There are a lot of farm animals here, whether I pay attention to them or not. There are two flocks of chickens, plus another flock of chicks—they keep them separate so if a stray dog or a fox or something gets into one flock we won’t lose all our chickens at once. They let each flock out to run around and hunt bugs every third day. I can usually hear the roosters, one for each flock of hens. There are enough sheep and goats that we can all get a little milk and cheese every day. There are Joy’s horses. There are two dogs we keep to guard the animals. There are four or five barn cats, but I hardly ever see them—they’re mostly kept in the barns and greenhouses, so they don’t kill animals they are not supposed to kill. All the cats are rescues, they’re all altered, have their shots, etc. It must be a lot of work to take care of them.
I don’t pretend that all these animals will be alive a year from now. I remember, particularly, that we ate a lot of meat in February and March, and a lot of it was either lamb or something I didn’t recognize. At the time I assumed it was just seasoned oddly. Now, I’m sure it was goat meat. A few times we had chicken. The reason we raise the young animals here is so we can quickly replace any adults that die unexpectedly, but that also means there are a lot of surplus animals on campus every year. We could sell them, but that isn’t how we do things here. Everything is kept on campus. The flipside of getting most of our resources from on campus as possible is that we can’t afford to let resources leave.
All of this is to say that I shouldn’t have been surprised when I found Joy pointing a gun at one of the lambs.
“What are you doing?” I asked, thinking the question was stupid as I asked it. But to my surprise, she wasn’t doing what I’d thought she was doing. She was kneeling with a lamb, away from the rest of the flock, holding a handgun to its head, and speaking gently to it. She looked up at me when I spoke.
“I’m lying to this lamb,” she said.
“Lying to it?” I asked, confused.
“Yes. I’ve decided he’s one of the ones I’m going to kill this winter, when he’s big enough. But I don’t want him to be frightened, so I’m teaching him not to fear being taken off by himself and having a gun pointed at his head. Which is not true, of course, because eventually I’m going to shoot him with it. So I’m lying to him.” She said all this in a kind of sing-song babytalk totally at odds with what she was saying. I think she realized it sounded weird, because she looked at me again and smiled before adding “lambs don’t actually speak English.”
“You’re a vet. Aren’t you uncomfortable killing animals?”
“I’m a large-animal vet,” she corrected me. “Most large animals are not pets. Most of the people I went to vet school with have patients being raised for slaughter.” She let that sink in a bit while she released the lamb and watched him run back to his mother. “When he incarnated as a lamb, his spirit made an agreement to live the life of a lamb, including his service as a giver of meat. I don’t expect him to remember that, of course. No incarnate being wants to die. I think of that agreement sometimes. More often, though, I think of myself as his guardian. My job is to give him a good life and also a good death. We all have to die, but not all of us die quickly, and not all of our deaths serve anything.” She paused again, watching the lambs. “One thing to consider is he will never have to grow old.”
“Holy crap, is that a silencer?” I’d just noticed it; I’d never seen one, except in movies, of course. She looked at her gun casually.
“Well, I don’t want the neighbors to be frightened, either,” she told me, with a smile.
I’ve been thinking of this conversation. I’ve known people before who raised animals for slaughter—a few of the kids I went to high school with raised a few chickens. One of my uncles used to raise hogs. And of course I’ve known people who had pets put down for one reason or another. I’ve never before heard anyone explain why they thought they had a right to make such a decision. I’m not sure if I buy Joy’s reasoning. I’m not sure about agreements made when we incarnate, or any of that sort of thing. But I can’t think of anyone else of whom I could ask the question. I don’t think there is another place where a question like that would even be asked.
[Next Post: Monday, August 19: Messing Around Outdoors]