We have been on Real Food journey for several years now and have gotten used to growing our own food, both plants and animals. We enjoy fresh vegetables from our garden, blackberries from our bushes and fruit from our trees.
We love the fresh eggs from our laying hens.
We also raise and slaughter our own pigs, cattle and chickens for meat.
“Wait. Gardening and egg-collecting is all well and good but you kill and eat your own animals? How could you?!”
Let me take your hand and lead you down our path.
Since about the 1950’s here in the U.S., throughout the baby boomers’ generation, more and more people have moved closer to cities and further away from the sources of their food. As a result, children have grown up thinking that meat comes from the grocery store or from a cute box in pieces called “nuggets”.
Many people nowadays tend to a) think of all animals as pets and/or b) think it’s mean or cruel to kill animals for any reason. These very modern beliefs have caused some stunned looks when we tell people that we kill and eat our own animals but the reality is that raising livestock for food used to be the norm, not the exception. It was routine for my great grandmothers to go out to the chicken coop in the afternoon, grab a chicken, kill it, pluck it, and cook it or dinner. I’m willing to bet that your great-grandmother at least knew how to kill and prepare a chicken even if she never did it herself. Your mother might have, too – ask her!
So, why do we do it when we can so easily buy our meat from somewhere else? How can we raise an animal from birth to adulthood and then kill it? Doesn’t it scar the kids?
Everyone who knows me knows that I love animals. I wanted to be a veterinarian for most of my childhood and ended up with a degree in biology and history. It may be surprising to some, then, that my love of animals is actually in harmony with raising animals for food. I feel good about raising, killing and eating our own animals for these reasons:
1. These are skills that should not be forgotten. My ancestors would be appalled if I could go back in time and tell them that, in the 21st century, people just buy their meat from big boxes that sell chunks of it wrapped in plastic that they get from gigantic “factory farms” hundreds of miles away from where they live. Preparing living things to be eaten is a basic life skill essential to survival and it is shameful that only a (relatively) few people are preserving that knowledge here in the U.S., especially considering that we have lost those skills in less than three generations. I like knowing that I can feed my family in the event of a natural disaster or other catastrophe and it is very important to my husband and me to pass this knowledge down to our children. They have watched and helped us butcher pigs and chickens and they found it interesting, not scary or gross.
2. The quality is far better than store-bought meat. Once I had pork from our own pigs I never went back to store-bought pork. The meat is red and rich and actually has a flavor, unlike that pale grocery-store pork. Grass-fed beef from our own pasture simply cannot be compared to store-bought beef. I love serving our friends and family our own meat when they come to visit because the taste is truly exceptional and I have complete confidence that those animals ate only their natural diet while they were alive.
3. I know how the animals lived. Have you watched any of those disturbing documentaries about how animals are treated in those factory farms? They live in insanely crowded and unnatural conditions, are fed rations designed solely to fatten them up during their short lives and many never see the sun or grass. They are treated more like objects than animals. I can’t stand watching baby chicks being dumped out of bins like tennis balls. The animals that live with us are kept healthy and allowed to be happy. Chickens get to take dust baths and chase bugs. Pigs get to play in the mud. Cows get to…break stuff? The point is that our animals live full lives and are allowed to grow the way nature intended.
4. I know how the animals died. When we kill a chicken, the most suffering it has to endure is being a little annoyed that he has been picked up (but no more than any other time we pick him up). The slaughterhouse that we sometimes use for our larger animals kills them quickly and humanely. This is important to me – I have taken care of these animals, in most cases, from the time they were babies and I do not want their happy lives to end in suffering. I get sick to my stomach when I think about how factory farms kill their chickens after their miserable lives…it’s part of the reason we don’t eat much chicken.
5. It teaches my children about life. The lives of some animals must end to sustain the lives of others. We were designed to eat meat and we are to use the animals God gave us to nourish our bodies. Not every animal makes a good pet – chickens poop everywhere, cows are gigantic and destructive, pigs squish everything they lay on – and it’s good for my children to see that every animal has its place. Keeping food animals also teaches my children about the harmony of nature and about the circle of life – we are all part of a grand design. It also teaches them, in a very tangible way, about the value of life – when they are eating an animal that they raised and knew, they don’t waste a bite.
“But how can you just kill them? Aren’t you attached to them? Don’t you love them?”
In a way, yes, I do love them. I have protected and nurtured them for most of their lives. However, let’s look at three other ways their lives might end:
1. They could be attacked by a predator. Coyotes, bobcats, foxes, even hawks and owls are a problem where we live. Coyotes will occasionally kill small livestock if they are hungry enough and just about anything will eat a chicken if it gets a chance. I have personally witnessed chickens being attacked by dogs, hawks, snakes and even one really mean pig and, let me tell you, it’s ugly. There is panic. There is suffering. Sometimes the bird is eaten alive. It’s a horrible way to go.
2. They could die from disease. Again, not pretty. There may not be panic but there is certainly suffering.
3. They could be killed by accidents. This is awful to watch but it does happen. I once tried to resuscitate a little hen that had gotten stuck under a fallen piece of metal but she didn’t make it. We lost several chicks one night during a big storm that knocked out the electricity to their heat lamp and flooded their house. These things are sad and seem like such a waste of life but they do happen. Again, the animals suffer.
Considering these alternatives, I would choose a quick, painless death every time. Besides that, the animals’ bodies are not wasted – they are used to nourish my family and we always thank God for the animal’s life before we eat it.
We are very blessed to live in a place where we can grow so much of our own food and I understand that the thought of killing your own animals may not be immediately palatable for many people. I hope, though, that I’ve shed some light on why this is important to us and how it enriches our lives.
Do you have experience to share about eating your own animals? Is it something you would consider?