I don't mention it much because it makes some dear friends sad, but we do use a lot of the lambs we raise for our freezer trade. We breed with the plan of improving the specific qualities we need in the animals we raise - in our case fleece and hardiness and size - with each successive generation. And when you breed your ewes every year you very rapidly reach a tipping point where you realize you simply can't keep everyone, and not everyone has traits you want to reproduce. Many years ago we sold lambs we weren't keeping at the local auction barn. I didn't particularly like the situation, but "they" always assured us that "lambs are high right now". The reality was that we'd have done better rolling dice in Vegas. Reasons for the poor prices included "too heavy", "too light" "not a meat type lamb", "too heavy in fleece" and the ever popular "they are black". Additionally, I loathed dropping them into an abyss of unknowns. I knew their ultimate purpose would put them on someone's plate, but the unknown care in the interim...that really got to me.
We've worked the last few years to remove those unknowns. We cultivated a market of customers who want our lamb. We found a facility within feasible driving distance that treats our animals gently right to the end, and works with us to produce the best product possible for our customers. We trailer the lambs there ourselves that morning so we know they are transported safely and don't have to wait in an unfamiliar setting a moment longer than necessary. We go back the same day and pick up the pelts for tanning so that they aren't wasted. We've even been fortunate enough to find a network of dog foster homes who raw feed their charges and will take all the bones and unused organ meats so there is even less waste.
We've now retrieved meat from the last group of lambs for this season. Their pelts have also been sent off for tanning. I don't have to make any more difficult decisions for some time now, for which I'm glad. It weighs on my heart to know that many of the lambs I saw come into the world will die at my say so. It probably looks like a betrayal when viewed from outside, but really it's just the opposite - betrayal would be relinquishing control over their welfare, whereas I am making sure they have a good life right till the last minute.
I read a story many years ago that really stuck with me. I don't know where it came from, but it went like this:
Ages and ages ago when the world was still new Man and Animals could still understand one another's language. It was a hard time. Nature was cruel and everyone struggled to survive. The Family of Sheep was particularly beset by many dangers. They had no sharp teeth or claws for protection, weren't particularly fleet of foot to outrun danger and couldn't make shelters for themselves from the weather or hungry predators. They suffered mightily. One day a wise old Sheep observed Dog, who had made an association with Man, living in relative safety and thought perhaps some arrangement could be reached whereby the Family of Sheep could benefit in the same way. So Man and Sheep negotiated long and a deal was offered; Man would care for Sheep and provide food and water and shelter and protection from danger and medicine when illness came. In return, Sheep would give man their wool for clothing and a portion of the flock each year would be killed to serve his needs for food. Some would be young, some would be old, but the rest would live on under the watchful care of Man. The Family of Sheep discussed this plan at length and readily agreed to it. So many died ugly deaths every year as it was - how much better that those die gently by the hand of one who cared for them, and the bulk of the flock would always live in safety.
This story feels true and I hope when I meet the Judge I'm found to have upheld my end of the bargain.