“How can you eat animals you raise and care for on a daily basis for weeks and even months? Isn’t it hard? How can you kill and butcher an animal? Isn’t it sad? How do you keep yourself from getting attached to meat animals? How can you have some animals for meat and others not? Does it bother you when you eat meat from an animal you can put a face to?” These are a number of questions I receive quite often when people find out about our lifestyle, so I figured I would go into a little detail about this.
To start off, everyone has different ideas on eating meat or not eating meat, how animals are raised, and how animals are treated. This is just based on what we do and our beliefs on the matter!
We started raising our own meat a few years ago when we still lived in the suburbs… yes it can be done and I highly recommend it. We already had backyard chickens for eggs… but wanted to take the next step and actually start raising some of our own meat. (By the way, our backyard chickens were totally not allowed by our city’s code. But fortunately we had great neighbors who were all ok with it, we checked with them first…. We also always gave our neighbors eggs and produce from our garden pretty regularly. And if we were ever caught and had to get rid of our chickens, we had a few people who were willing to take them.) Anyways, we decided to start raising meat rabbits. Since we just had a small suburban backyard, we were pretty limited on what kind of animals we could raise for meat. But since rabbits didn’t take up much space, were quiet, and were a “normal” suburban animal, we knew they would be perfect. I’ll never forget the first time we butchered our first batch of young meat rabbits… it was the first time I had ever killed an animal. There were so many emotions and thoughts, but I will go into more of that later on. So March of last year we finally bought land, read about that story here. We knew that with more land we would have a lot more options of animals to raise for meat. Before we moved, we decided to sell the breeding pair of rabbits we had. I truly appreciate and will forever cherish the lessons and opportunities that those meat rabbits provided us. They taught us a lot about raising animals, killing, butchering, and life in general… They also helped us realize what we truly wanted in life… to homestead and be more self-sufficient.
So now that we have 13 acres and significantly less code restrictions to deal with, we have begun raising all kinds of animals for meat purposes. Nic and I eat meat, and love meat… so in order to be more self-sustainable (and tons of other reasons too), we try to raise our own meat. So far this year, we have raised, butchered, and ate our own pigs, chickens and turkeys. We are also currently raising a meat lamb, meat goat, more meat pigs, and still have meat turkeys left that will all get butchered and eaten later on this year.
The questions above are in relation to how we deal with the emotional aspects that goes along with raising animals for meat. However, to be able to answer those questions, I need to first discuss why we raise animals for meat…
Here are some reasons why we raise our own meat:
-Ethics: Nic and I are animal lovers, ask anyone that knows us, we’ve loved animals since we were old enough to even realize what they are. I believe that animal lovers make the best meat farmers… that might seem strange and contradictory to you, but really think about it. An animal lover that eats meat can raise meat more ethically and humanely… from the animal’s day to day care of feeding and watering to the last seconds of its life come slaughter day. A real animal lover makes sure that their meat animal always receives food, fresh water, adequate space and maybe even some head rubs from time to time. As an animal lover, I want my meat animals to be happy everyday of their life, and when slaughter day comes, for it to go as quickly and humanely as possible; which is what we do. Animals that are raised in commercial operations are not raised or slaughtered humanely. In order for me to really know if the meat I consume is being raised the way they should be, I have to either buy from a local small farmer who raises their animals ethically (and is willing to show you), or raise them myself. I figure, for every animal we raise ourselves, that’s one more animal that doesn’t need to undergo commercial torture farming. It may not seem like it will make much of a difference, but if everyone started buying more meat from their local ethical small farmers or raised some meat themselves, big changes would be made! If you are curious to learn more about this, here are some documentaries that I have watched that I think are great: If you want to see how animals are raised in modern commercial farms, watch Food, Inc. If you want to see some great farms that are making a positive difference, watch Revolution:Food.
-We love animals: Just as I mentioned above, Nic and I love animals, all kinds of animals. So raising meat animals is a no-brainer for us. We have all kinds of animals in our life, some for eggs, some for milk, some for working, and others just for companionship. Meat animals are also included… even though they are destined for the freezer, we still like caring for them and just enjoy having them around.
-Health: The animals we raise for meat are not injected with hormones and antibiotics. Our meat animals also live in very clean and healthy environments. Our animals are and will be slaughtered and butchered right here on the farm by us, or by a local butcher. Therefore, our animals are not packed into small crates or shoots, sent hundreds of miles to a large commercial butcher, and processed with a bunch of other possibly contaminated meat. If our animals were sick we would know it because we don’t raise thousands at a time, so we can actually spend time with them, we know their normal behavior, and could spot sickness right away. Also, the meat is healthier… take our pastured chickens for example. Once our chicks arrive at 2-3 days old, they are raised outside with fresh air and dirt to peck and scratch at. At around 3-4 weeks (depending on the weather), they are moved to their movable chicken tractor that is out on our pasture. Once here they are moved daily or every other day to a new patch of grass, weeds, dirt, bugs, etc. and get sunshine and fresh air 24/7. That’s how it’s supposed to be… the most natural and healthy way. We also feed them a certified organic chicken feed. The chickens are happy and healthy, and I truly believe that this wellness transfers into the meat, and therefore the meat we consume is healthier and more nourishing.
-Greater purpose: We raise animals because we feel that it’s part of our purpose to do so, we feel that God has called us to this lifestyle. We’ve spent years learning about raising our own meat animals and have prayed regularly for God to lead us. We trusted in God to show us our purpose, and so far, all roads have led to this way of life, and we don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Since the beginning of time, God has designed man to care for animals… Genesis 1:26 says -Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” God uses the Shepherd as an analogy throughout the Bible to show how he is our Shepherd and we are the sheep, and he guides us through life. Isaiah 40:11 says “Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, in His arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.” We enjoy raising and caring for our own “flocks”, just as shepherds did during Biblical times.
-Self-sufficiency/Real-life skills: A pig part of homesteading is learning real-life skills and being able to do things on your own. Providing for our own meat is a big part of our homestead being more self-sufficient. Since we raise a lot of our own meat, we don’t have to rely on buying as much meat from the store or from other people. We do have to rely on other farmers to acquire the animals, such as our feeder pigs. But other animals on our homestead could provide their own meat. For example, we have roosters, so we can hatch chicks, any extra roosters from those chicks can be butchered. Same with our goats, we have a male goat, so we can have endless goat kids to raise up and butcher as well. Raising our own meat animals has also taught us extremely valuable real-life skills. We know how to raise a wide-variety of animals and we know how to slaughter, butcher, and prepare them for the table. It makes me proud to know that I have taught myself something that only a small handful of people in our country this day and age know how to do…. And I know this because if a lot of people slaughtered and butchered their own animals, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post!… lol
-Prepping/SHTF: These same skills I mentioned above would really come in handy if a “Shit Hits the Fan” scenario happens. In a SHTF scenario, we could either continue to raise our own meat, depending on the situation, or we could hunt for, kill, skin, gut, and eat wild animals without hesitation. That means we have a significantly higher chance of survival. I highly recommend that everyone learn how to properly and safely kill, slaughter and butcher an animal… it could mean your survival! If anyone local wants to learn, we are always willing to take helpers on chicken slaughter days, we can walk you through the whole thing! Contact me if you are interested.
-Money: We try to stick to a strict food budget, but we still want to eat food that was sustainably, humanly and organically raised when possible, which usually means more money. Therefore, raising our own meat animals is a more affordable way for us to eat this healthier high quality meat. Our dollars per pound are going directly to us (minus feed costs, etc.), rather than to someone else. Another way it’s more affordable is when we raise meat animals, we raise extras for other people. The additional animals we raise usually makes up or gets close to making up for the costs of the meat we keep and put in our freezer. By no means do we “make” money on them, as I said above, it usually just helps cover the costs for our personal meat. At least for now :)
-Connection/Appreciation: I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it… “The most connected you will ever feel to your food is when you raise it up, feed and care for it daily, meticulously butcher it, then share it as a meal with your loved ones.” It’s an emotional experience, but good emotional. I feel that I changed after I ate the first animal I raised and slaughtered myself, the world finally came into perspective, the circle of life per se… I now really know and fully appreciate where my food comes from and what has to happen in order for it to land on my plate. I’m wholly aware now, and I have the utmost respect and gratitude for the animal that had to die in order for me to sustain.
Those are all reasons we raise our own meat. In the last section I discussed some emotional connection to the experience, which brings me to answer the real questions at hand… how we deal with the emotional aspects that go along with raising animals for meat.
Circling back to the beginning, I will answer some of the common questions I receive:
How can you eat animals you raise and care for on a daily basis for weeks and even months? Isn’t it hard? -YES it’s hard, there’s nothing “easy” about it. If it was easy I think there would be something wrong with me. However, since I did raise and care for the animal every single day, I know how it was raised; I know it lived a good and happy life, which makes it so much easier to deal with some slaughter day. All the reasons I mentioned above about why I raise my own meat… these reasons all make it easier.
How can you kill and butcher an animal? Isn’t it sad? –Yes it’s sad; however it’s a part of life. Unless you are a vegetarian, the meat you eat every day comes from an animal… which has to be killed by someone. That someone is just me instead of a stranger. It makes it easier to cope with knowing that the animal was happy up until the last second, and then was killed quickly and humanely. Slaughter day isn’t a fun day. Once our slaughter day is done, we have this heaviness weighing on our chests, we are so tired, a tired we never experienced until now… it’s a feeling of being mentally, physically, and emotionally drained all at the same time. It’s sad, but it does get easier with time.
How do you keep yourself from getting attached to meat animals? –Most of the meat animals that we raise come to us for the very purpose of being raised up and then slaughtered for meat. In my mind, that’s all their purpose was, and no I don’t appreciate or respect them any less, but that’s just how it is. We don’t allow ourselves to get attached, or allow ourselves to even think that there’s a chance that these animals could be kept as a “pet.” One exception to this is our Boer goat Betty, we bought two Boer goats for meat purposes, however, “Betty” is now being kept as a breeder… this didn’t happen because we were weak, just happened to be that we were already thinking about possibly keeping one to use as a breeder and she happened to be really friendly, perfect. I can be around these animals every day, I pet them, they get excited to see me, etc… however, there is always this emotional wall up that keeps my emotional attachment in check. It’s not always easy, I have to be strong, I have to work at it, be intentional about it, and all in all it just takes time too; time to almost “get good at it.”
How can you have some animals for meat and others not? –Having other “none meat” animals actually makes it easier! Knowing that I have other animals to great me tomorrow morning makes slaughter day that much less depressing. Setting up boundaries is what we have done. Nic and I have agreed upon which animals will not be eaten. However, even with that there’s a catch. Say we were in a SHTF scenario, you bet we would some butcher animals we previously deemed as none meat animals, such as a dairy goat. Yes it would be a last resort, but if it had to happen it could…. Or another example is some of our animals have names. A rule of thumb is… don’t name animals you plan on eating, which we generally don’t do. However , some of our animals have names, either because we like that particular animal (puts it more in the pet category), a nickname based on appearance, or naming it just makes it easier to discern what particular animal were referring to. For example, we refer to our Boer meat goat as “Horny” because she has horns, whereas our other Boer goat doesn’t have horns. Does that make me attached to her? No. Or if one of our named roosters turned evil, I could eat them too. Now, for example, our hen Dixie, from our original three hens we started out with, she’s a keeper, and we wouldn’t eat her… But this is all stuff Nic and I have discussed and agreed upon, so neither of us would be upset if it came down to it. But knowing what you’re getting into ahead of time and setting those boundaries and emotional walls are very important.
Does it bother you when you eat meat from an animal you can put a face to? No. And actually I feel that knowing the animal makes me appreciate its life more. Since I knew that animal, I knew how it lived, it was happy and healthy, and I know what it took to get it to my plate. If anything, with all the hard work put into raising that particular animal, it tastes that much better!
I hope this brings to light the why and the how we raise our own meat animals. If you have any more questions about it or are interested in raising or butchering some meat animals, feel free to reach out to me!