Lately, I’ve had people telling me that they couldn’t do what we do, in terms of raising our own meat. They hear or read about us raising our pigs or turkeys, and then say that they couldn’t feed and care for animals and then slaughter and eat them. Or, if they could, they say they couldn’t talk to those animals and treat them with any affection or emotion and then eat them. I am assuming the implied question is how we’re able to do it, and that’s what I’m addressing here in today’s post. I’m not asking you to change yourself, but to hear me out so that you can better understand our standpoint, even if you don’t share it as your own. Be warned: some of this gets kind of existential.
If you had asked me five years ago, heck, maybe even just three years ago, whether or not I could participate in the daily raising of an animal that I knew I was going to eat, I likely would have quoted Booga from Tank Girl and responded with a “Totally negatory.” I didn’t grow up on a farm. Neither did George. This was all new to us – even eating eggs from our own birds or drinking milk from our goat herd were novel experiences at first. And, well, those are also the sort of adventures that helped transform our thinking on the subject of raising animals for meat. We had to ask ourselves, if we are concerned enough about the welfare of the animals producing eggs and milk for our family that we are willing to become personally immersed in caring for them on a day to day basis, why would we – frankly – not also care enough about the animals whose bodies we’re going to consume, feeling compelled to take responsibility for the quality of their lives?
I mean, let’s face it, it is impractical, given our circumstances, and, well – reality – to expect that we can raise 100% of the food that we consume. But if we can raise at least some of it – that results in a better life for those animals, and we are more connected to the life cycle. We are also putting higher quality food on our own plates. Another benefit that I have personally found to be true: it’s far more difficult for me to deal with the idea of waste when it involves an animal we raised ourselves versus some anonymous package of meat from a supermarket that is completely disconnected from the animal who provided it. I’m not trying to suggest that the animals raised in industrial factory conditions are worth less – not hardly. But they are treated by the system much more poorly than those raised in a setting like ours here on our farm – and to be blunt, it’s much easier to slip into a wasteful mentality with food produced under those conditions, because you weren’t personally involved with it, and more importantly, it is treated as a commodity by everyone else. I mean, I try not to be wasteful, no matter what. But when you knew your food personally, versus something you bought in a package at the store, you feel much more inclined to honor that life that you were so intimately involved in raising.
When we raise animals here on the farm for our own consumption – that means they are spared the fate of possibly being raised in conditions where there is less or even no concern about their welfare. That seems far preferable to us, because ultimately, one way or another, these animals are being raised as food. We’d rather give them a life worth living while they are alive. I’d rather know the animal personally and know that it had a good life. I have more of an issue with not knowing.
“How do you avoid getting emotionally attached?” we are often asked. Well, I personally say that there has to be some degree of emotional attachment. There simply has to be, if you are going to care enough to provide that animal with a happy life while it is under your guardianship. Otherwise, it would make us no different than massive industrial operations where the individual animal is just considered a profit unit to be sustained.
But it’s definitely not the same level of attachment that we share with our dog or any other house pet. These aren’t pets – we know that they will spend a finite span of time with us. I mean, that’s reflected in the fact that most of them aren’t even given proper names. For instance, the flock of heritage turkeys we are raising just get referred to as “Turkey Lurkey(s),” or if they are giving us grief, “Jerkey(s).” Our pigs do have individual names, but it should be abundantly clear from those that Hamantha and Baconetta have a particular purpose around here. So we just have a different frame of mind about the animals who will become meat than the ones who are kept long-term for other purposes. I can’t explain how you build those walls, but you just do. At least, that’s how we’ve done it, and we know that other small farmers have expressed similar sentiments.
Our seven year old son has a healthy attitude about this subject. When we raised the Pekin duck flock earlier this Spring as meat ducks, he was fully aware of that being their purpose. He even helped us load the birds into cages to go to the processor, and didn’t shed a tear. He knows the difference, and is OK with it. We were just very frank with him about why we were raising the ducks, and he knew not to get attached.
Even if you can’t fathom doing it right now, remember, neither could many of us before we actually did it. Once you establish a more direct relationship with your food, by raising an animal to slaughter especially, it just changes how you want to eat. You actually prefer if you raised the meat on your plate, because then, you know. You just know. How it lived, how it died, and the role you played in all of it. And you would be amazed how that knowledge actually brings comfort instead of conflict. And more than that, gratitude. We are grateful for the role these animals play in nourishing us after we have nurtured them.
I’m not expecting to change anyone’s mind about whether they can do it. But I am hoping that those who have asked “how can you?” have gained a better understanding from reading my thoughts here.