I took my steer Rocky and bull Duke to the slaughterhouse Tuesday. A school intern met me at my barn at 7:00 AM and helped me load them into the school trailer, as we were to pick up a ram for the school on our way home.
I tried to get a picture of the two Monday afternoon but all the animals were crowding the gate, ready to come in for supper. They both look shifty in the photo above. However I consoled myself that I have plenty of pictures, detailing their lives from the time they were born.
Loading two was more than twice as hard as loading one, since neither 750-lb animal could be led on a rope and I was afraid Duke might mash me into a wall. I wondered if I might have to bring Katika into the barn, lead her onto the trailer, and then somehow turn her and get her out while somehow keeping the jostling boys in. But in the end we managed it without her. I tied gates open across the barn aisle, making it progressively shorter, crowding them closer to the trailer at the doorway. I toe-nailed a 2×4 across the last opening and then, with the boys trapped at the doorway, we slowed and let them sniff things out.
Duke put his head in Katika’s stanchion to eat her hay and though I doubted it would hold him if he really objected, I threw the bolt so he was immobilized and out of the way while I encouraged Rocky to step onto the trailer. Rocky was wearing a rotten old halter. I clipped a lead to it, pulled it taut to a ring inside the trailer, and then told the intern to tighten it as the steer moved forward step by step. I stood behind Rocky, scratching his bottom and crooning, and essentially we winched him in. Finally he was in the trailer and eating from the waiting pan of grain.
Then I let Duke out of the stanchion. He was interested in Rocky’s grain but it took a few prods in the bottom to convince him to jump up into the trailer to join Rocky. The intern standing outside slapped the trailer door closed, and they were loaded.
Slaughterhouse days always lie heavily on my heart. However I am deeply grateful to have it done and over. My feeding and chores are cut almost in half. Above all it is a relief not to have to be constantly on guard against the looming menace of a bull.
Monday night I had been feeling rather sentimental, rubbing Duke’s shoulder from outside his stall. Then I’d gone to the other end of the barn to wind the water hose. I had my back turned when I heard the loud bang of a gate thrown open. Duke’s stall had not been latched securely; he was loose in the narrow aisle and coming toward me, swinging his heavy head low. I squeaked and jumped into Katika’s stall, pulling the door closed behind me. (Katika lifted her head in mild surprise, munching hay.) Eventually, after “killing” a bale of shavings by falling to his knees and grinding it into the ground, Duke grew bored and meandered back to his stall and his supper, and I was able to slip behind him and get his gate safely bolted.
Thus sadness and relief are mixed together, along with the knowledge that both had happy lives given to few dairy bull calves in this country.