Posts Tagged by Death
|December 5, 2013||Posted by Issa under Homesteading|
When you have a sick or injured animal, it’s even harder for me because the decision isn’t so clear cut.
Is the animal going to get better? Can you go all out to save it? Or is it suffering too much or too far gone and you need to kill it?
If you decide to kill too soon, you’re wasting life and not putting in the effort your animals deserve. If you wait too long you’re just committing the animal to unneeded suffering which they also don’t deserve.
It’s a harsh place to try to find a balance.
Five days ago, Joshua noticed we had a limping, stumbling chicken. He was having trouble keeping up with the rest of the flock.
Four days ago we cooped the chicken. Our birds normally free range, but we have a coop. We put him up so he could be protected, warm, and have nearby, reliable food and water. Joshua also made an epsom salt and molasses mix. There were no obvious injuries on the chicken. Maybe he could recover from a mild injury or sickness.
Three days ago the chicken was almost entirely immobile, just sitting in its own waste. We moved him to clean bedding. It seemed he hadn’t touched the food and water, but he still had spunk and put up a fuss when handled.
Two days ago I crash-coursed on possible problems. Crop bound? No. Stuck egg? No. I settled on Marek’s disease as a probable diagnosis due to the way the chicken’s legs had acted. Marek’s is untreatable. It was also obvious that the bird wasn’t eating or drinking at all.
Yesterday I briefly considered beginning a hand-feeding routine, but with the probability of the Marek’s diagnosis that would be a sad futile game. I knew I needed to kill this chicken, but I procrastinated by debating killing methods. Joshua is out of town now, and waiting until he returned would be cowardly.
This morning I killed my chicken. Broomstick method.
Dylan helped me dig the hole for burying the bird. He was watching as I killed it. He inexplicably started saying “Happy! Happy! Happy!” Thinking I might be mishearing, I said, “You think the chicken is happy?” “Yes!” he declared, perhaps because of all the flapping that accompanies the death of a chicken. I said, “He’s dead now. Let’s go bury him.”
And so another generation of life begins to learn about death.
|March 1, 2013||Posted by Issa under Homesteading|
On January 13th, one of our ewes, Big Mama, gave birth to two lambs, a ram and a ewe. It was cold and rainy, but we try not to baby our animals so we didn’t do anything extra other than make sure they had plenty of drinking water and corn.
The next morning, the ewe baby was stuck hanging upside down from the hay feeder. Who knows how long she had hung that way. Once I rescued her, she was unable to walk on her own and Big Mama wasn’t interested in her. We brought her into the house and started bottle feeding her. A few hours later she was fine. Her inability to walk may have been her legs just gone numb from being constricted. We put her back outside, she and mama went back to nursing, and all was well.
The next morning, both of the lambs were dead. Our best guess is that it was simply too cold and wet for Big Mama to keep them well. It had been raining for quite awhile. We were pretty upset.
A couple of days later our other ewe, Mary, gave birth to two lambs, a ram and a ewe. We went all out to keep them warm. We opened up their enclosure so that it contained the pig shed for shelter, we made them a big bed of dry straw, and we even hung a warming light. And we got the babies sweaters!
We were determined to have these lambs live. And they did.
We were planning to keep both of these lambs. It’s considered acceptable to inbreed one generation – related ewe lamb to ram in our case – but it would certainly be even more ideal to have no shared genetics. Joshua had the awesome idea to put up a Craigslist ad looking for a one-to-one trade with someone else’s ewe lamb. Surely someone out there was in the same situation, and sure enough. Someone replied, and in a couple of weeks when our ewe lamb is fully weaned, we’ll be trading for someone else’s ewe.
The ram lamb is now ball-less, making him a whether instead of a ram. We’ve named him Buddy since his purpose in life is to be a companion to Buck.
The lambs are growing fast. You can see them here on top of the hay with their mother, Mary.
|January 10, 2012||Posted by Issa under Homesteading|
I think my experience of life and death in food production is more like a seesaw of life than a “circle of life”.
In Barnward Irony, Gene Logsdon talks about his troubles trying to keep broilers alive in the heat – a problem we had at The Wallow in 2011, our first year raising broilers.
We are in a record-breaking heat wave as I write this, and as we are learning, these broilers have very little stamina in adversity. The first one to keel over from 98 degree heat we carried out into the airy woodland shade, dunked its head in water, sprinkled water all over it in fact, did what we could to lower its temperature… Seeing that it was going to die, we butchered the poor thing. Then we connived various ways to get more air into the coop. You might think that would be fairly simple, but we have no electricity to the barn (on purpose) and heat is not our only public enemy right now. Foxes have been carrying off hens regularly so I dare not open the coop doors and let everything run outdoors all the time like usual. Carol found an old screen door for the broiler side of the coop and on the other side I let the hens out in the afternoon despite fox danger. This resulted in a freer flow of air through the coop but it meant that I had to stand guard or make regular trips to the coop on fox patrol.
And then a friend points out that one day he’s putting all this great effort into keeping the chickens alive, and then the next day he’s killing the chickens. Meat production is like that. A back and forth between caring greatly about the lives of animals and then enjoying greatly their purposeful deaths.
I’m reminded of the two posts Joshua made after Jeebus died this summer, which are worth a re-read – Another Dead Animal and State of The Wallow Update: July 16, 2011 (FUCK IT ALL!).
We’re going into the winter now, where our relationship to the outside is much less hectic, nothing will die on purpose, and most likely no one will die on accident.
But it’s good to remember that it’s a seesaw.
Edit: I wrote this post last week and then scheduled it to post this week. I spoke too soon. Over the weekend, our silkie rooster was killed by (mostly likely) a hawk. It’s sad when an animal dies unexpectedly. I hope the rest of the chickens stay safe.
“The Silkie” was the neatest of all the 2011 chicks. He was a gift from our friend Kitty, and he seemed to have a personality. I loved watching him.
He was hesitant as he grew. This is the first day the chicks got let out of the coop to free-range, and he was the last to leave the coop. We didn’t know he was a rooster yet. It would be a few weeks still until he let out a cock-a-doodle-do and we knew for sure.
It’s been fun watching The Silkie run around the yard, run to keep up with the other chickens, try so hard to hop up on things, and crow so exuberantly in the mornings. I’m going to miss him.
|December 11, 2011||Posted by Issa under Parenting|
I’ve started looking into cosleeping in the wake of the Milwaukee anti-cosleeping billboards. I said to a friend recently that there’s something fucked up in Milwaukee to have caused all of their recent deaths, so that’s where I started in my research: what the fuck is happening in Milwaukee?
I started with the 2010 City of Milawukee Fetal Infant Mortality Review (FIMR) Report.
It’s immediately apparent that Milwaukee has an abysmal infant death rate, which is sharply divided by race and location. That report breaks out two zipcodes, their racial makeup, and their death rate for 2008. One zip code is 97.6% white with an infant death rate of zero. The other zipcode is 94.9% black with an infant death rate of 17.6, which is a shockingly high number. 73% of Milwaukee infant deaths are caused by complications of prematurity and congenital abnormalities. 18% are attributed to “SIDS, overlay, accidental suffocation”. SIDS is a really tricky diagnosis to research, because it has different definitions and is inconsistently applied, but I’m setting that aside for now.
For the deaths in the “SIDS, overlay, accidental suffocation category”, there are several “risk factors” that have been identified as being present in these kinds of deaths. (It’s important to note that “risk factor” doesn’t mean that factor caused the death, just that those factors were present.) The risk factors present in the Milwaukee deaths were 1) pillows, blankets, soft things present with the baby 2) bedsharing 3) secondhand smoke 4) baby placed prone or on side 5) baby was born prematurely 6) alcohol or drug abuse by caregiver 7) baby sleeping on a couch, chair, carseat, or swing. The average number of these risk factors present in each death was four. I can’t tell from the report quite how these risk factors tended to occur together.
There are several scenarios I’m worried about with an alarmist campaign like this:
- Will parents who bedshare, smoke, and have soft things in bed with baby stop bedsharing but continue to put smokey soft things in a crib, not doing much to reduce overall death?
- Will parents who’ve been bedsharing without any other risk factors avoid bedsharing now, depriving them of the benefits of bedsharing without any decrease in deaths?
- Will parents not learn about how to safely bedshare and then do it unsafely when they fall asleep from exhaustion or take the baby to their bed out of desperation (which happens at some point or another for almost all parents)?
I’ve never understood the general panic over cosleeping. I mean, “crib sleeping” isn’t safe, either. For safe crib sleeping (or, I like to say “isolation sleeping”) you have to follow a long list of safety guidelines:
- Make sure your crib has a Consumer Product Safety Commission label or a Juvenile Products Manufacturer’s Association (JPMA) label and that your crib has not been recalled and that the bars are no more than 2-3/8 inches apart.
- Only use a mattress designed for your crib. Check that the mattress fits the crib perfectly.
- Do not accept hand-me-down cribs or buy secondhand cribs.
- Don’t use loose-fitting mattress protectors.
- Don’t put pillows, stuffed animals, toys, or bumper pads in the crib.
- Don’t place the crib near a heater, against a window, near any dangling cords from windows, or near large furniture.
- Use a baby monitor if you are not sitting right nearby while your baby is in the crib.
- Make sure there are no missing, loose or broken parts or improperly installed screws, brackets or other hardware on the crib or the mattress support. Check the stability and hardware on the crib often. Check for loose threads and strings, holes and tears. Make sure there is no cracked or peeling paint, splinters or rough edges.
Huh. It’s almost like cribs aren’t really a safe place for babies to sleep. How come I haven’t seen any alarmist billboards about the dangers of crib sleeping? Safely bedsharing actually involves many of the same warnings: keep pillows and soft bedding away from baby, have a firm mattress, don’t have gaps between the mattress and the wall/headboard, etc. Why can’t we just let parents know the basic guidelines of safe bedsharing? A huge campaign was launched in 1994 to educate parents to put babies to sleep on their backs, and the campaign is credited with reducing the SIDS rate by 50%. Maybe it’s time for a safe cosleeping campaign.
The reality of bedsharing is that as almost 70% of American parents cosleep with their baby at some point. Why? Because there are strong benefits of cosleeping, both for the children and for the parents.
- Babies sleep better and enjoy going to sleep more.
- Mothers sleep better.
- Breastfeeding is easier, rates are higher, and duration is longer.
- Cosleeping fosters independence in older babies and children.
- Cosleeping has positive effects on the child’s overall emotional health.
- It is parenting. Many parents prefer to keep relating to their children during sleep.
Instead of listening to alarmist news reports, I recommend that you listen to the research of Dr James McKenna from the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Lab at the University of Notre Dame. The Sleep Lab is a research and teaching laboratory that researches the safety, physiological, and psychological consequences of parent-child sleep choices. Digging into their published articles is a goldmine, but you can learn a lot just by checking out their website:
- “Mother-infant cosleeping with breastfeeding is humankind’s oldest and most successful sleeping arrangement.” The Western practices of formula-feeding and moving sleeping babies away from their parents and off of their backs is responsible for the SIDS epidemic. Likewise, mothers suffocating their babies while sleeping is also a Western problem that requires more explanation than simply blaming bedsharing alone.
- Infants require continual proximity and contact with a caregiver’s body for their nutritional needs (breastfeeding) and also to promote proper functioning of their body temperature, immune system, heart rate, breathing, organ development, and central nervous system as well as their psychological and emotional development. For older children, cosleeping contributes to their “independence, social competence, feeling of high self esteem, strong sexual identities, good comportment…in school, [and] ability to handle stress…”
- “Sleeping through the night” is a completely emotionally, socially, and biologically inappropriate activity for babies. McKenna calls it “scientifically bogus”. Babies should wake frequently in the night to breastfeed, staying in the kind of “lighter sleep” for which they are designed.
- A breastfeeding mother is more physiologically and mentally in tune to her baby’s movements and sounds than a formula-feeding mother, and the breastfeeding baby is more physiologically tuned to her. The baby and mother in a breastfeeding dyad spend more time in “lighter sleep” that makes them more responsive to one another. Almost all bedsharing deaths involve non-breastfeeding babies.
- Bedsharing deaths are overwhelmingly associated with other independent risk factors, notably: baby placed on ou stomach in an adult bed with no supervision, lack of breastfeeding, baby placed on top of a pillow, maternal smoking, and drug and alcohol use. This was shown in the Milwaukee report, as well, where an average of four risk factors were present.
- If you aren’t comfortable with bedsharing, or if you’re formula feeding or otherwise can’t make the safest bedsharing environment, remember that cosleeping by having the baby in a crib or bassinet in the room with you gets the job done, too. The idea is to have the baby within sensory range of a parent. This kind of “separate surface” cosleeping is non-controversial and recommended by everyone.
The facts about formula-feeding really interested me. McKenna’s research on that was verified for a Fox6 news report. All the cosleeping deaths in Milwaukee in 2009 and 2010 up until the report were of formula-feeding babies. In the FIMR from Milwaukee, why isn’t formula-feeding listed as a “risk factor”? The Fox6 report talks about a woman who accidentally killed her 6 day old infant while sleeping with her while drunk. Why is that a “cosleeping death”?!
What’s clear to me is that Milwaukee has a serious infant death problem that highlights their larger problems of racial and income-based disparities. Why are 73% of babies dying from issues with prematurity or birth defects? And why are those deaths clustered in certain zipcodes? Putting scary images on billboards that point the finger of blame at individual parents is a lot easier than addressing economic inequalities or a failing health care system. In the Fox6 news report, Anna Benton of the Milwaukee Health Department says,
“I really don’t think that this is a problem of any specific cultural group. And I guess I don’t feel it’s the place of the health department to distinguish between different types of people.”
But shouldn’t it be the job of the health department to determine the real reasons for these deaths and to address the most important factors? In Milwaukee (and elsewhere), cosleeping deaths occur mostly in poor, black families living in what Pat McManus of the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin calls “chaotic homes.” Addressing poverty in black communities and the substance abuse, poor health care, and difficult child-rearing choices that accompanies poverty are much harder to do than just creating mean billboards.
Members of The Milwaukee Health Department are not doing their jobs. They are cowards who are ignoring the real needs of their communities.
In conclusion, this quote from the Sleep Lab site stood out to me as the bottom line on the anti-cosleeping mania in which Milwaukee is currently leading the pack:
“Unfortunately, the rhetoric against bedsharing parents has turned very ugly, very vitriolic, negatively judgmental and condemnatory, and indeed, nothing less than threatening, of any and all bedsharing parents even when risks are minimized; and the zeal and imprecise language which is being used by many technicians involved in what is considered “safe infant sleep” campaigns is over simplified to the point that it is inaccurate, misleading, and inappropriate, and is itself dangerous on many different levels, both politically and scientifically.”
|July 26, 2011||Posted by Issa under Homesteading|
A couple of weeks ago, Joshua was out of town. He normally moves the sheep each day, but with him gone the job fell to me. I walked out one morning with Dylan in a Moby wrap. I fed the pigs. I let the chickens out. I moved the fence so that the sheep could walk from one paddock to another. Three sheep bounded happily over to the new forage. The fourth sheep… where’s…? Baby Jeebus!
Oh, fuck. That’s a dead sheep.
When we first got pigs last year, I joined a mailing list discussion group for small-scale hog farmers, soaking up all the knowledge I possibly could. Someone on the list had a pig die and others that were sick and was troubleshooting the problem with other group members. Somewhere in the thread, someone stated that when you raise pigs (or any animals, really), no matter how knowledgable you are, sooner or later it’s three in the morning and you’re out in your pasture with your animals dropping dead for an unknown reason while you desperately try to save the rest of them.
This truly terrified me. I crossed my fingers hoping I could at least get through the first year with no mysteriously dead pigs. If they’d dropped dead the first year, I wasn’t sure I could do it again. I obsessed about every little mark and mannerism. No serious health issues popped up; the first year went smoothly.
We had a couple of chickens disappear last year, maybe to dogs, maybe to something else. That was sad and frustrating, of course, but didn’t involve dead bodies. This year some of the chicks died for this reason or that, but that wasn’t really unexpected. Loosing a couple of chicks is par for the course, and I’m not too attached to the chickens anyway. They’re small. They don’t have names. The dead ones still got to be food by being fed to the pigs.
Jeebus was another story. Jeebus was more the sooner-or-later scenario I’d been warned about. I had a carcass to deal with and three other sheep to figure out how to protect from the unknown cause.
Me trying to manage the carcass would have been comical, if not for the subject matter. Jeebus probably weighed about 40 pounds, which is manageable for me but just barely, and, as I said, comical when a 13 pound baby is also along for the ride, and I’m trying not to get any ooky on me. Since the cause of death was likely overheating, I also had to find a way to create shade for the other sheep in the middle of the pasture.
Anyway. The short version of the story is it all got handled, with no harm done to any other creatures, just a lot of sweating and stressing on my part in between slightly frantic phone calls to Joshua. Sometimes on a farm or homestead, what’s happening now is difficult and sad.
|February 28, 2011||Posted by Issa under Homesteading|
This is a cautionary tale.
On a homesteading blog that Joshua and I both read, a reader recently asked how to get started with various “green” and “getting back to the land” type ventures. The blog author suggested starting slowly so as not to get overwhelmed. Joshua and I agreed that that’s not really our method. We like to just jump on in when the time is right, picking things up as they come along. Joshua wanted to garden, so last year he started a 1000 square foot garden and planted everything he wanted to, ignoring advice to “start small”. I wanted pigs, so I read everything I could and then got two pigs. Yes, I educated myself, but I didn’t visit any other farms, get a mentor, ponder the situation for a couple of years first, or anything like that. No pickles in the house? Time to learn how to make pickles. Pants ripped? Time to learn how to sew. We just take things as they come and pick up skills and activities whenever it seems right to jump on in. We moved to The Wallow from the suburbs just over a year ago, and we’ve jumped head-first into pigs, chickens, gardening, canning, dehydrating, heating with wood, replacing paper products with cloth, composting, woodworking, homemade cleaning products, and a gazillion other projects that were new to us not that long ago. And all of this has run pretty smoothly.
Then Saturday night happened.
I’ve been obsessively checking Craig’s List, because I’m keeping an eye out for sheep and pigs for sale, and I saw someone giving away 10 roosters for free. We’ve often joked about how people give away perfectly good meat (when times get tough, those potbellied pigs are at the top of my list!), and here was someone giving away roosters. We’re getting chickens to raise for meat this spring, so killing and processing chickens was already somewhere in the future to-do list. We’d already had a full day of working around the house and planned to relax in front of a movie for our Saturday night… but there was this ad… and we have this philosophy of not going slowly… and so apparently this was going to be the night we learned how to process chickens.
I’d read a thing or two about processing chickens online. I’d read a couple of different methods for slaughter. I’d heard that plucking is a bitch. Joshua’s quartered a chicken for dinner before. Um, that’s not going to be enough. We crash-coursed by watching some YouTube videos. Welcome to the future of homesteading. We went to pick up the roosters, both extremely excited and both a bit on edge.
On the drive there and back, we mentally went over everything we’d need to assemble to get this show on the road. Once we got home, the proud owners of 10 roosters, we had to get started. We had to process the roosters right away, because we don’t have anywhere to keep 10 roosters.
Here’s the initial setup. The two cardboard boxes in the middle are the live roosters. Two coolers full of ice water to the left to put the dead roosters in. A table with a bucket to hold blood. The propane stove to the right with a big pot for dipping the birds in hot water prior to plucking. A big trash can to pluck the feathers into. Joshua’s about to hang a noose to hang the birds upside down for the slaughtering.
Here’s one box of the birds:
Joshua strung up the first chicken:
We both had to take a moment before he killed the first one. It’s a heady and weighty moment. I’ve heard advice for chicken slaughter to chop off the head or wring the neck, but Joshua’s reading suggested that slicing the throat is best for a good bleed. While the chicken almost immediately passes out, the heart continues to beat, helping to get the blood out, whereas it stops right away if you chop off the head.
As soon as it bled out (less than a minute) I dipped it in the simmering water and then started plucking:
While the first chicken went smoothly, the second one had a lot of twitching, which meant Joshua, me, and everything else nearby was splattered with blood. We ended up dropping the noose down into the trash can, so any twitching could happen in there and contain the blood. The table moved over to house a chopping block, since Joshua cut the heads off prior to me dipping them in the water.
Joshua also rigged a cover made from a plastic jug to hold the wings in which reduced flapping. There are better setups, but we were kind of making this part up as we went along. Some people have more sophisticated sleeves for the bird to fit into. Some people do this in their yards instead of their barn, so they care less about the splatter.
In any case, we charged through all ten birds. The routine became smoother as we went along. Hang up a bird, slit the throat, chop off the head, dip in water, pluck, then toss in the ice water.
It sounds relatively simple when written in a list like that. It wasn’t, though. Not at all. When we were done, Joshua said he felt traumatized. It took me a little longer, but an hour after we were done, I was hit with an emotional drop that left me curled up in the shower sick to my stomach.
Here’s a little more description on that list.
Hang up a bird: The roosters were docile in the box, but once you get a grip on its feet, it starts to put up a fuss. Once upside down, it completely calms down within a few seconds, but those few seconds still take some concentration, because you’re holding onto a bird that’s flapping furiously trying to right itself.
Slit the throat, chop off the head: This is a skill, that Joshua would have to explain since he did all the slicing. But in the meantime, an animal is dying, and while it might become routine in some sense once you’ve done it a lot, there is simply nothing routine about it the first ten times.
Right before the first one, Joshua said, “I’ve never killed anything but small animals before.”
I said, “Have you ever killed a small animal?”
“You know, just bugs and mice.”
“Have you ever killed a mouse?”
Right. So, neither of us had ever killed anything but bugs before. We were nearby for Hampie and Yorkie getting killed and saw them bleed out, but this had a whole different feel, I’m sure even more so for Joshua.
Dip in water, pluck: There’s no way to state this properly in words, but let me assure you that boiling chicken feathers is one of the most disgusting smells in the entire universe. I’ve smelled all manner of shit, vomit, and death before, but I don’t think anything compares to the boiling dead feathered chicken smell. Oh. My. God. Then the plucking is a nasty, nasty, painstaking process. At first it seems like the feathers are going to slide right off, but then there are the stragglers that you’re picking by hand. The shafts of the feathers are dark in the light skin, and if you press near the base of the follicle after the feather comes out, this dark puss-like stuff comes out. It’s like zit-picking except dead and all surrounded by the worst smell in the world.
It took us three hours to kill and pluck the ten roosters.
While plucking the first one, my back started to hurt. I changed up my positioning, but given my back lately, it should have kept hurting. I realized later that it had completely stopped. I believe the curled-up-sick experience I had an hour after we quit was me coming down off an adrenaline high. Once we got started, we just kind of barreled through, making scrunched up disgusted faces the whole time. Once it was over, we were in quite a state.
We decided to leave cutting up the birds until the next day. They were in coolers and really needed to be finished processing, plus Joshua was leaving on a business trip today, so they really had to get done the next day, even though we’d have been happy to take a chicken break.
Ten dead chickens. Time to get them finished. Here we go.
Joshua’s usually the one who quarters our chickens for grilling, so he got the knife-wielding part of this job, too. He’d cut the neck off and twist the crop out, then do some cutting around the butt to open up the inner cavity (while trying to avoid nicking anything nasty!) He recoils at the idea of intestines, but that doesn’t bother me so much, so I got the job of sticking my hand up into the chicken to pull out all the guts:
Everything – intestines, gizzard, heart, liver, etc – comes out in a big bundle once you find the right place to pull, and I kind of enjoyed poking around in there to identify all the organs. Joshua couldn’t believe that I didn’t mind touching it all.
Then Joshua separated it all. Legs/thighs and breasts for freezing, Necks, backs, legs, and wings for chicken stock. They sell a special tool to help you get the lungs out of the ribs, but we found that a grapefruit spoon worked really well.
Here’s the pile of meat for our freezer:
Plus everything going into the stock:
I wrapped up the freezer parts and labeled them. Labeling is crucial when you’re tossing stuff into a chest freezer, but it’s even more important when you can’t imaging eating chicken for quite awhile to come.
While Joshua was making the stock, I actually had to leave the house. The smell of dead boiling chicken was kind of haunting me from the night before, and the stock smell was completely overwhelming.
All told, we got 12 quarts of stock, 20 legs/thighs, and a little less than 3 pounds of breasts. Joshua was not happy with the amount of meat on the breasts. We went through a lot of trouble here, and these birds were not all that big.
The whole ordeal was about 24 hours from “OMG we own 10 roosters” to the sound of the canned jars of stock popping closed.
I’m seriously considering skinning the next chickens we kill instead of plucking. The skin of a grilled chicken is mighty yummy, but the equation looks a bit differently after how disgusting it was to deal with the feathers and skin. Next time we will do everything outside in the open. Even cutting up the cold, dead chickens was way too gross for inside the house. Joshua had to bleach the entire kitchen when we were done.
Yes, we will be doing this again, although ideally with bigger birds. This experience was a bit harrowing but also felt valuable. Next time I’ll be doing the slaughter because I have yet to kill anything bigger than a bug.
I will I not be jumping head-first into anymore big, new, homesteading projects anytime soon, though. This one took a bit out of me, and I need a break. Next weekend, I think I’ll take that relaxing movie instead!
|July 21, 2010||Posted by Issa under Homesteading|
I have said for a long time that if I couldn’t kill an animal for food, then I would want to become a vegetarian. I’ve never said that I had to kill an animal, or that everyone should. I never actively sought out the experience of doing so. But, I said that if the opportunity arose and I couldn’t do it, I wouldn’t want to eat meat anymore.
I think specialization in our culture has been taken to an extreme end, and that relates to this. I worry that most of us are completely removed from the process of making meat, and I wonder if that’s good for us. The opposite end from specialization – where each person must do everything for themselves – is also extreme and not right for our species. I’ve never thought that everyone should kill all their own meat. But we have the ability to not think of meat as animals at all, and I think that plays into the cruel ways animals are allowed to be treated in order to become our food. I’ve always wanted to be closer to that process and to learn how I felt about it and to see how that would affect my thoughts on eating meat.
As I moved towards and into homesteading, my focus shifted somewhat from just the moment of killing. That moment was still important, and if I can, I still want to go through the process of actually doing the killing of an animal I plan to eat. However, I began to focus more on the life of the animal and my relationship to it, rather than on the specific method and moment of death. Rather than asking, “Could I kill an animal for food?” I began to ask, “Can I love an animal and then eat it?”
Having Yorkie and Hampie these past few months has meant that I’m thinking about all of these things in reality, rather than as abstract thoughts. I loved two pigs. I named them. I spent time with them every day. I knew the differences between them. I cataloged their likes and dislikes and took joy at each new thing, like the first time Hampie really let me pet her. I noticed changes in their appearance. I debated very carefully whether to give them medication. I laughed when they frolicked and I tried to do things that would make them happier. In one sense, they were pets.
In another sense, they were meant for meat. When I first got them, I briefly wondered if I would be able to see them as meat. They were cute little pigs, terrified of the world, huddled together in their barn, and I wanted to comfort them and feared I would always see them as adorable little pets. When they got to be about 75 pounds, that started to change for me a little bit. They began to take on some physical characteristics that I associated with food and some characteristics I associated with wild animals. These details are hard to explain, but there was a definite shift. Their stomache, back, and butt areas looked like growing meat to me. Their faces looked meaner. This is also around the time that I had to start considering my physical safety. Both of them tried to nibble me at one point, and I had to change my behavior around feeding time. I had to wear shoes around them and watch my step, because being stepped on by them was painful.
Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t stop seeing them as beings I wanted to nurture and care for. I never stopped enjoying my time with them and never stopped the activities that gave us both joy, like hosing them down with mist or scratching them on their favorite places. But the worry that I would forever see them as pets subsided. They weren’t like dogs, for example. They weren’t companions. They were loved and treasured farm animals who would become meat, and that seemed right.
As the day of their slaughter has approached, I’ve been visualizing Yorkie and Hampie being dead and visualizing eating their meat. And I’ve been having some feelings about that – feelings that have been very, very hard to name. I struggled and worried over these feelings, trying to find their shape and character. Was it guilt? Was it revulsion? I considered that maybe I was getting to this point and couldn’t do it. Maybe I would now have Yorkie and Hampie as pet pigs for many years to come. But that didn’t seem right. On the far side of the visualization, it felt right to imagine eating their meat. On this side of the visualization, I wasn’t heartbroken that soon they would be gone. But, in the middle, around the idea of them becoming dead, there sat a great, unnamed feeling.
In my mind, I rifled through so many names for feelings – sadness, guilt, trepidation, curiosity, compassion, fright, wariness, repulsion, numbness, shame, excitement – trying them on for size and discarding them all. Finally, yesterday morning, an hour before it was time to drive the pigs to the processor, I realized that I was never going to name this feeling with a single word. Instead, I would say this: I was sensing the presence of a moment and an experience that is very, very important.
It reminded me of the cusp moments in the book Stranger in a Strange Land – a decision must be made, for which responsibility cannot be shared, that one way or another I will carry with me forever.
I never really doubted my decision. It always felt like the right one. This new realization, though, was knowing that this was a very important decision to be in the presence of, to be connected to, to face head on, to know.
My mind began reeling from the idea of eating meat without experiencing this cusp. How could I eat the meat of an animal without knowing this moment? On one side of this moment is a living being and on the other side of it is food on my table and in the middle of the moment stands my decision and my decision alone.
The entire process is caused by and connected through that moment. How can I possibly look away? In some ways, these pigs (as domesticated farm animals) existed because I wanted their meat. The opposite is also true, of course – their meat will exist because they lived as animals. In between those two halves of reality stands me and my decision. It is my rightful place to stand there.
The moment of deciding to end an animal’s life for meat is one that I am both possessive of and answerable to. I don’t know how I will feel in the future, because this is a vast topic, but at the moment, I have no desire to eat any meat where I am not intimately involved in the process and make the pivotal decision.
If the animal wasn’t raised on my land, nurtured by my hand, and the moment of death chosen by me, I will not eat its meat.