Friday the 13th came on a Thursday this month... at least for Broilleach, our 2-year old Scottish Highland bull. He's still a wee lad compared to some of the newer, more hybridized beef animals you'd see on other farms, but it was definitely Time For Him To Go.
We were clear about our plan from the very beginning: any female cattle born on our farm would become breeding stock, to be kept or sold as needed, but male offspring would be raised for beef. As confirmed meat-eaters, we chose to raise our own meat animals. (I have considered vegetarianism in the past, but strong allergies to soy and other non-meat proteins led me to an omnivorous option.) We committed ourselves to animal-rearing practices that would ensure optimal health and well-being for all of us. As Joel Salatin advocates, we would create an environment where pigs could indulge in their full "pigness," cows could revel in their full "cowness," and chickens could...um...be all chickeny and stuff.
Broilleach, whose name means "Beef Brisket" in Scottish Gaelic, was the first calf born on our land to Iona, our Cattlefold matriarch. We charted out a plan for one initial two-acre field and three additional fields to be developed the following year for rotational grazing purposes. Thanks to a one-year delay in field development, those fields weren't ready when we needed them. The forages in that central pasture could not keep pace with the needs of one cow, two heifers, and one hungry, growing bull calf. Broilleach started seeking low spots along the fence line and busting the spring-wire gate to find better food. The female cattle never initiated any similar behavior, but if he busted through, they were happy to follow once they were sure of the gap.
"You'll never be able to do in your first one..." So said Iona's previous owner when he sold us our bred heifer. We smiled back at him and said that, if the first calf born on our farm was a male, we most certainly would, because we did not have the money to keep such large animals as pets. Broilleach's name (pronounced BROYL-yock) was chosen as a reminder to ourselves. True to our promise, we raised the bull calf for the standard 18 months recommended for Highland beef cattle, then kept Broilleach just long enough to be reasonably sure that he'd bred both our heifers. After that, well, that grass-guzzling fence-breaker had to go.
Mr Bisson and his boy came down to our farm yesterday morning with their trailor. We had Broilleach and the other cattle up on the front lawn, roped in with portable electric fencing. True to his nature, Broilleach made one last successful plunge through the fence, but it seemed to be mostly for show-- after a few defiant chomps on the rugosa rose bushes and a momentary tangle with the forsythia, we routed him back towards the lawn and he stepped daintily over the dropped-but-live fence wire. Thanks to two years of frequent handling including hand-fed treats and regular brushing, Broilleach stood a couple of feet from the open trailer and calmly allowed Mr. Bisson to drape, then tighten, a rope over his horns. After the end of the rope was secured inside the trailer, Mr. Bisson grabbed one horn, his son grabbed the other, and they led that great, hairy beast up and into the trailer. Now THAT'S grabbing the bull by the horns!!!
In a few days, we'll get a call from Bisson's butcher shop, then we'll drive up to pick up our boxes of pretty white packages. We'll also take home his horns--I have a rather indulgent, silly dream of having them made into something splendid like a pibgorn, a Welsh member of the bagpipe family--the only one I've ever successfully tried to play. (We wanted to save his hide and have it tanned, but the cost was sadly prohibitive.) We'll sell about half of the meat to cover our butchering costs and keep the rest for our own freezer and table. Our winter meals will be seasoned with the savoury knowledge that this animal lived a good and decent life, free from the stress of toxic management and the cruelty and disease of feedlots.
So, look out world-- our house is days away from being done and our horrible year is behind us. In September, we'll finally fence in those new fields. Next year, there'll be enough grass for cows and calves both. Goodness knows whether we'll get heifer calves or more baby bulls. For now, though, this is one farm with NO MORE BULL!