If one were to characterize the differences between a farm-dog and a horse, one might say that the horse was likely to live three times longer and that the horse was a higher “touch” proposition, needing near-daily currying and hoof care.
So while it is entirely plausible that a farmer or hunter might have five or six dogs during his adult life, it is equally plausible that a horse-lover might only have two horses or that a grandparent might give a grandchild a horse and that horse be a part of the new owner’s life until they reached early adulthood.
The horse owner would contend that the difference in the degree of bonding between a horse and a farm-dog is the same order of magnitude as that between the farm-dog and a barn cat.
So you can imagine Clair and Fritz Speicher’s distress when two trucks stopped in front of Tri-Color Horse farm and they potted four of their horses. Then, while two of the men aimed rifles at the horses the elderly Speichers, the other two men hacked off the “hams”, dragged them over to the trucks and departed.
The needs of the community demanded that as much usable meat be recovered from the horse carcasses as possible. Emotional investment and physical limitations required that it be somebody other than the Speichers who butchered the animals’ remains.
So it should come as no surprise that when Mayor Wagner’s brother Rodney called and asked if there was any possibility of Eaton Rapids selling food to the residents of Fabulous Acres, Mayor Wagner was quick to ask if anybody in Fabulous Acres had any experience as a butcher.
“We don’t need money. You can’t buy anything with it, anyway” Mayor Wagner informed his younger brother.
“We have city people coming out here and shooting farm animals and then leaving most of the meat to rot” Mayor Wagner said.
Rodney winced. As a hunter, he had a keen appreciation of how much work it was to butcher an animal, especially if you wanted to recover every edible bite. He also knew that inexperienced, rushed butchers left a lot of meat.
“Here is the deal, brother” Rodney said. “There are 1200 people in Fabulous Acres. We might be getting half as much food as we need. So another half-pound of grain, per person a day would make all the difference in the world.”
“What would it take to get 600 pounds of corn a day?” Rod asked.
“Let me touch base with a few people, but if one of your neighbors is a half-way decent butcher, I can almost guarantee that is worth 600 pounds of corn a day. But let me check first.” Mayor Wagner said.
“I need to check on this end, too. There might not be any butchers” Rodney admitted.
Mayor Wagner had absolutely no problem getting Clayton Osborn, the owner of the local grain elevator to commit to 600 pounds of corn a day to pay for a butcher. Horse owners were his most loyal, and most vocal customers. Reality is a bitch, but the slaughtered horses were almost family to their owners.
Rodney, for his part simply had to ask Victor Aiello if their were any butchers in the neighborhood. “One butcher will get us 600 pounds of corn a day.”
In fifteen minutes, Victor responded “I have a crew of six lined up. Gilbert Contraras and his son are experienced butchers and the other four are needed to do the heavy lifting to keep them cutting.”
“Where do you need the butchers, brother?” Rodney asked his brother.
Mayor gave Rodney an address. If he noticed the ‘butchers” plural, he gave no indication.
An hour-and-a-half later, a battered pickup truck loaded with tarps, winches, butcher knives and tubs left Fabulous Acres. Gilbert and his son rode in the cab. The four ‘strong backs’ rode in back. Nobody bothered them on the trip to the horse farm.
Men who are experienced in working with their hands get into a rhythm at work. Depending on the task, work elements shift from worker-to-worker depending on how much work there is and their individual speed. A crew might start out organized one way but it dynamically evolves and at the end of the shift might look substantially different with regards to who is doing what.
Nobody rushes. Often it looks like the men are standing-around, but if you watch carefully, the person who is waiting varies and they are rarely standing for more than a minute or two. Sometimes it is simply to catch their breath.
Gilbert was a natural-born teacher. He watched the ‘strong backs’ and as they showed aptitude he encouraged them to pick up a knife and help. He started with simple tasks. The meat between the ribs is tedious to collect but it is perfectly suitable for sausages. The meat and tissue between the vertebrae is even harder to collect. The intestines can be washed out and used for casings. It all adds up.
Because they started late in the day and the four novices were in the steep part of the learning curve, the full moon had risen before they had completed butchering out the four horses.
When they were done, the bones were so clean they gleamed in the moonlight.
Clair and Fritz had a camper behind the barn. They invited the men to sleep in the camper for as long as they were in Eaton Rapids. They let the men inside to wash-up and gave them linens for their beds.
While the men had been butchering the remains of the horses, one of the men built a small fire and they had roasted kabobs made from wooden skewers and meat-scraps over the coals. It was a slow, cool fire and other the food required no attending except to turn it over a few times.
Unlike many immigrants, these men had come from rural villages and small farms south of the border. The work and the conditions reminded them of their childhood and the food was far better than what they had been eating for the last three months.
They agreed to stay-on as long as grain was shipped as agreed and there were animals to butcher.