Sometime this past winter, my sister gave us a sheep. A ram, actually. She and her husband raise Jacob's sheep, a heritage breed that is believed to be one of the oldest breeds around. They typically have four horns, and some even have six. They are not large, for sheep. They are a dual purpose breed, bred for meat and wool. They didn't want this particular sheep, my sister explained, "because he is an asshole."
Not ones to look a gift horse (or sheep) in the mouth, we said "thank you," and took him home.
Soon enough, we found out why they didn't want him around. Every time we went into the pasture, he would charge us like a deranged... well.... ram. Although he only weighed about fifty pounds, it still hurt like hell when he bashed into the side of my knee. And he didn't back off when I fought back, either. I took to carrying a stick, and once I hit him hard enough the nose to make him bleed (yes, I felt bad afterwards) but it made no difference to the sheep. He charged regardless.
The obvious solution would have been to kill him immediately, of course, but there were a variety of reasons we didn't do that. Firstly, we thought we could fatten him up. Secondly, the freezer was already full of beef, pork, and salmon. And lastly, Homero just didn't have time, and he is too cheap to let me schedule a professional to do any job he is capable of doing himself.
So we simply lived with the crazy aggressive sheep. I lost track of the number of times he knocked me down, but one instance stands out in my mind. It was mid-winter, and the ground was frozen solid. Over the past few days, it had repeatedly snowed, thawed, and frozen, and so there were a couple inches of ice in the barnyard, with hummocks of frozen dirt and gravel sticking up, and holes here and there as well. Treacherous ground, on which anybody might turn an ankle, irrespective of the need to fight off mentally impaired ovines.
The hose was frozen, so I was filling five gallon buckets directly from the spigot, precariously standing bent over on the ice-slick that surrounded the water pump. The sheep hit me from behind; I never saw him coming. I fell down, of course, and floundered around on the ice, unable to get up. The sheep backed up and charged again. He hit me in the hip, and I sprawled on my belly. I rolled over on my back and wildly flailed my legs trying to fend off his next charge. This ridiculous and humiliating scene went on for some time, until I managed to grab him by the horns and immobilize him. I still couldn't get up, however. My boots slid helplessly on the ice, and I didn't dare let go of the sheep to grab the fence for support. There were a few minutes of detente, the sheep and I frozen in an absurd tableau, catching our breath.
After a while, I managed to stand up, using the sheep himself as support. I lugged him into the barn and somehow closed the door between us. Then I limped back to the house, determined that the sheep had beat me up for the last time. Not so, alas, not so. Over the next few months, the sheep kept me well supplied with bruises. The children could not be sent out to do chores. We more or less lived in fear of this stupid, obstinate animal, himself apparently the victim of an overdeveloped instinct to attack everything that moved.
Recently, the grass finally being grown enough to provide forage, we moved the sheep by himself into the orchard, where he wouldn't interfere with daily chores. This worked fine until yesterday. Yesterday, I took the goats out to browse, and the sight of them moved the sheep to heroic efforts. He escaped, and as soon as he was free, he charged me. This time I saw him coming, and I grabbed him by the horns before he could hurt me. Holding on, I yelled for my husband. While I was waiting for him to run over from the shop, I noticed that one of the ram's four horns was curled back and growing straight into his own skull. As far as I could tell, it hadn't yet penetrated the flesh, but it was surely uncomfortable, and soon would be downright painful, if it wasn't already. When Homero arrived, I showed him the situation, and said "we have to kill this sheep today."
Luckily, it was a fairly nice afternoon, and so Homero quickly dispatched the ram via a bullet to the back of the head (never the front; the bullet will ricochet off the shelf of thick bone). Within a couple of hours, the evil ram had been reduced to his constituent parts and was fulfilling his ultimate purpose of providing us with tasty protein. According to our personal system of division of labor, Homero deals with the slaughter and the icky parts of skinning, cleaning, and gutting, and delivers the meat to me inside in the form of large hunks - what I believe are called in the trade "primal" cuts - whole legs, shoulder, ribs and belly, back. I take it from there and trim and cut the chunks into reasonable portions as best I can, which isn't all that great since my only education in butchery is a thin book I bought called "home butchery of livestock and game."
The ribs (both sides) went into the oven, slathered with barbecue rub, and cooked on a moderate 325 degrees, covered in tinfoil, for about five hours until they were falling apart tender. That was dinner last night. I broke down the back legs into butt and haunch (I know those aren't the right terms) and packaged four nice roasts for the freezer. Then I took all the rest - shoulder, neck, back - and packed them into my giant tamalero (basically a gigantic spaghetti pot; a steamer) to make broth.
Today I strained the broth, ladled it into gallon ziplock bags for the freezer, and shredded the meat off the bones to be packaged in quart sized ziplock bags in the freezer. Except, of course, for the meat we are using tonight to make tacos de barbacoa de borrego.
Tacos de Borrego:
Make the broth
In a large steamer pot, pack all the mutton pieces (shoulder, neck, ribs, butt, whatever)
1 large onion
1 head garlic, separated
10 chiles guajillo, torn into pieces and seeds shaken out
1 tbsp whole allspice
1/4 cup salt
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
1 gallon water
cover, seal with foil, and steam 4-6 hours, until meat is falling off the bone
Strain broth and save for another purpose.
Shred meat off bones and serve on a platter with:
Fresh hot corn tortillas
minced white onion
minced jalapeno peppers
Raw Green and Cooked red salsa
10 raw tomatillos, peeled and rinsed
3 serrano chiles
1/2 white onion
blend in blender until fairly smooth
Cooked Red salsa:
10 chiles guajillo, toasted, soaked for 1 hour in boiling water
1/4 cup neutral oil, heated until shimmering
1 tsp whole cumin seed
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
Blend soaked chiles, garlic, and vinegar in blender until quite smooth
heat oil in saucepan, add cumin
pour blended chiles into pan; be careful, it will spit.
Stir, add salt too taste
lay out a platter of steamed shredded mutton, minced vegetables and herbs, quartered limes, hot tortillas, and cubed avocado. Have simple boiled rice on the side.