In past years, we’ve purchased a county fair shown beef steer for our freezer and have a year of eating the quality meat provided by them.
Our children understand food animals, caring for them and raising them to provide protein. But this year, it’s more of a reality when our youngest daughter showed two sheep at our local county fair earlier this month in both the 4-H Achievement Days and Open Show. Her market wether (castrated ram) was the heaviest in its class and, she understood, ready for butchering. When I picked her up Sunday evening after she had helped bring the sheep home from the fair to the farm she leased them from, she uncharacteristically was very quiet when she got into my vehicle. I said, “Uh oh. What’s wrong?”
Anika, age 10, said, “Just drive, Mom.”
As we turned out of the yard, I heard her voice crack from the back seat as she said, “He will make good meat. It’s his purpose. If he stays so heavy he could get sick anyway but I want to go back and say goodbye to Miles, one last time.”
I shared that it was OK to cry a bit about the end of her spring and summer with her first market animal. This is a real-life learning experience, I said.
Later in the evening, I asked the sheep owners and people who taught and mentored her through her 4-H leasing program, Rocky and Kelly Brown, about one final visit. A couple of days later, my husband Nathan took Anika to their farm and texted me a picture of Anika saying farewell to Miles, the market wether. I was traveling for business for the night and late from my hotel room shared a few photos on Instagram of Anika and Miles.
In the comments, Dr. Alison Fallgatter, an orthodontist who lives in my region asked if she could buy Miles. I know her and of her ranching family and assumed she meant to buy Miles to be meat in her freezer. She later clarified she’d keep Miles as a pet with some other sheep she and her son keep on their hobby farm. I connected Dr. Fallgatter (who asked us to call her Ali) to Rocky and Kelly and let them figure it out.
Anika was invited to the Browns’ early Saturday morning to help load Miles one last time into Ali’s trailer that she borrowed from her cattle ranching parents. I said to Anika, “This is never going to happen again to your 4-H animal!”
Ali smiled and said, “Well, maybe it will!”
Ali paid the Browns for Miles, the market wether. Anika advised he needs to be walked a lot to lose some weight. We stood in the Browns’ yard and visited for nearly an hour about 4-H, animals, farms, careers, podcasts, running, her adoption journey of her son and more. By standing and listening to our conversations and Ali’s life experiences, Anika was exposed to an educated, career-minded, rural mom with a different path than most around her.
I think Miles getting to live with some pet sheep is a modern-day “Charlotte’s Web” story. Miles is not realistic for 99.9% of market animals and I stressed that to Anika.
I also don’t want any reader of this column to think it’s a good idea on a regular basis to keep market animals as pets or our world will be overrun with animals and us meat-eaters will be hungry. And I don’t need any more hate messages from vegans about this topic. I’ll do my parenting and write this column and you do your life and we can all find our best paths ahead in life.
Aside from sheep, I think Anika connecting to and being exposed to adult thought leaders like the Browns, who started their own ranch just a few years ago, and Dr. Fallgatter has a lasting impact on her future choices and goals. She will never forget Miles. Most of all, she will never forget the people who gave her the knowledge and experiences to show Miles. As a mom watching it happen, I see it as a win-win.