Monday, October 13, 2008


"cull (kul) - something picked out for rejection as not being up to standard" from Webster's New World Dictionary

Ask any person in agriculture the job they like the least and, if they are involved in livestock farming, they will tell you that culling their animals is the least liked job. If they mention something else, they're lying. Anyone raising animals, even for meat production, hates the job of culling. Even if you don't mean to, you get to know the animals in your charge whether you have four, or a hundred. As wonderful as it is to see lambs (or calves, chicks, ducklings, foals, etc.)born and to feel excited about all the potential their lives will unfold, the flip-side of that same coin is the fact that some animals are not up to par for passing on genetics. They shouldn't be bred.
With economic times as they are we livestock people can only keep the best of our animals for breeding. As much as all are loved and cared for we have to make very hard decisions. So it was with me this past week.

Two of my charges left this morning. Both are destined for someones table. A reality. Neither would have made the grade for breeding. Good temperment or fleece aside, both had to go. A family who were out last week looking at electric spinning equipment asked me if I had any lambs for the freezer. They were so kind about asking and apologized for even bringing it up before I could answer saying they understood how attached shepherds become to their flocks. And they asked with the utmost respect. Yes, I answered, "I have two ram lambs that really need to go in someones freezer." My soul told my voice to shut up, but my brain allowed the words to be voiced. Reality. They did have to go.
In these days of $20 a bale hay I cannot afford to keep extra mouths to feed. Each individual must pull their weight or go somewhere else. I don't have acres and acres to stockpile extra sheep and so must keep the best for breeding. And I'm full-up in the wether/fiber pet area as well.

And the ram lambs bear the brunt of this. Ewes usually go on to other farms or fiber-flocks where they will have a grand life. One of my young ewes is going on to a fiber flock soon. While she has the most beautiful fleece and temperment, her tail is just too long to allow her to produce registerable shetlands. I don't have the room plus I already have fleeces of that color in the flock now, so she'll go on and be loved by the family who wants her.
The boys face another lot in life. By virtue of their sex alone they become replaceable. Many rams are born but only the very best should be allowed to continue on. That's a hard burden to bear for anyone, but truth nonetheless. I don't need them all. One good ram can take care of a whole lotta ewes.

So, two of my boys who had bad horns (all breeders get this occasionally with horned sheep breeds...and if they say they don't...well, you know the rest)...horns that turned down and inward. If they were in the wild these horns would eventually cull the animal themselves. I said goodbye to the two and told them they would serve in other ways. I know they will be butchered with great respect and nothing will be wasted. I can't complain about lambs being butchered as I love to eat lamb myself. This is where it comes from. A fact of life. Meat does not grow in packages out of thin air. It comes from people producing animals for the table specifically, or someone culling their herd. Like me.

After saying goodbye to the two who left I went in to feed the four remaining lambs. All four of them are breeding quality with great horns and sound structure. As it was a "Ram Year" last year and most breeders I know have an abundance of ram lambs, some of these guys may still end up in a freezer. In this economy I can't complain about any one of my animals feeding a family. In fact, one may end up in my freezer too.

But I can still give them the respect they deserve...and if it becomes fate that they end up in my freezer, I will thank them for giving me strength. I ate my pet sheep way back when I was college-aged. She was the only one left and my cousins were butchering one of theirs, asking my grandmother if they could "do it" for her. As I was away to college and she didn't want to be left with one sheep, she agreed. That Christmas my grandmother, Mom and I had Leg o'Bessie for dinner. And I thanked the old ewe as we said Grace...

Dad had a steak.


Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

A hard post to read, but true and needed. I'm glad your boys had a gentle end and went to people who are so kind and understanding - and congratulations on finding a fiber home for one of the girls! I haven't had any bites on my wethers, so when I get back from TX two of them get to go be "brushmowers" when I pick up Franjean. Not a bad life, and I know they will be killed in the most stress-free and humane way possible if that need arises. I'm happy enough with that situation to give them away.

Franna said...

Well said, Kathy. I have to disagree, though, on the "worst" part of farming. It's the ones that die an unplanned death that are the worst for me. :-(
Fortunately, not that many; unfortunately, one is too many.

Respect for our food, and give them our best while we care for them.

- Franna

Kathy said...

Good point, Franna. You're right in that sceanerio re: a death. I know that will eventually have to happen here as well. Knock wood.

Mim said...

Yhaa, good post and I just had something happen to one of my blind lambs that killed her. Franna said it an unnecessary death is much harder to take then going to the freezer.

melanie said...

It was good to read both your post and Franna's comments to put our shepherd compasses back on point. We should shed tears over the sudden or unplanned ones, and be proud of the ones we have given a very good life to while they are with us.

It is clear to any of us that follow your blog, you certainly did the latter!

Dave said...

I agree totally with Franna's point of view, that's why I married her ;) Seriously, we are most affected by the deaths that are unplanned or unexpected, but we praise the ones that offer us sustenance, even if they were total stinkers in life...

Kathy said...

Knock wood, Dave...but we haven't had to face that...yet. I know we will have to at some point, then it will become our most difficult task.

Pamela said...

Excellent post. Excellent. The "Dad had steak" line says so very, very much in so few words.

Culling is why we don't breed. The having lambs part would be great, but the culling is beyond us. We feel it's important to know your limitations, and this is one of ours.

This is why we don't raise a calf.

This is why Idiot the Rooster is still crowing his empty head off.

I would so like to have little lambs in the spring, but we don't have the room to just keep keeping them.

I really admire people like you who can suck it up and do what needs doing in the best interest of the animals. I can see how difficult it was for you, but you did it.

You gave the animals the best home possible then found the best use for them where they would be treated with the respect they deserve. To me, this is the epitome of animal keeping. You did good.

(The reason for the lateness in posting this is because I am apparently unable to correctly read then type the word verification.)