This is a post I have been mulling over for months now. As we try to define our homesteading and lifestyle goals the topic of raising our own meat has been at the forefront of our minds. Do we want to raise our own meat? Do I want to slaughter the animals we have fed, tended to, and pet ? If we do decide to raise our own meat do we want to butcher them ourselves or take them to a slaughterhouse? If I am so uncomfortable with what meat is then should I perhaps give it up altogether?
I love having and tending to animals. There is something so sweetly quiet about the walk to the chicken coop; everything silenced by the freshly fallen snow; the dog racing to the coop and back again in an effort to hasten my pace; the cooing and clucking they welcome me with. I would love to reconnect with the natural rhythm of animals and seasons. I dream of having a couple sheep for wool to spin, bees for honey and good conversation, a Flemish Giant rabbit and a goat for a few good laughs, more chickens for eggs and meat, and and cow for milk. It all sounds romantic and homey when I say it like that doesn’t it? But the reality is much more involved, complicated, and, for me, tortured. The biggest thing being that a milk cow needs to have a calf each year in order to produce milk. Do we sell or eat the sweet calf? Romance gone.
I was raised in a family of lifelong responsible and respectable farmers and hunters and, yet, I have always struggled with eating meat. Always. I feel guilty when I question whether or not we should be entitled to eat meat or not as it puts my father’s livelihood into question and that makes me uncomfortable. Even still, I can never quite disconnect from the fact that this beautiful creature died so I could eat it. I imagine their fear and wonder what went through their minds in that last moment. I wonder if their family misses them. We dabbled in vegetarianism for about 9 months, but we did it in an unhealthy and unsustainable way. We were unprepared as we had been raised eating meat at nearly every meal.
That being said, I don’t want to give up meat again. I just don’t. I do, however want to eat meat that was given room to roam, the ability to form natural bonds with other animals and the humans who cared for them. In the words of Michael Pollan “…meat that had a really good life and one bad day…”.
We have gradually and permanently cut out conventionally raised meat and buy our organic, grass fed beef and pork from my father and step-mom’s farm. When we run out, we simply eat meatless meals until we can get a visit in to their farm again. We don’t have an affordable source for chicken so we don’t eat it.
So begins the conversation of starting into chickens for meat. This would mean buying a larger number of mixed sex day old chicks, raise them, and then either take the roosters to the butcher, or do the butchering ourselves. I would be more comfortable with sending them away for processing, but is it about me or about the chickens? Can I justify the stressful trip to a scary new place so that I feel better? I eat meat and, therefore, am responsible for the death of an animal whether it is by my hands or someone else’s hands.
We recently were present when our friend Andrew slaughtered one of their own pigs. For some reason it sounds more brutal when you say you slaughter your own animals, but their pig had a sweet little life and had no idea what her day would hold. There was no stressful loading into a trailer, long trip to the butcher, unloading in unfamiliar surroundings nor an anxious wait. She followed Andrew and the bucket of food up the hill where she began gobbling her feed and with a single shot she left this world peacefully and quickly.
I have not yet made up my mind with regards to who will be doing the processing, but we have decided to take the plunge and raise some chickens for meat. Running an old age home for old laying hens isn’t sustainable. Rather than dying and having the tough meat going to waste they will feed our family and revive the respect, connection, and reality of eating meat. It is not a decision I have taken lightly nor is it one I am entirely comfortable with, but I am willing to push my own boundaries for the sake of learning and reconnecting. This isn’t a topic most people are not comfortable with, but if you’re eating meat and have no intention of stopping, it is time to get comfortable with where it comes from.
Have you struggled with these same feelings? What was your solution? Is this a path you’re heading down yourself? I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences so please feel free to share in the comments.
A friend shared a really great video with a very graphic, very respectful how to video. It is two parts so make sure you find both if you want more after the first. She is very sweet and makes the process seem like a doable process of life as a homesteader.
go gently + be wonderful