Photos: Steer slaughter at Callicrate Ranch -- and why Mike Callicrate has a beef with just about everyone
Earlier this week, on Monday, I spent the afternoon in Kansas -- specifically St. Francis, Kansas, a small, sleepy town just a few miles east of the Kansas/Colorado border, population a mere 1,200.
Cattle far, far outweigh humans in St. Francis -- there are thousands and thousands of them -- and on Monday, I, along with several chefs from Linger, Root Down and Fuel Cafe, experienced what most people never have, and likely never will: We witnessed the slaughter of a steer, a beautiful, majestic Black Angus beast that suffered a single shot -- a bolt -- between the eyes before he slumped to the ground with a dull thud. The knocker was quick and precise.
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Callicrate, the cattle ranch and slaughterhouse where we all herded -- and which is owned by a fiercely opinionated, radically passionate man by the name of Mike Callicrate -- exposes sloping hills pelted with short, lush, green grass, and it's small in comparison to most industrialized farms.The lackadaisical cows and steers -- hormone- and antibiotic-free Black Angus and Wagyu -- graze on grains, hay and grass, and they're slaughtered, singularly, on an outdoor kill floor, often in front of witnesses -- in our case, twenty. Photos are allowed, even encouraged. It's an unusually humane, transparent business practice.
Most industrialized feedlots are completely cut off from the public -- and certainly from journalists -- while packers with dehumanizing jobs that I can't even begin to fathom, slaughter, often brutally, upwards of 400 head of cattle each hour. That, too, is a number that I have a very difficult time comprehending.
But this 9,000-acre ranch stretched across winding turns of dusty dirt road? A quick kill, just one every 45 minutes, on site, at the farm. They're slaughtered and skinned by stoic men and women with very fast, precise fingers and unfaltering intensity. The cattle -- Callicrate has a head of around 2,500 -- don't travel hundreds of miles in livestock Semis, through blizzards or blistering heat, to wait out their fate. Instead, Callicrate has its own mobile trailer; the cattle are never transported on trucks. Still...under a brilliant blue sky, the mood was somber and gray.
Even now, I'm still struggling to make peace with the death...with watching the heavy chains wrapped around the steer's legs while his sleek, clean hide shimmered in the blaze of the sun and his tail still flicked from side to side; of looking upwards to the tractor above, where his body was suspended in air as he bled, a flowing river of blood staining the concrete red after his aorta was sliced with a sharp knife. There is no pleasure -- none -- in watching an animal die, especially at our expense.