I am not quick to get misty eyed. I don’t typically display my true feelings in a public setting. I don’t even speak in hushed tones or whispered innuendoes when broaching difficult subjects. But I am also not hard hearted, cold, or overly-stoic. The first time I killed a chicken though and began to dress her for meat harvest I could feel the cold, steely, tears, rolling down my cheek. My wife pretended not to notice I think. She at least never said anything. I felt so foolish. Why was I crying? Wasn’t it I that chose to raise the chicken and then slaughter it for meat? Wasn’t it I who took on the responsibility of animal husbandry? If I cared so much for the humanity of this animal why was I preparing to eat it anyway? And within moments I realized that my understanding of the food chain, food sourcing, sustainability, and animal stewardship, made me every bit as human as the tears that dried and crusted just at the point my rough skin met with my beard.
Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant.
~ Genesis 9:3
I am not a vegetarian. I am not a vegan. I neither condone nor condemn such a diet. My family is one of carnivores though. We eat meat. We enjoy meat. We understand the nutrition behind meat. We understand the notion of sourcing meat. And despite any thoughts of irony or paradox we also believe in the humane treatment and harvesting of animals for meat. I understand the very notion of humane butchering, if you will, sounds ridiculous. But I don’t think it is a farce or impractical. First of all, why am I even talking about this?
Nearly seven months ago I told my wife that I wanted to raise a couple of hogs. The price of pork has risen substantially in the last year and I do love a good sausage. I also told her that in my opinion it would allow us a new skill that would remove us that much further from the grid and dependence on the government and factory farming (which I abhor!) We were given two runts and I couldn’t have been more excited. I knew from day one that they were not pets. They were not going to last much longer than the summer and early fall. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to treat them with respect and humanity while they lived. I fed them, watered them, scratched their ears, kept them protected from heat and bugs, and even talked to them on occasion. I knew even then (and partly from my experience with our earlier flocks of chickens) that the relationship between man and beast was a sacred one and one that had been abused by factory farms, entire generations of good ‘ol boys, and even our otherwise respected grocery stores. I was determined that even though I knew their fate I was going to give them the best life I could during their time with us at Tiny r(E)volution.
Because of our understanding of organic meat, our commitment to drug-free animals, and our desire to raise quality meat, our hogs remained 99% antibiotic-free (one pig had to have one dose of an antibiotic during week 2 as she was suffering from a microbe picked up when she was born) and 100% steroid free. Their diet was a proper mixture of grain based feed, natural plant life and grazing stock, and “slop” (otherwise known as a whole lot of leftovers!) The hogs grew quickly and appeared healthy the entire time. Their eyes were bright and alert. Their coats were well-maintained. Their snouts were clean and properly moist. It was incredible to watch the process.
As the seventh month approached and each pig was approaching 200 lbs. we knew it was time to harvest. I researched a couple of locations and we decided on a small, family-run, slaughterhouse that gassed the pigs rather than bolting them. Reducing stress during slaughter is a major factor in controlling meat quality. An animal that senses a threat or unusual situation will react with an increased flow of adrenaline which in turn creates a rapid increase in lactic acid within the muscles. This acidic condition causes the meat to become tough, strongly flavored, and reduces the shelf life of the meat. We paid only to have the pigs dressed. At that point we brought them home and invited some of our family over for a traditional southern hog killing. Even though a huge misnomer as the hogs were already dead it allowed us a great opportunity to share in the work and the bounty of the entire harvesting. For us that is a large part of growing our own meat. We were able to give our family meat that we knew was responsibly grown, humanely killed, and portioned with appreciation and humility to their sacrifice.
Our two pigs dressed out at 166 and 140 pounds respectively. From that 306 pounds of meat were harvested:
- 74 lbs sausage which was turned into 68 packages sausage
- 11 hams
- 19 roasts
- 19 pork chops
- 12 packages of ribs
In addition we were left with neck bone, backbone, and legs/feet for stock seasoning. A few family members even cooked up the skins for a delicious (if not overly salty) piece of edible Americana.
I chose to write about this because I endorse the practice of both raising animals for meat and harvesting ones own meat. There is a sort of boning that takes place between man and beast as one sacrifices for the other. It is not a process we take lightly and not one that we don’t give thanks and ask blessing over each and every time.
To see all the photos from our day please visit our Flickr page. Please note that some photos may be graphic in nature to some audiences.