Last Cow Standing: Etseri, Svaneti


Warning: This gets a bit graphic about butchery, so beware, ye faint of heart!

The time had come, if we really meant what we said. Intending to be freer to travel together, having one cow left was as bad as having the up to five which we have had alive together at one point. The only one remaining was the “Matriarch”, mother or grandmother of all the others, our only bovine buy and oldest animal at about ten years old. (Not that we name any of our potential meat animals: this was more her title than her name per se.)

The time stretched out as we tried to ask various local men-friends to lend a hand. Some were unreachable by phone, others unavailable for various reasons. In the end, it came down to me recruiting two neighbors loitering near the house on the spur of the moment to do the job right away. Hardly ideal, as it meant we couldn’t make the cow fast for a day or so, and her stomachs were full. But we had helpers, now, so the time rushed upon us.

I led her by rope to the spot, still grazing, trusting animal, and one of the guys banged her on the head with my sledgehammer, humanely to put her out before he would step in with the knife to her throat. Once the blood stopped, it was just meat to be skinned and cut up. Dogs circled, waiting for the things they smelled, wolves at heart. The head went whole into the freezer, to wait for some time when I would be away, so my wife could do the things she wants to do with it far from my nose. We sent each of the helpers away with a small package from the work as a thank-you token. And toasted our new-made freedom.

Only a few chickens remain, and those can be given their daily food by any neighbor, little trouble. The barn is now theirs until their turns come, and it will for the first time get too cold to winter potatoes in, minus its bigger tenants and their body heat. (The last cow had to go before winter set in for the same reason: one animal would freeze to death here without the warmth of at least one other.) We already have offers to buy or rent the building, and while we might consider the latter for a neighbor’s cows, we would never sell it.

Believe me, I long for the day when meat grown in the lab (from actual meat cells, so it’s real) will become cheaper than and just as good as that from an animal which consumes so much grass and produces so much methane per kg! I’m not ready to give up eating the stuff, but would welcome this version of it, being worked on constantly now. I do hate the industry which western-world meat has become, inhumane and factory-based as it is, with animals getting further and further from nature, stuffed full of chemicals and hormones, and equally far from sun, sky and ground which should be their habitat, like they are for our free-range animals.

Or should I even trust the same industry which has foisted tobacco, salt, sugar, fat and many other abominations on us for the sake of its own profit? Altered the dietary habits of hundreds of millions of people from early childhood to early grave, protected by its powerful lobbyists? Trust it to make an actually healthy substitute for meat on the hoof, claw or fin?

Maybe not. I might be forced to a dietary change in the end, after all.

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with nearly 1800 members, at

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:

Tony Hanmer

30 November 2017 18:23