented how unpleasant this was, a blood test on an empty stomach.. All she knew was that he was gone for a blood test. Every time Alexandre grew a little taller, leaned over her slightly. She got the point: blood test or no, we were not leaving without our lamb carcasses. She asked Alexandre if he thought he could carry the carcasses – he said, of course. Sigh.

Alexandre was garbed in a plastic jacket to save his clothes and we were duly given our four lambs. They looked beautiful. When we got them to the butcher, he said they looked beautiful. After he had jointed the carcasses, the butcher said there was a lot of meat and it looked very good. Alexandre and Audrey were the first to eat some of the meat – it tasted very good, they said. And therein lies the consolation of breeding animals for meat.

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