Heedley’s Hens get philosophical.

(Head’s up: this is a ramble (not a rant) on the subject of eating meat. If you just don’t want to go there, I get it. See you next post.)

I didn’t sleep well last night. In fact, I was awake until well after midnight, unusual for me. I blame my reading material. I was reading my goat book, and I’d reached the part at the end of the book devoted to what to do with kids. There were a number of options, and some graphic instructions.

I haven’t eaten meat, including poultry, since the first Clinton administration. There are a number of reasons for this, which I am generally reluctant to share, because the subject invariably comes up when I am eating with meat eaters. Eating meat. Which is, trust me, exactly the wrong time to have an even, reasonable, non-accusatory discussion on this touchy, exceedingly personal subject.

It comes to this: unlike many non-meat eaters, I don’t believe that there is anything intrinsically wrong with humans eating animal meat. (I call myself a non-meat eater because I eat fish and seafood, and also because I find this choice of words raises fewer hackles.) I do, however, think there is a great deal wrong with the industrialisation of meat production (and dairy, and eggs…) I’m reasonably sure we can all agree there are problems there. But, I believe there is a deeper, underlying a philosophical issue.

I, personally, need to face my meat.

I decided, long ago, that I would continue to eat fish because I’ve been fishing and I know I can kill a fish. That’s a decision that worked for me, and I am perfectly cool with people who roll a different way. I have a number of dear friends who like to believe that chicken breasts grow in fields, and steak arrives at the grocery store under plastic wrap. (You know who you are. I love you. Mwa.)

I have tremendous respect for people who face their meat and are at peace with that. I once had a heated discussion with a hard-core carnivore who had grown up on a beef farm. We ended up agreeing on many points. I have never been able to kill a bird or a mammal. So I don’t eat them. (There are other reasons for my choice, including environmentalism and the ethical use of limited global resources, but they aren’t salient to this little ramble.)

I want dairy goats. I do, I do, I do. But I am at a fork in the road, and I have choices to make. Getting goat milk means breeding babies. Babies I don’t intend to keep. Babies that need to be disposed of. In order to get milk. You see my problem.

There are a limited number of doelings that can be sold as milkers (to perpetuate the cycle), and even fewer wethers that can be sold as companion animals. Perhaps one buck in 500 will be used for breeding. Like laying hens, boys are not wanted, except to be eaten.

When I get turkeys in a few months, I know that, male and female, all but three of them will be sold for meat. I believe I am at peace with this, although one never really knows until one is there. And I suspect that, like many things, it hurts most the first time. When my trio breeds next spring, we will delight in the hatching and the fuzzy butts and the awkward teenagers…and they, too, will go to slaughter in the fall.

I think I’m at peace with this. These will be animals bred for meat, and I will give them a much happier, freer life than the vast majority of their grocery store freezer brethren. Turkeys will be eaten whether I raise them or not, and, this way, I will be part of the solution, not the problem. And I will be helping to sustain and promote an endangered species.

But the goats? Oy. I’m struggling. How does it work? One places advertising, surely, to sell doelings for milking and kids of both genders for meat, yes? Then…what? One takes them to the abattoir at the appointed time (as with turkeys), pick them up after they’ve been processed (I refuse to say “harvested”), and deliver to the client? Or can one find a butcher as a middle man who handles the sales end, thereby passing the buck? (Oh, I am sorry. I couldn’t help myself.)

So, one goes from the agony and the ecstasy of birth, the delight of frolicking kids, then, a few weeks later, off to the butcher you go? The Man has decided there won’t be butchering on site here, so that is how it would go. Can I do this? Could you? (I would love to hear from you on this, Tricia, if I haven’t lost you already. I truly want to understand.)

And don’t feel better if you have laying hens. Did you buy your chicks as sexed pullets from a hatchery or farm supply store? If so, do you know what happened to the roos that you didn’t want? Because, trust me, you don’t want to. The hatcheries make it all nice for you so you don’t have to face that reality. I would love to start hatching eggs, using a broody. But, what to do with the boys? And what to do with those who are weak or deformed?

The bottom line, people, is that farming is not for sissies. I am so impressed by those who face their meat, and the meat of their customers, who do so responsibly and humanely, with compassion and commitment. I hope none of this sounds accusatory, because I am in awe, truly.

Maybe I’ll get there. Maybe I just need to take baby steps to get there. In the past 21 months that I’ve had chickens, I’ve faced and met challenges I would never have thought possible. If I can raise poults with an eye to slaughter six months down the road, perhaps other steps are possible.

Sorry for the ramble. I thought some of you might be here with me, and I’d be very interested in your thoughts. The moral of the story, of course, at the end of all this is…
don’t read your goat book before bed.

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11 thoughts on “Heedley’s Hens get philosophical.

  1. I don’t eat beef or fish. This is because both make me sick physically, I get gout from fish (odd, I know). That being said, I do feed my dogs raw and spent an hour at the local beef slaughterhouse the other day picking up organs. It was not a fun experience, I saw just a little too much. It’s odd knowing that something DIED and you feed that to something else. Eerie, really. And I did have little nightmarish dreams that night.

    But, to each his own, I never judge anyone and I understand your goat dilemma. And I won’t read a goat book before bed, thanks for the tip. ;-)

    Lynda C.

  2. Makes perfect sense to me. It means you have compassion! Having grown up on a farm myself, I have dealt with this since I was a child and my father ‘did the deed’. While I don’t think I could do it myself, it didn’t bother me to see an animal hanging in the barn, knowing it would be providing us with meals.

    Just last weekend my dad purchased a young steer with plans on butchering it himself to provide us both with quality, un-genetically modified, hormone and antibiotic free meat. I told him I was ok with it, but I didn’t want to ‘meet’ Dinner (my dad named him). I told him I could help cut and wrap after the deed but I didn’t want to see it beforehand. Long story short….I woke up in the middle of the night Saturday to find 4 police cars and several men on my front lawn wrestling a cow (yeah, never a dull moment at our house). Apparently Dinner had gotten loose and no one knew who he belonged to. Needless to say, I got to meet Dinner. It bothered me some, but I’ve come to terms with it. Dinner was raised humanely and treated well. He didn’t feel a thing when Dad did the deed. He will provide us with many meals over the next year and for that I am grateful.

    I have gotten on the wagon of eating local as much as I possibly can. I just recently purchased a 1/4 of a pig that I will be reading about via the person’s blog who will be raising it. She has invited me to the ‘deed’ in the fall, which I declined.

    I, for one, am a meat eater and will probably always be a meat eater. Because of both my and hubby’s dietary restrictions there is no way we could ever go vegetarian. I think the more local and close you can get to your end product, the better for all involved and the more appreciative and respectful you are of each meal.

    • Oh my god, I’m DYING. That’s hysterical.

      Yes, I think you’re on to something. If you can’t do it yourself, then know how it is done! (Still up for that turkey next fall?)

      • You betcha! I would LOVE to be able to raise meat birds (chickens) myself, but the cost for start up is WAY more than I can afford or want to spend.

      • I just found a local guy who does portable meat slaughtering onsite. He doesn’t do poultry, but is looking into it for me. If I could somehow witness and control the slaughter, I think that would go a long way to feeling I hadn’t let down my animals at the hardest part.

  3. One of your most brilliant blogs ever. As an animal lover who is also a carnivore, I have been conflicted for decades. I don’t know if I could “face my meat”. (and why should I have to, if steaks grow in farmers’ fields in little styrofoam trays?) I can’t wait to see where this journey takes you…

  4. This is a great reason not to eat meat. It’s a noble reason. I wholeheartedly agree with your reasoning. Which is why I’ve been feeling guilty when I eat chickens that were not raised by me, and not killed by me. Therefore I can’t know how they met their end, or how they lived their lives.

    Yes I’ve butchered my own extra roosters. I’ve ended lives of suffering chicks and a couple of pullets. I’ve found the way that works best for me, and the bird. I won’t get into that, as it’s n

    I would however leave the bigger animals such as beef, goats and pork to be butchered elsewhere. We do research where our meat is coming from and pick local before grocery store. We want to raise our own pork as well. Pork and chicken is our two main meats (except fish. I love fish).

    If you think about it.. A fish suffers a lot unless you kill it quickly. It’s suffocating to death. We were just discussing this with the inlaws. There are so many humane processing laws put into place, but not for fish.

  5. My husband and I have agreed that when we get rabbits he’ll do the slaughter, skinning, and gutting, but I will be there for it. I might actually help with the skinning. Then once it is a carcass I’d take over, cutting them up and packaging them for the freezer. I am thinking we could do broilers so long as we don’t befriend them like we do the hens. I do not think I could kill a goat, but I do one day want goat milk so I’d have to think about it.

    • I read someone on BYC say that, when he got broilers, he kept an axe on the wall over their pen, so no one would forget their purpose…

      Good luck with the rabbits. Maybe you can find a porta-kill guy for goats like I have. Here, anyway, it has to be a licensed slaughter facility in order to sell the meat.

  6. It sounds like with the introduction of turkeys, you will soon be facing your meat, too! I have been considering raising chickens for meat this year for the first time ever, and, while killing and processing chickens is not what you would call fun, I don’t think it really should be, either. As he walked us through how to actually kill a chicken, the farmer who taught me how paused and said, “I’m not going to lie – this part sucks. It continues to suck. I don’t think it should ever be easy.” I think he’s absolutely right.

    • I think so too, but I think it’s an important part of eating meat. That said, even with the slaughter of our turkeys in the fall, I won’t be facing my meat. I’ll be facing someone else’s meat. I don’t see me eating meat any time soon.

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