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Jan 27 / Michael

I could never butcher an animal (or take it to slaughter). I would be too attached, squeamish, etc.

Yes you could.  Honestly, it is not that bad.  On our farm Jamie does the majority of the butchering with Mike providing back-up.  For the poultry, she uses a sharp knife and cuts their throats to bleed them cleanly out before removing their heads and plucking or skinning and gutting.  For the rabbits Mike stuns them by shooting them in the back of the head with an air pistol and then Jamie cuts their throats to bleed them fully and then removes their heads, skins, and guts them.  Both kids (ages 5 and 2) hang out with us and help as they are able.  Jamie did the majority of this year’s butchering while pregnant.  It typically takes about a mornings worth of work start to dispense with either 4-6 turkeys, 10 chickens/ducks, or 15 rabbits.  The first few times you do it, it can be nerve-wracking, but then you get used to it and it becomes a matter of skill and precision.  Yes it is messy, but not smelly or bad or dirty.  It really all smells like blood or wet feathers, which aren’t the most pleasant smells, but are a lot better than many other smells. No one taught us how to do it, we read a few books and watched a few videos on line.  The larger animals are in some ways easier, all you have to do is load them up and take them to the butcher.

As far as being attached to them, we just don’t allow ourselves to be.  We know (all of us, kids included) that some animals are for eating and some are for keeping forever.  We bond with and give affection to our breeding stock and the rest of the animals are treated exceedingly well during their time with us.  I am pretty sure that I have said this before, but the animals are all typically butchered when they are “teenagers”.  Like human teenagers, they can be rude, loud, and very naughty.  Believe me when I say that I feel nothing but relief when we have dispatched a particularly troublesome creature (our Hereford steer being a great example).  These are not pets, they are food.  We have chosen to take the responsibility of dealing with our own feelings about taking their lives as opposed to forcing the animals we eat to live in sub-standard conditions just so we don’t have to think about the fact that the chicken nuggets on our plate were once real live animals that walked and squawked and had to be killed so that we could eat them.

We feel fairly strongly that if you don’t think you personally could take responsibility for the butchering of an animal (either by bringing it to the butcher or doing the butchering yourself) than maybe you shouldn’t be eating meat.  We feel that when you remember that the food you are eating required that an animal had to lose its life, you tend to feel more concern over the living conditions of that animal and therefore you may be more likely to seek out sources of meat in accordance.  That is certainly the path that led us to our farm.

Finally, most domestic breeds of livestock have gone extinct (95% in the US).  There are many fewer types of cow, pig, sheep, chicken, etc than there have ever been since the beginning of animal husbandry.  Most animals in existence today are commercial breeds that require tremendous care and handling to survive.  They cannot breed, or even live outside of the carefully constructed environment of commercial livestock farming.  When the family farms started to disappear, so did the family farm breeds.  We make a point on our farm whenever possible to only raise breeds listed as endangered by the American Livestock Breed Conservancy.  If more people raised, and especially ATE these animals, there would be more demand for them, and they would not be running the risk of becoming extinct.  Furthermore, to ensure that these breeds carry on and improve on their vitality, vigor, etc, it is important to breed them yearly and then ONLY keep the absolute healthiest and best animals to carry on the line.  For example, we have two ewes (female sheep) that just returned from breeding.  They are hopefully bred with their first set of lambs.  We plan to return one out of every four lambs born back to our breeder in exchange for the services of her ram.  Of those, only one out of two or four may be chosen for breeding purposes, meaning that over the reproductive span of one sheep, she may give birth to 10-20 lambs but only a few may be chosen to be bred and carry on the line.  The chances of producing a really healthy offspring worth breeding increases with the number of breedings that occur.  All of those other sheep could become pets, fiber animals, or they could be eaten.  To continue  (and improve upon) any breed of animal, only the best animals should be chosen to breed, they should be bred yearly, and only the best of their offspring (the top one or two animals) should be allowed to carry on the line.  It is our domestic form of “survival of the fittest”.

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    Shayla Sharp / May 24 2011

    Thank you for stating this principle so well.

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