I know several of you follow my blog seeking information on homesteading and self-sufficiency. So, from time to time, I will offer up some topics in that arena with the hope that they will shed light on how we have dealt with some of them.
Those new to homesteading often have difficulty dealing with “meat issues.” It’s a delicate subject, especially for gentle spirits who view homesteading as being in a somewhat dreamy world of “nature”—free from unpleasant tasks which cause distress. If you were not brought up with the “process” of raising an animal for its food value, it can test your resolve in dealing with what we could call the “morality” of taking a life—albeit an animal’s life—to put food on the table.
I was exposed to this process very early in my childhood, and, even as a four-year-old, it was not unpleasant. My parents were both hunters and saw value in letting me view—if not the actual killing (although that was implied and explained to me)—certainly the butchering process. In fact, I remember my parents buying a half of a steer for beef, from a farm, and apparently they had agreed to be present at the butchering and take part in wrapping the meat the day it was slaughtered. I even remember my dad giving me a bit of an anatomy lesson when the interior of the steer was exposed, showing me the stomach of the animal and explaining that it had four stomachs! I also remember going to the “locker” with my mom. It was a community “freezer” where each person using the locker had a separate key and kept as much meat (and other frozen food) as their individual compartment in the building would allow. Nobody had a “personal freezer” back then. We rented the freezer compartment.
Out here, JOTOLR, we only raise animals that contribute to our process of producing food for ourselves. Even the dogs work with us to foster the food process (and benefit themselves with meat, bones, etc); all the things we do on this farm are a part of the food production process. One look at the movie Food, Inc. and it’s easy to see the benefits of producing our own meat here on the farm. We raise chickens, turkeys, and pork, plus we have an unlimited supply of venison.
In the photographs, at least one of these pigs will be a food item. They have NO names. Naming an animal that is destined to be killed, only makes it harder for us to distance ourselves from that eventuality. So, they are simply the pigs. And have you ever noticed how society has changed the names of animals when they are transformed into food? Deer become venison; turkeys and chicken become poultry; cows and bulls and steers become beef; goats become chevon; pigs become pork; sheep become mutton; lambs become hogget. Re-naming draws a veil of comfort between alive and dead. The animals—after slaughter--are no longer animals, but, instead, become solely an item on the dinner plate.
But perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves, here. Perhaps…the first question to be answered is, “Do we even want to eat meat?” Many people don’t. A homestead can function perfectly well without needing meat. Vegetarianism allows the homesteader to forego having to deal with killing. Of course, purchased meat is also an answer. However, once you’ve seen Food, Inc. I believe you’ll seriously consider either raising your own or becoming a vegetarian!
The next question might be, “If we are going to eat meat, then, who will be taking responsibility for killing and “dressing” it? (an odd term, too, in that skinning an animal is more like Undressing it!)
I’ve always believed that meat consumption equates with personally taking responsibility for the killing and butchering. I own both a rifle and a shotgun and I am a good shot. I know what it’s like to kill a deer, dress it out entirely myself, and preserve the meat; and I do not regard the process as sport. I have skinned and butchered my fair share of traditional food-item animals, and, while I don’t look forward to the process, I have made my peace with it, you might say, and respect and accept it. In my mind, it’s the price of eating meat, and I pay it willingly, knowingly.
If a decision is made not to be involved in the butchering, there are slaughterhouses that offer killing and cutting services for various pricing arrangements. Some require the customer be present for cutting and wrapping; others will do the entire process for the customer, who is only responsible for transporting the live animal to the facility to be killed and processed.
Finally, if you decide you are going to take on the task, there are plenty of books on the subject and how-to of killing and butchering your own meat on your homestead. One of the best we’ve used is published by Morton Salt company. We have been using the book for the past twenty years, and I believe it’s still available directly from Morton Salt Company. Amazon also has a good selection of modestly priced books on home butchering.
It’s not the cheeriest of topics, but as spring comes on and you’re thinking about your upcoming process on the farm, you may be trying to decide what you’ll raise this season. I can vouch for the superb quality of homegrown over store-bought meat, believe me! Not to mention the fact that you'll know where it came from and that, alone will give you peace of mind! There is simply no comparison. Home grown wins hands down! The taste is well worth the effort. If you are squeamish about doing your own butchering, but you have the land to raise your own, or know somebody who does, it might be worthwhile partnering with a neighbor who has both facilities and the wherewithal to help you "raise your own." You may discover--as we have--that by doing it all --or nearly all--yourself, your meat is virtually free.