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Sustainable Steps

Butcher closing was a loss

I don’t know any farmers who find it easy to take their animals off to a slaughterhouse to be processed. And in my opinion, that is how it should be. If you find it easy, you have lost something crucial to humane farming.

I once attended an open house at a new facility here in New Hampshire, where Eric Shelley, a meats lab manager from SUNY Cobleskill College in New York, was asked what the most humane way of slaughtering an animal is. We happened to be outside under a tent next to a field of cows, and he pointed to the cow, and said walk out to your own field and put the animal down right there. This, however, is not sanctioned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Every farmer who sells meat in a public venue must take their animals to a USDA-approved slaughterhouse.

When I first started farming in Peterborough 10 years ago, there were three USDA facilities within a reasonable driving distance. Our choice was Blood Farm in Groton, Mass.

It was not in the news around here, but it is sure to have an impact on the local farming community: Blood Farm — the place we’ve been taking our animals to be processed — burned to the ground.

As a matter of fact, we had recently brought two lambs and two cows there. At the time of the fire, they were in the coolers waiting to be cut and wrapped. We lost the meat and we lost a partner in the farming community that we relied on.

I once asked Barney Blood, who is 90, about the name Blood and the fact that he was a butcher (as I am sure many people have), and he said he felt sure his name related to his occupation somewhere in back history. He also told me that it was his great-great-grandfather had started the business. Blood Farm has been in business a long, long time and, as they say, you don’t stay in business unless you are good at what you do.

Taking animals to the slaughterhouse is never an easy job, but doing the job is even harder. We have been going to Bloods for 10 years and have a well-established business connection with them, but it goes way beyond that. They are small enough that they know their customers. They process around 100 animals a week. I know that Tammy, who runs the smokehouse, has a mini pony for her grandchildren. I know that Dick Blood, Barney’s son, said he has never done anything else for work in his life and, if they don’t rebuild, he doesn’t know what he will do. I know that Alan, who manages the outside parts and has worked there “forever,” will come running when he sees me pulling in with truck and trailer, and offer to back it up for me — yes, it could be that he doesn’t want any more dents and dings in the buildings, but it is also because he knows how much I hate backing with a trailer.

Many places you go they will push, shove, yell and use shockers to get your animals unloaded. At Bloods, Alan taught me how to do it quickly and quietly. For pigs, you just get their butt aimed in the direction you want them to go, slip a bucket on their head and they back right up, no yelling, hitting or shocking.

Farmers know that meat quality can be determined on the kill floor, and the folks at Bloods also know that. I am hoping and praying that they rebuild.

Ruth Holmes is one of the principal farmers at Sunnyfield Farm, a nonprofit community farm in Peterborough.

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