the one that got away

we are primarily a certified organic vegetable operation.  we do raise some meat here, both for our family’s table a limited amount for sale to our CSA members. with about 20 acres of grassland nestled amongst our primarily forested acreage, we manage a small flock of jacob’s sheep and rotate our milk cow through the pastures.

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i believe i speak for all of us raising meat for our own consumption or for sale on a small-scale, finding the appropriate processing facility to meet our needs can be a tricky part of the puzzle. the ins and outs of legality of on farm processing and sales are beyond the scope of this story, but  looking for a local slaughterhouse and forging a relationship with the folks running it can be tricky business that can leave you disappointed.

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we have been so thankful to have, less than 20 miles away, a family owned and operated USDA inspected facility that happily works with us if we bring in a handful of lambs or market sized heritage breed pigs along with a calf every other year. we have negotiated with the operators since the day they butchered our first pig over 10 years ago. it is only this past week that i truly realized how lucky we are and how vital this relationship is to our business. 

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last week, in the final days of wrapping up our season, we had 5 lambs to butcher, the last of the group from spring 2013. our appointment was scheduled for monday morning, the first business day after the opening  weekend of deer season here. we try not to bring animals to these folks during the busy weeks of the brief hunting season,  but somehow this year got ahead of us. they allowed us the appointment  and as we pulled into the familiar drive just past dawn on that day, the place was a bustle of activity. hunters in camo and safety gear with their annual catch and every member of the extended family working to keep up, fatigue and busy- ness were everywhere apparent. they greeted me with their usual cheer instructed and me unload as usual adding clearly more chaos to their monday morning.

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as i headed back to the van to assist unloading, i turned the corner to see a beautiful young ram lamb squirming out from the space between our vehicle and the chute into the holding pen.

yep, loose, running, gone.
it is hard to describe our frustration. albeit difficult on many levels, the moment of dropping off an animal for butcher is the end of a long period of care.  countless things can go amiss in those months, an unending list of worries to tend to. when you make it to butcher time, you are thankful and relieved. in the case of this animal who was “sold” our financial return for those hours was days away. and now, as the lamb slipped away the loss was awful.
we headed up and down that road after the lamb. we ran into pastures, snuck behind stranger’s homes, did everything we could to attempt to retrieve him. we spent an unknown amount of time trying, calling in paul’s deep voice and cheery “sheppen”  at one point, the devoted manager of this facility was hanging on to the bed of his ford f-150, with paul at the wheel, the lamb in sight, barely holding still for a second, he fired his scopeless rifle twice unsuccessfully to capture the errant traveller.

we finally left dejected. the folks there assured us the lamb would return, unhopeful i gave them again my number to call if so. each time the phone rang that day, we ran hoping, each time it was a different caller.the sun set and we settled in to a place of contentment. all is well, there are more lambs out there, more opportunity for the income, our freezers are overflowing, no complaints.

it was dark when the call came. the story told to me was unbelievable. just after our departure the owner headed home to fetch his ATV. he spent the entire rest of that day looking for our lamb. not just one spin around the neighborhood, no folks, a search that ended in success after dark. i still can not believe it. the truest example of the dedication of these people and the deepest reminder of the significance of professional relationships that i can offer.

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this is simply the story of one lamb, the shepherd that raised him and the butcher who slaughtered him.  it is a reminder of the countless face to face connections that sustain our lives and our farm. as i write this tale to share with you, i am again reminded of how lovely it is when we invest in others: the return is so often beyond our expectations.

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