Baby goat Astio, front and center, surrounded by his family in their tranquil Greek village pasture, a few days before Easter

Baby goat Astio, front and center, surrounded by his family in their tranquil Greek village pasture, a few days before Easter

by Katerina Lorenzatos Makris ~

“The lambs and goats you buy in town are inspected by a veterinarian before they’re slaughtered,” our neighbor Stephania explained.

We stood with our other neighbor Kostas among his herd of goats in our village on the Greek island of Kefalonia. Stephania had just milked three of them so as to make cheese for her family’s Greek Orthodox Easter feast coming up on Sunday.

“The vet puts a stamp on them so that you’ll know they’re safe,” she continued. “Maybe that’s the better way. I don’t know. But since we have a farmer we trust—our neighbor—to raise them healthily and slaughter them properly, we prefer to get the meat from him.”

Astio's pretty sister Asproula, front, with other family members

Astio’s pretty sister Asproula, front, with other family members

How to cut up the baby

Stephania and Kostas held a discussion about which method the butcher should use to dismember one of the two-month-old goats after his slaughter, scheduled for the following morning.

While watching the little fellow and his sister grow and gambol in their tranquil, pretty pasture through the recent wintry weeks, I had named him “Astio,” meaning “joke” in Greek, because of his playfulness and what seemed to me to be his sense of humor.

My neighbors planned to share Astio’s carcass between them, and settled on a method that would provide his ribs for their tables.

Kostas scattered some corn on the ground for the goats, who gobbled it quickly, then looked up hopefully for more.

“That’s our thank-you to them,” said Stephania.

A date with the butcher

After taking a few more photos, I turned to Kostas. “I wouldn’t want to be intrusive, and please feel free to say no, but do you think it would be all right if I came to photograph Astio’s slaughter in the morning, so that I can write an article about it?”

Astio and his family safe behind the gates of their lush, pretty pasture

Astio and his family safe behind the gates of their lush, pretty pasture

Both neighbors gaped at me.

“You know I’m a journalist, and I specialize in animal issues… “

“Yes,” Kostas replied, “I know. But can you handle it? It’s not a nice thing.”

The sun had just slipped behind the hill where the village church stands. A damp, chilled wind blew up from the nearby sea, banishing what was left of the day’s warmth.

“I don’t know.” I stuffed my hands, which had also gone cold, into my pockets. “I feel… it’s part of my job.”

Kostas nodded. “Of course you’re welcome to come. I just don’t know exactly when he’ll be here. It could be eight o’clock sharp. Or it could be two o’clock in the afternoon. He doesn’t make appointments.”

Death, I thought, often doesn’t. But in this case, one way or another, Astio’s fate seemed to be sealed. Whether it was first thing in the morning or later in the day, the baby had only hours left to live.

“I’ll be here,” I vowed.

For a moment my neighbors studied my face. Their gazes, not unkind, seemed to be a mixture of curiosity and concern, or perhaps pity.

Home-grown animals for food

Stephania and I set out together again on the gravel road, she carrying the pail full of frothy, pearl-colored milk for her family. Their survival, she told me as we walked in the day’s last light, now depends on that and on other inexpensive home-grown foods. She keeps hutches with a dozen rabbits for slaughter. Soon she’ll add egg-laying hens to her backyard farm.

Milk provided by Astio's mother and aunts

Milk provided by Astio’s mother and aunts

Read the next article in this series:

A baby goat’s last day (Part 4): ‘How is he to blame?’

Previous articles in this series:

A baby goat’s last day (Part 1): An idyllic life

A baby goat’s last day (Part 2): Of sex, milk, and babies

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Katerina Lorenzatos Makris is a career journalist, author, and editor. Credits include hundreds of articles for regional wire services and for  outlets such as National Geographic TravelerThe San Francisco ChronicleTravelers’ Tales, NBC’s, and (Animal Policy Examiner), a teleplay for CBS-TV, a short story for The Bark magazine, and 17 novels for Avon, E.P. Dutton, Simon and Schuster, and other major publishers.

Together with coauthor Shelley Frost, Katerina wrote a step-by-step guide for hands-on, in-the-trenches dog rescue, Your Adopted Dog: Everything You Need to Know About Rescuing and Caring for a Best Friend in Need (The Lyons Press).

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