Liam Farrell: A beautiful bullock is too much to stomach

I come from the last generation that actually killed what we ate, and I remember slaughtering day, usually in September, after the fat of summer, as a sombre day, not the day for high spirits; the animals were making the ultimate sacrifice for us and we fulfilled our side of the contract by killing them with solemn efficiency.

We've lost something since then, become dislocated from the reality of slaughter, and we have lost respect for what we eat because of it. My pig-killing days are long behind me and I am now as guilty as the next shopper of buying chicken breasts in the supermarket without a thought about where they came from. So when Joe invited me up to the farm before Christmas I was only expecting the usual turkey, and I was surprised when he brought me out to the byre.

'Look at that little lad,' he said proudly, pointing to a young bullock. He called and it came over to nuzzle at his hand, as trusting as a dog. 'Isn't he a beauty?'

I had to agree, though I'd never before quite appreciated how a bullock could be beautiful; rippling muscles on a horse, we see the sleek lines of a Ferrari, rippling muscles on a cow, we can smell steak and onions.

The little bullock turned to me, acknowledging me gracefully, dark lambent eyes hinting at deep thoughts within; I patted him on the head and scratched his ears.

'Beautiful, simply beautiful,' I agreed.

'I'm glad you like him,' said Joe, 'because we're slaughtering him tomorrow and I want you to have the fillets.'

I snatched my hand back, the dark eyes regarding me, soft and innocent as the first flowers of spring, unaware of my betrayal.

But it was to get worse.

Joe's son came out, all of seven years old. 'The lad raised him since he was a calf,' said Joe proudly. 'Slept with him at night and bottle-fed him when his mother died, then hand-fed him for years with cornmeal.'

The little boy looked up at me with tear-stained cheeks, his lower lip quivering and I felt like Albert Pierrepoint.

'You know, Joe,' I said, feeling like Pontius Pilate. 'I've been thinking of going off red meat, what with the high cholesterol and all ... '

 

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