Monday, March 22, 2010

To Kill or Not to Kill....

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.


  1. I'm an old softie at heart and often wish I had the strenth of will to be a vegetarian but I'm not. And where do you draw the line? Milk products are only available because cows are put in calf and then what happens, the male calves killed at birth and the females raised to continue the cycle. In the UK it is illeagal to kill and butcher animals anywhere except at a lisenced abbatoir. As regulations and official insepection fees become more onerous small local abbatoirs are closing down resulting in stock having to be transported long distances (12 hours is not unusual). The government still has not banned the live export of meat to Europe which causes great cruelty. We used to buy 1/4 of a pig raised free range at a farm 1 mile away and slaughtered only a couple of miles away. Then feed got so expensive the farmer could no longer raise pigs, and the nearest abbatoir is over an hour away. The best I can do now, (not being able to afford local farm shops), is to make sure that all the meat we buy is at least British raised to Freedon Food standards. And of course when the hens stop laying I only buy free range eggs.

  2. Very nice post. Food Inc. was one of the movies I was going to lend to you over the long snowy winter, but our plans fell through (due to weather) for the seed swap. I think it should be mandatory viewing for everyone.

    Speaking of killing and processing animals, I am still enjoying the 25 Cornish Rock crosses that we raised in the late summer (and plan to do it again this summer). In fact, I just put a bird in the oven about thirty minutes ago after marinating in a ginger sesame seed sauce for most of the day. Not sure if I mentioned it or not but we let several of our hens hatch some eggs over the late summer and ended up with a few dozen more chickens, about half of which were roosters. They were all Buff Orpington and Buff Orpington/Black Australorpe crosses. Once they matured and started giving my hens a hard time I put them in the freezer too. Although the birds were quite a bit smaller than those Cornish Rock crosses, they are still tasty and make great chicken soup or chicken and dumplings.

    It is unbelievable what Ruta said about it being against the law in the U.K. to butcher your own animal. How could the people let that happen? I would hope that the rural folk here in the U.S. would stand up to any such government abuse of power.

  3. You're still trying to get me to raise chickens and cows over here, aren't you. You're so subtle! Heh. Seriously, the killing part of raising livestock is absolutely the part that keeps me from making more of a push in that direction. Laying hens eventually need to be killed, and while my parents both knew how to kill a chicken, they certainly never taught me.

    Read someone else's blog today about a book called "Kitchen Literacy." Sounds like it's right up our alley.

    Love the new header photo. LOVE IT!

  4. I remember as a little girl going to my "aunt and uncle's" (a respectful title, not a blood relative) to butcher the pigs. I remember the killing and the scalding and the hanging...all the details...and wasn't repulsed at all. I knew it was food just as I knew the chickens we ate there had once run around in the yard. My only regret is that I didn't learn the ins and outs and didn't get to continue that lifestyle. blessings, marlene