WARNING: Graphic images follow, so take caution if you are squeamish!
One of our sheep, who we (not-so-) lovingly named Poo-Bottom, was destined to be the first to slaughter. Along with her unhealthy bowels, she had chronic limps all the damn time despite us trimming her toenails and spraying for hoof-rot, and her general posture just seemed… unusual. We obviously didn’t want to breed from her, so she was unfortunately first on our list. We’d recently put Gordon Ramsay in, so we had to do the deed before Poo-Bottom got pregnant.
Now, I used to be a vegetarian. For over a decade. So committing this act was preceded by a lot of umming and ahhing. Because the opportunity was there and I now eat meat, I wanted to be the one to pull the trigger, as a conscious acknowledgement of the consequences of my lifestyle choice. The anticipation was unsettling, because even though I’d killed small animals like hares, rats, and mice before, for some reason the idea of putting something down of equal size to myself seemed a completely new experience. It’s strange; even though rats and mice are arguably more intelligent than sheep, and therefore can be thought of as “more” sentient (using vegetarian language now), killing a sheep seems somehow a greater act, solely because of its mass, which is absurd. Anyway, the point here is that I was uneasy about doing the deed, but definitely wanted the responsibility. I was also worried about the placement of the bullet, and it not being a clean kill. So I did the research and took it upon myself. I didn’t want to be a passenger to this experience.
We rounded up the sheep in the yards and penned Poo-Bottom into a corner. The other sheep were still nearby, so she wasn’t distressed by being singled out. Char’s mum was up to help us, since she’s helped her parents gut and butcher animals before. We had the knife and a mallet at the ready in case I missed with the rifle. I secured myself on a fence railing, leaning over, and took the shot. Thump. Down she went, instant death. Char’s mum jumped in with the knife and slit the throat while the blood was still moving. That’s a part of the process I’m not sure I have the stomach for just yet. The sound was… memorable. It’s a good thing the rifle dropped her instantly; quick, painless, and without suffering of any kind.
I went to fetch the tractor which we’d prepared with a chain and leg hook to hold up the carcass while we dressed it. When I returned with the tractor Char’s mum was cutting the legs off.
The nearby sheep didn’t seem bothered at all. They were more glad than anything that we weren’t in the pen jostling them about anymore.
There’s different ways of prepping the carcass for hanging, but in every case the leg tendons must be intact, so the hooks have something to hold on to. Char’s mum knew this, but accidentally cut where the tendons joined. At first we managed to puncture the hooks through some of the meat…
But it ended up slipping off, so we improvised by tying baling twine around the knee bones, which held up fine. Char’s mum started skinning, but then she asked if I would like to try.
I didn’t expect I would be doing that part of it, but I was fascinated, so ended up doing the whole thing. Char, her mum, and her sister intermittently helped pull the skin away, and then went to tend the rest of the sheep in the yards.
Getting the head off required a hack saw. Pretty gross, I know. Usually if you find the right place between the vertebra, all it takes is a knife. Not that skilled yet.
After the head was cut off, then came the evermore gruesome part of gutting. I made an incision in the lower abdomen and then held the skin away from the organs as I drew the blade down to the sternum, being very careful not to pierce the stomach or intestines. If digestive fluids get out, they can ruin the meat, and they’re pretty stinky, too.
It was all going well up until it came time to cut away the anus. This proved difficult because of how we’d hung the carcass with the twine. Had we done it properly and used the hooks, the legs would have been held apart, which would have allowed me cut around the anus easily. Instead it was a bit of a hack-job from both ends. It was growing dark, so Char and her mum went back to the house to find some how-to videos online. I kept at it meanwhile, and eventually I freed it all up, pinching the urine tract/sack as I yanked the whole mess. Success!
It was very educating dismantling the innards of an animal. You sort of know how everything is meant to work, but it’s not until you experience cutting it all away that you learn how things are actually joined up. I got to witness the lungs deflate and collapse, for example, when I pierced the diaphragm cavity. Interesting stuff. The heart, liver, and kidneys were kept as pet food, although at later inspection it turned out the liver had signs of facial eczema, a fungal disease. That confirmed to us that she wasn’t the healthiest of sheep. All the meat was fine, however.
There’s an old offal pit on our farm near the stock yards, so everything unusable went in there. Eventually we’d like to find a use for it, like turning it into fertiliser.
All in all this completely new and strange experience was educational and went down with only a few minor hiccups. Not bad for our first attempt, I think. One fresh carcass, ready for butchering:
Poo-Bottom, we hope you had a good life here on our farm, however short. We fed you, and now you return the favour. Thank you.