Battle Hymn of the Goat Father, Part 1

2 Feb

I pulled Jake out of school for two days so we could go to Montana and turn some goat into meat. He’s six. I don’t expect him to become the best butcher in the whole world. I am not starting him young so he’ll have years of practice when it comes time to write his personal statement. I just thought it would be fun to sneak out of school for two days and have a Western adventure. It was a bonus that imbedded in this adventure would be the teachable moment: How meat gets to the table. So, Friday lunch time instead of horsing around with his pals in the cafeteria, we’re waiting for our connecting flight through DEN.

cross-country hooky, the adventure begins

Jen’s the real hero in this story. After all, they’re her goats. She raises them for milk, but every winter the herd needs culling. This year there are eight on the roster.

For a few years, early on in the goat project, the meat truck would be summoned. When it pulled up to the coral and Jen and her husband, Tex would add their goats to the unhappy, bleating load and that would be that. The meat would be gathered up in boxes some days afterward and no more would be said about the missing.

Eventually they thought better of this abdication and resolved to do the culling themselves. And so every winter, sometime in January Tex and Jen call on a few stalwart friends and the occasional eager beaver, put the chili from last year’s goats on the stove for lunch and get to work. “This way,” says Tex, with only the slightest apology creeping in behind his assertion as he started again. “This way at least they know us. Know that we’ve never done anything to harm them before.”

It was my intention to have Jake join in the activity. I figured it was time he understood what getting meat to table involves. He is six, after all. Lisa didn’t think Jake was ready for such a revelation just yet. She is over-protective. I think so at least, and I said as much. We went back and forth, but eventually she relented with the drop-dead caveat that Jen get the final word about whether Jake gets to participate.

The plan was to park the two tractors outside the barn, hard-by the entrance to the pen, position the earth-moving buckets above our heads so that we could hang the goats by their back legs at about six feet so we could do the bulk of the work standing up straight. This is a luxury you don’t often get hunting. Another luxury is that the goats wait eagerly by the fence watching as we proceed with the set up.

Watching, curious, while we park the tractors in position outside their pen

After our arrival, I put it to Tex and Jen about whether Jake should participate in the harvest. I tell them about my disagreement with his mother back in Brooklyn. In the course of the day both find ways to gently plant the seed of doubt. The next day, when the appointed hour draws near, feigning disappointment and radiating relief, Jake is bundled off to the Museum of the Rockies with their boy B and his babysitter for the duration of the grizzly bits.

It takes a village.

Using the tractors as an edifice of an outdoor abattoir, the crew can harvest two goats at a time.

It's not that you get used to the work, but after the first two goats are converted to meat a churning routinization dulls the marquee emotions associated with taking a life. And once the goat is upside down an undeniable anatomical logic eclipses any lingering grief or doubts about the way the goat shucked his coil: Well, first the hide’s gotta come off, and we gotta make the little hole bigger if we ever hope to get all those guts out of there and into that garbage can.

There another one done.

Jen, fetch up another goat.

Nobody noticed that the temperature never climbed much above zero

What happens between Jen fetching a goat and it hanging upside down, well, least said, soonest mended.

Within two hours there are eight carcasses cooling in the barn and Clint even has time to scrape a hide for me to take home to Brooklyn and tan.

Clint dismisses my protests that I will not be able to find a taxidermist in Brooklyn who will finish the job. He says I can just keep the hide in the freezer while I’m looking in the Yellow Pages. Never mind that a salted goat hide stowed in the fridge is incontestable grounds for divorce in my jurisdiction.

Coming up in Battle Hymn of the Goat Father Part 2, watch while Young Jake digs the gut hole with a back hoe and find out how to cook all this goat.

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5 Responses to “Battle Hymn of the Goat Father, Part 1”

  1. Suvir Saran February 24, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

    Manny – how old are the goats they cull from their herd?
    I am sure each year they could be of different ages. But average age? Curious…

    • Manny Howard February 24, 2011 at 4:36 pm #

      Suvir-
      They are all about a year or a little less.

  2. Tex March 31, 2011 at 6:26 pm #

    A moving account of friends and family bonding over beer, blood and bleating kids. Can’t wait for Chapter 2.

  3. el anticristo March 31, 2011 at 9:32 pm #

    Its like you read my mind! You appear to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with a few pics to drive the message home a bit, but other than that, this is fantastic blog. A fantastic read. I’ll certainly be back.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Battle Hymn of The Goat Father, Part 2 « Stunt Foodways - December 5, 2011

    […] Once the carcasses were hanging from gambrels in the barn all that is left to do is dig a gut pit. Since Jakey had missed out on all the work thus far, Tex determined that this job would fall to my seven year-old boy. How deep did the gut pit need to be, asked Jake. “deep enough so the wolves nd coyotes can’t find it. Lets call it six to eight feet.” […]

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