Homesteading

Everything With A Purpose

December 16, 2014
rachel_goatslaughter2_firsttimefarmers

The reality of farming is that everything has a purpose. Everything has a place. When something ceases to have a purpose, well…decisions need to be made.

Warning: I talk about slaughter and butchery and all the emotions and conflict that goes along with it in this post. I don’t recommend reading further if this is something you’re not comfortable with…unless you’re interested in becoming more comfortable with where humanely raised, loved, fed meat comes from. I promise, I’m not gratuitous with actual photos.

I’ve been fortunate enough in my evolution from city to farm that I have a gentleman standing next to me who up until recently could handle “the tough bits”. I’ll be there to help clean up, de-feather, butcher, collect the fat for rendering into lard.

Lately I’ve been feeling much more reflective about my role in recent months. When we had to slaughter the Muscovy drakes that would take over our porch every night like raging frat boys, leaving behind a scene of destruction and far too much poop for us to wash down every morning…I helped. I didn’t put up my usual wall of “Oooh, I don’t think I could.” and I just did.

A couple months before that I accepted an invite to help out with a harvest of chickens at Linnaea Farm. 40+ birds, five member team, an all morning to early afternoon affair. It was the best learning I could ever ask for in the proper evisceration process. Helps to learn from good friends.

Just a few short weeks ago, I branched out from poultry at Horse Drawn Farms, helping with my first rabbit kill. This was the hardest one for me to wrap my mind around at the time. I still hesitate to write this because I have friends with rabbits who I’m genuinely afraid will read this and be too appalled to continue knowing me. But it was a quick, efficient moment and then there was meat. And a beautiful hide. The former made an incredible meal (for all of us – Isla is the connoisseur of fresh animal liver and kidneys), the latter will be something, someday once I’m ready for the next project of learning how to tan a hide.

There’s a common thread in each of these situations.

  1. I was surrounded by friends I trust who I know are kind, respectful and above all else humane human beings.
  2. I did not perform the kill.

I’m not ready for the kill.

I’m learning. I’m new. I’m nervous. I’m not ready -and I’ve had the luxury that not everyone gets to allow myself to become ready – to be responsible for this part of the necessity that is keeping livestock.

Yesterday was the biggest step. Well, two weeks ago when I proactively approached one of our friends, Max and asked for his help to do the deed…I suppose that might have been a big step too. Make the kill. Help walk me through the process of processing.

Yesterday we said goodbye to the boys, Loki and Rollo. For those who have followed my Instagram, you know that these boys were plucky little fellows (Loki our buck, Rollo his brother/companion) who only joined the farm in the Spring. So you  may be wondering why they had to go.

The first reason is one of practicality. Our four Nigerian Dwarf goat girls (well, I think only 3 girls) should be kidding in the next few months. If there are girls…we will likely keep them. Which means we would need to diversify the bloodlines.

The second reason is one of plain old tough choices. We made the decision to let the boys roam with the girls all summer, knowing that this would (a) make it difficult to know when they became pregnant and (b) possibly bond them to the herd…too much. Bucks already have a strong, instinctive will to be around does…so it should come as no surprise that they joyfully ran right through all fencing options we attempted to keep them separate.

Separate because…well, babies are coming. Plus, our barn was smelling goat-y. The bad goat-y, the buck-ish, rutt-y stink that can destroy the quality of your milk in a minute just by sharing the same air space.

No way to keep them at a healthy distance, no point in fooling myself into thinking someone else wants my adorably stinky buck and his bonded brother.

Absolutely no desire to sell them “to a good home” for $10, knowing full well that such a home is really only going to eat them anyway.

 “I believe the place where an animal dies is a sacred one. The ritual could be something very simple, such as a moment of silence. No words, just a moment of silence.” – Temple Grandin

If I’m going to enjoy fresh milk, bliss out on cajeta and cuddle baby goats, I owe these fine young boys an honourable death that I bare more than just witness to. I owe them proper participation in the goodbye. To do my part to make sure we (or someone more resourceful than us) use as much of them as possible, making sure their lives are not wasted by death.

Everything with a purpose.

rachel_goatslaughter_firsttimefarmers

It was difficult. It’s always difficult. I hope it’s never not difficult. This was the most difficult (not the most emotional/sad – that was Blue, our first rooster who I spent two months trying to “train” not to beat our shins and knees with his high kicks), but was also the fourth time in five months I’ve felt like I’m in an environment and undertaking new skills around people who I respect and trust and want to emulate in my own approach to making the right call and following through. With respect. Humbleness. And a greater appreciation for the meat that will nourish us, the hides that will keep us warm (well, let’s be honest…they are dwarf goats…they might keep Isla warm) and the pride that comes with sourcing extra extra local meat.

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10 Comments

  • Reply Leona December 16, 2014 at 5:22 am

    Beautiful, Rachel! You have captured the importance of valuing the sacrifice involved. :)

    • Reply rachel December 16, 2014 at 7:38 am

      Thanks, Leona! That means a lot as a fellow homesteader and blogger. :)

  • Reply Dad December 16, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    Well written and grounded in reality, practicality, and love for one’s surroundings. Well done.

    • Reply rachel December 16, 2014 at 3:59 pm

      Thanks, Dad. :)

  • Reply Lindsay December 16, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    Fantastic post. Woud be interested in hearing more about how you prep yourself for this difficult task. I would like to raise my own meat someday. Do you find that it’s easier to start with poultry and work your way up to bigger animals?

    • Reply rachel December 16, 2014 at 3:58 pm

      Poultry was easier, but more out of function than form. The first time we had to end a life was a very sick chicken who just wasn’t getting better despite our best efforts. I remember feeling a very similar sense of last minute panic a few seconds before “it happened”, as I held her and Scott steadied the axe, that I did on Sunday. After that first time, and the next time where I had to admit that my handsome rooster was never going to be the solid citizen I wanted him to be…it did get a little bit easier. Not easy, but you at least have a better sense of what to expect. My biggest recommendation is feel as confident as you can about the people around you. When we took care of the ducks a little while ago we were commenting for days about how positive everyone felt. It’s still a hard process, but made much more….I’m struggling with the right word…fulfilling or rewarding aren’t right. Easier to accept? Respectful.

      I do think you have to be honest with yourself about how comfortable you feel getting to know the animals destined for this fate. We choose to name, love and occasionally anthropomorphize our livestock. Scott was giving his pigs back scratches every morning and every night. I tried to calm the skittish nerves of Loki and Rollo (who just hadn’t been handled enough as kids) for a couple months when we first got them home. It’s a much more fun day to day life for us to love them, but it does make that time period between setting the date and doing the job all the more rife with lots of conflicting emotions – and occasionally unrealistic rationalizations about not going through with it. I cried hardest on Saturday night.

      Hope that helps!

  • Reply kirsten December 17, 2014 at 5:48 am

    Even after 13 years of working with and caring for animals, and slaughtering them as well,I am proud to say it is never easy, and I echo the sentiment that it should never be easy. I also feel that it is important to remember that as we gather together with people we trust and can learn from in the act of respectful slaughter I strongly advocate that no one should be a spectator in the act of death. All witnessing need to be participating. That may mean getting your hands dirty before you feel ready, and like all tough, meaningful and transformative things in life, there is no ready, rather the act of showing up, participating in this final stage and with respect and the awareness.

    • Reply rachel December 17, 2014 at 6:13 am

      I couldn’t love this comment anymore. It affirms my instinct to stay inside with the bean while the pigs were slaughtered in the Spring, not just because gunshots/1 month olds…not a great mix. There’s no being there for “moral support”…you’re an active participant or you’re not there. Excellent addition to this ‘moral code’ I’m trying to piece together – I agreed before I could pinpoint that as a thing.

  • Reply Paskalini February 9, 2015 at 11:36 am

    This was a wonderful blog. Bryan(my other half) and I have been reading, thinking, and talking extensively about this exact topic. It good to know that others out there experience the same feelings of unreadiness, sadness, and respect for the animals. We go back and forth as to whether or not there will be such animals on our farm or if we will strictly be farming in the interest of fiber only animals. Only time will tell I suppose. Thank you for sharing :)

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