Thursday 6 July 2017

Making money from sheep

Yesterday I was writing about the easiest and most enjoyable $1,000 I earned in the 1980s. My career has not been a stable, steady progression accumulating promotion and pension contributions so that I can retire in a few years time and start going on cultural cruises round the Mediterranean like my folks.  It has rather been a succession of short-term contacts (two of six weeks duration) and part-time contracts (2012 down to one day a week) and the occasional purchase of Lotto tickets. We've been on the farm for 20 years now, which was the manifestation of our fantasy of self-help (Samuel Smiles) and self-sufficiency (John Seymour). We never intended to make a fortune from 7 hectares on the side of a mountain but we raised two upright and independent girls there which was reward enough. When Dau.I and Dau.II were small we had chickens - as eggs for tea and as consumers of kitchen scraps. And we've always had sheep - mainly to mow the fields. Sheep are hardship. They are frisky when you want to catch them; dilatory when you want to move them; and they die for no apparent reason. The very first ewe we had died [heart-attack] under the shearers clippers and left two orphan lambs to be raised by the girls. And one of our sheep may well have destroyed my thumbs.

Well, even as I was posting about earning money from pushing my quill pen across the parchment, The Beloved was yesterday making some money at the Mart by selling three cast ewes [Old breeding ewes which are sold off hill farms to lower ground farmers who take one more crop of lambs off them] and is now expecting a cheque for €250! T'buggers took a lot of time to round up and load into the neighbour's trailer and he remarked that it was easier to manage 300 sheep than 3 and that you're at nothing trying to herd a singleton. But at least we got them off the farm on four legs. Indeed we haven't have any death on the farm this year which is a better than average record for us. In the old days, the sheep would die and I'd dig a hole and bury the carcass. If the poor creature was a lamb, the girls would attend with flowers and then we've move on. Then in 2001 came the foot and mouth epidemic and the government got a lot more bureaucratic about the economics of death in sheep. It also became apparent that one herd of sheep had been claiming EU subsidies for several farmers on the same mountain. The inspector would visit one farm, count the sheep, sign the form and go into town for lunch; the sheep would be run over the hill to be counted again in the afternoon. It was like the famous story of the father of the Marx Brothers appearing as an extra in Monkey Business both on the ship and on the quayside waving goodbye to himself.

Thereafter, like cattle before them, every sheep had to have a unique ear-tag and each tag had to be accounted for at the Dept Agriculture. If a sheep had the misfortune to die on site, then we'd have to call the fallen animal guy who would take away the carcass for 'rendering'. You can't send dead animals to the factory for slaughter because they are already dead and the meat inspectors can hardly be expected to sign off on those chops being safe to eat. The fallen animal guy is running a business and charges €35 to give you a docket that can later be reconciled with your herd register. The maths therefore indicate that we are another €100 ahead because we didn't have to call out Disposal. Win!

We've also made a little money on mutton; selling the meat from our organic unmedicated ram lambs. But that only goes to a) friends-and-relations who b) have freezer enough to take at least half a lamb butchered into chunks. That is a limited market and our freezer is still full of chops and scrag-end because half of our small household is vegetarian. We have been careful about the process, there is a butcher on the far side of the mountain who will take small batches of lambs in the evening; put them out to grass overnight; and slaughter them in the morning. Any journey is a trailer is super-stressful for livestock and a surge of adrenalin from a hyped-up sympathetic nervous system does the meat quality no favours. Against that is the many many bags, at €8.50 each, of sheep muesli [mmmm good] that get loaded into the back of my car at the feed-store and lurried into the sheep during the winter,

Word-a-day notes that it is Peter Singer's birthday today with his quote "Animal factories are one more sign of the extent to which our technological capacities have advanced faster than our ethics." Quite so. Singer coined the phrase Animal Liberation in 1973. And more recently has asserted The abuse of animals won’t stop until we stop eating meat.  Nobody with the least sensitivity would deny that industrial slaughter houses give the bum's rush to the animals that most of us finish up eating. I'm under no illusions that the chute our ram-lambs go up on their final trip is a bed of roses - it's just better than the other options. Temple "Think Like A Cow" Grandin has made a huge contribution in making abattoirs more efficient by making them more humane. 'better than the other options' is me trying not to be all black&white over the ethics. Before you get too dogmatic on either side, you might read Simon Fairlie's book Meat: A Benign Extravagance [Amazon £8.00+] which puts the case that meat can be incorporated into a holistic sustainable agriculture. Pigs raised on kitchen waste and weeds is perhaps the best option. Fairlie scythes and has been interviewed by Time. We've met Peter Singer before on the ethics of conscience. and experimental psychology.

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