Lucky lambs

2013-06-24 00:00

ABATTOIRS usually get bad press, which is a strange thing, considering that by far the majority of the seven billion people populating this planet eat meat. Even those who don’t, should consider that, whatever their beliefs, a huge number of animals are slaughtered daily to feed those who do partake.

It is, therefore, incumbent on civilised societies to demand that this process should occur under conditions and in facilities that invoke as little stress as possible in the poor beasts. Cato Ridge abattoir in the early eighties was such a place. It was one of three flagship abattoirs established by the Abattoir Commission to supply a perceived European market with prime South African meat. South Africa, in the eyes of those whose logic was clouded by arrogant political ideologies, would be the breadbasket of Africa.

All that was needed was world-class slaughter facilities and all nations would queue at our door for our meat. So this abattoir was born in the late seventies at a rumoured cost of some R70 million. It was beautiful, state of the art, better constructed even than the bunkers designed to protect the politicians of the day in the event of a terrorist attack. It had everything that opened and shut, every mechanical and electronic gadget required to provide a five-star product, and the staff to ensure that this happened.

And every year, the European Union would send out inspectors who were fêted and wined and dined, and who returned with their bellies full, and their livers compromised, to tell their masters of this wonderful facility.

And still they did not want our meat.

It took a while for our political leaders to understand that one could not buy credibility from customers who found our political dispensation abhorrent.

It is also not a good idea to build an abattoir far away from the production areas. More than 90% of our sheep and goats came from outside our province. Some were trucked for three days non-stop, from the northern Cape and Namibia. And in time of drought, stock was shipped to the abattoir, irrespective of condition, many succumbing en route. In 1981 alone, nearly 8 000 sheep and goats were dead when they arrived at the abattoir.

Then there were the births. When the truck doors were opened in the lairage of the abattoir, sometimes, milling around among the mass of bodies, enveloped in eye-watering ammonia, were little, large-eyed waifs, bleating for mothers who might be lost or dead, and stepping over the bodies of those that had not made the journey.

Officially, these lost kids were consigned to immediate death, the product of a rigorous quarantine policy. Some were smuggled out of the abattoir. Lambs like Smedley and Medley.

Originating from the arid north-west of our country, karakul lambs were bred for their tight-curled ebony fleece. They were usually slaughtered on the farm before three days of age, and their little pelts converted into garments much sought after by the society women of Eurasia and elsewhere.

Smedley and Medley were fortunate.

I do not recall the methods used to remove them from the abattoir precincts. Perhaps they were hidden in a bag, or maybe they left in the same triple-decker truck that delivered them. I have intimate knowledge, however, of their formative years, which were spent in the garden of a large suburban house occupied by a number of young professionals. It was a particularly joyful existence and they were spoilt by the continuous presence of energetic people who treated them like appealing novelties. Eventually, though, they outgrew their patch of paradise and were consigned to a farm near Maritzburg. By this stage, however, they were bonded to their human minders and they lived on the farm like dogs, not livestock. During the day, they could be found wandering around the kitchen, or jumping on the lounge furniture. All humans were treated as playmates and, as they got older, guests would have to be warned about their over-boisterous behaviour. All good things must end, though. At a stage when they were young adults, they succumbed within days of each other to Enzootic Icterus, as a result of an over-indulgence in garden plants containing toxic levels of copper.

Death is the inevitable consequence of living, isn’t it? In the great scheme of things, our sojourn on this planet is as brief as the blink of an eye. But, as long or as short as it may appear to be, the best that we can hope for is that it is filled with love and happiness. They were two lucky lambs.

• The author is a practising vet with a passion for his profession and a

giggle in his heart.

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