In the fall of 2016, a steer was born. His face was tye-dyed with white and brownish-red and his stature was fair to (even possibly) good. He was born at our neighbors farm, and in the spirit of neighborly fun, they named him Andre – my namesake. Chuckles were in order and lots of fun was poked. And I even made sure to ask, “Hey, you’ll invite me over on the fateful day that he becomes a steer, right?” Alas, I never got the call, and the next time I saw Andre he had already transitioned to castrato.
Nine months later we were looking to buy some heifers and a steer, and Andre was a good fit for the latter.
He’s now pushing 18 months old and although a little shy, quite a nice addition to our herd.
Unlike a heifer, a steer really only has one function – table fare. We purchased Andre not only knowing he would become food, but fully intending for him to become food.
So not only is he a named animal that will be eaten, but he is an object lesson in such, for that he shares my namesake. Perhaps before next winter I will have eaten some of his steaks and made stock with his bones.
Does it feel peculiar to know the impending fate of such a well-named animal? Since we’ve long been raising animals for meat, and have named plenty in the past, no – it doesn’t feel peculiar – but yes, this is a first (and hopefully last. I don’t intend to have any more animals named after me). For me, personally, I find congruence in having compassion for livestock while they are on the hoof, and then consuming them when on they are on the table. But I can easily understand – at least on the surface – why people may not wish to name – or even know – the animals that they eat, although I suggest that we should all challenge such inclinations.
In my mind, naming a meat animal imparts accountability and respect toward the animal, even if it may be a bit anthropomorphic. Naming an animal vests your interests in it and helps you to remember that it is a living creature, deserving of respect: shade on a hot day, deep bedding on a cold day and pasture under foot in the summer.
I think that for anyone who wants to raise their own meat for the first time, naming their livestock is a great “test” for themselves. It challenges them and makes them confront the reality of the fact that an animal will be sacrificed their sustenance. It provides a framework for appreciation and accountability for their animal husbandry practices. Animals should be treated well and given the opportunity to express their intrinsic characteristics.
But of course practicality has a place as well, and once someone approaches a farm-scale quantity of livestock, inevitably naming animals no longer makes sense. This is where we are. Sure, we have a sow named Keeper and another named Ginger. A boar named Junior and some heifers named Ethel and Faviola. But we also have young ewes without names, and plenty of pigs that are… just pigs. Similar to how our broiler chickens are… just chickens.
I think that the naming of meat animals is a great way to start. It forces confrontation with what we fear and strengthens us to be able to realize that “Yes, we can tenderly care for and then slaughter an animal.”
Once that important lesson is learned, then the need for names is graduated from.
When 25 snouts run up to meet me in the morning, I can smile, appreciate them for what they are, and then respond, “Hey, pigs! Good morning!”