Understanding the role of animals on a homestead

by andrewodom on December 5, 2011 · 23 comments


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.

  • Nebraska Dave

    Drew, it is almost a sacred thing to slaughter an animal to eat. They have sacrificed their life to allow us to live. I can certainly understand the emotion you displayed while processing the hogs. I have nothing against vegans and their life style either. I just like to have a good pork chop or a slice of ham or sausage with my eggs. Being raised in the midwest, it was just a part of the culture. I have helped with the processing of hogs, sheep, and deer but never a cow.

    From the pictures on Flickr, you had quite a crew to help with the processing of the hogs. It’s always nice to have help for such things. You have some nice equipment for the rendering and sausage. I know you will be reaping the benefits from the hogs for many months ahead.

    Have a great pork enjoying day.

    • anotherkindofdrew

      Thank you so much for the sentiment Dave. I am glad you understand!

  • http://www.chiotsrun.com Chiot’s Run

    I believe anyone that eats meat should partake in the ritual of killing/dressing/preparing their own meat at least once in their lifetime.  It certainly makes you more appreciative of the fact that an animal gave it’s life for your nourishment.  You will learn to savor that meat and not waste a precious bit, even the bone or skin.  

    We have yet to butcher our own deer, we pay a small local shop to do it for us, but my husband does shoot/dress the deer in the field.  He’s deeply appreciate of his role in providing healthy meat for our family and every time we eat a venison steak, roast, or burger we pause to be thankful that we have good food to nourish us.  

    Sadly in our country we are so removed from the death associated with our food system some believe that a vegetarian lifestyle removes death from the equation, not realizing that many lives are lost during the growing/harvesting of that soy in that soy burger or that many animals are poisoned from the chemicals sprayed on vegetable fields. There is no such thing as death free food, learning to minimize the suffering  and being actively involved in our food production whether raising animals or vegetables can help us enjoy nourishing ourselves with food and a clearer conscious.  

    • Nebraska Dave

      Well said, Sue.  I’ve always believed that even the vegetables have to die when we eat them.  Death is always involved in some manner to sustain life on a higher level.

    • anotherkindofdrew

      So well said. Thank you so much for adding that comment. You are absolutely right and bring about some points that a number of people I know personally need to reconsider.

      • annbumbly

        I went through much of my childhood believing I could hear lettuce scream every time I bit down. (Yes, a bit odd, and I got over it eventually.) But still, as was stated, plants, too have to die to be consumed by we humans.

        • http://www.tinyrevolution.us anotherkindofdrew

          Indeed they do. Strange, yes, but true!

  • Ani Blair

    I love this article. I was a vegetarian for many years, until I could hardly remember my name and lived on Captain Crunch. Trying not to eat meat does NOT necessarily mean one is healthy! 

    I have happily noticed Bible verses in a few on your posts, as one who is a believer in that book, I would also like to point out another Bible verse that few know of. It says, “Blessed is the man who cares for his beast,” or something like that. I think it is in Proverbs but I know not the exact location.

    I rarely eat pork, (though I just did a minute ago!), as I do not believe it to be the healthiest of foods, but I appreciate what you are doing. I had a laughable experience trying to kill my rooster once. Truth be known, that bird ended up living to a ripe old birdie age at a pastor’s aviary…. 

    Give me a juicy tender steak, any day…

    • http://www.tinyrevolution.us anotherkindofdrew

      Thank you for understanding my hear on this issue Ani. I too was a vegetarian and I often felt like I was missing something and just couldn’t figure out the proper diet for myself. At the time I couldn’t afford to pay for classes or help and I was very young in the Internet so I didn’t know you could Google the world’s experts. 

      The verse you are talking about, I think, is Proverbs 12:10 – A righteous man regards the life of his beast; but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel. 

      I take this to mean a good, solid, man is merciful. He is gentle and he is kind. He understand both pity and compassion. To be good he can’t be mean or cold or hard. That is what the wicked are. In fact, even their “kindness” is harsh because they lack tenderness and a gentility of the Spirit. The righteous are concerned EVEN for the animals. 

      Thank you so much for joining us Ani at the r(E)volution and bon apetite! 

      • Ani Blair

        Yep that is the one! Exactly! So you could say that to be righteous, one must not be cruel to animals… 

        And thank you for your blog. I am in love with tiny houses…

        • http://www.tinyrevolution.us anotherkindofdrew

          You are so very welcome. And you are right….one must NOT be cruel.

  • annbumbly

    So ver thoughtfully and beautifully written.

    • http://www.tinyrevolution.us anotherkindofdrew

      Thank you so much Ann.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bbumgarner Bill Bumgarner

    My sister (annbumbly) pointed me to this article.  Wonderfully written;  I’ll be perusing many other articles here shortly, I would imagine.

    I’m also of the opinion that one should be willing to participate in every step of your food’s production to gain a better understanding of health, modern food production practices (eww), and — frankly — life.

    I recently challenged a friend on this.  Asking her how she could eat meat if she were unwilling to participate in a slaughter (and offering to take her to slaughter some chickens and/or turkeys on a friend’s farm).  She realized should simply could not participate and now she is a vegetarian.

    And I respect that.

    I gave myself the same challenge a few years ago and helped my farmer friend slaughter turkeys for thanksgiving, documenting the entire process.   It was a very valuable experience and I look forward to additional similar opportunities in the future (I’m currently on a mission to find good quality local goat and I suspect this will lead to helping slaughter in order to obtain the quality I want).

    Here is my writeup of harvesting turkeys:

    http://www.friday.com/bbum/2008/03/03/how-to-harvest-a-turkey-2/

    • http://www.tinyrevolution.us anotherkindofdrew

      Thank you so much Bill for checking out the r(E)volution. I appreciate it. I look forward to taking a few minutes to read your writeup about harvesting turkeys. Thank you for sharing!

  • Deborah A. Sullivan

    ~In becoming aware of myself and the world around me. I have chosen to stop eating meat. My decision was based on these findings. http://montanadreamaker.blogspot.com/2011/07/why-i-stopped-eating-meat.html 

    ~Your tear came because you were not true to yourself …Look at your tagline …Power to the Poultry?Chicken whisperer?Truth shines!~Peace be with U …~Debbie:)

    • http://www.tinyrevolution.us anotherkindofdrew

      Hey there Deborah. Thank you so much for joining us at the r(E)volution. I am very happy that you have become aware of yourself and the world around you. After reading the blogpost you linked to above I completely understand where you are coming from. But you noted that you became aware of YOURself. I think that is great. However, that does not mean you have become aware of me or my upbringing, beliefs, thoughts, concerns, passions, responsibilities, etc. 

      My tear actually came because I am a human being with some sort of feeling. Killing is not a bloodsport to me. Harvesting the animals we raise is not a joyful thing, per se. We give thanks. We are indebted to our animals. Because of that bond between man and beast, there is both passion and compassion.

      Tiny r(E)volution does not have a tagline. What you are seeing is actually an ad bar for Backyard Poultry with The Chicken Whisperer. It is a radio show that brings awareness to backyard flocks, raising poultry, harvesting processes, egg cultivation/breeding, etc. The show and the gentleman himself are very solid in their education and practice and because of that we offered him ad space to our audience. 

      Truth does shine which is why I wrote this post. Part of homesteading – in my particular situation – the is the humane raising and harvesting of meat for my family. This includes pork, beef, rabbit, chicken, etc. I do not find it inhumane. I also don’t derive sick and twisted pleasure from it either. Just as we garden, maintain vegetable stock, etc., we also raise animals. In our lifestyle it is part of a larger mechanism. We are just a part of it. I for no reason would expect a black bear or a leopard to think of my mother or my role as a living being before turning me into provisions for her family. 

      Peace be with you as well. I don’t want you to think I am being defensive or angry. I am not at all. Part of the dynamic we believe in is accepting a number of thoughts and honoring all people; carnivorous or not.

  • http://lynnfang.com Lynn Fang

    Thank you for sharing your experience here, it is so compelling. Though I have maintained a mostly vegetarian diet for the past 4-5 years, recently I’ve been much more of a flexitarian. I realize that my simply being alive is killing other living things. Growing food kills rodents, worms, and microbes, and probably other animals as well. Whether or not they are highly evolved is not so important – the same life force runs through all living things. I don’t know that I could slaughter an animal, and yet it feels like something I really should experience in my lifetime. There is nothing wrong about eating another animal – that is the natural cycle of life, the foundation of a healthy ecosystem.

    I think you’re very right – the process of killing/slaughtering an animal for food is truly a sacred act.

    I didn’t realize the effect stress played on increasing lactic acid, that was really important to learn.

    • anotherkindofdrew

      You are welcome Lynn. Thank you for reading with an open mind. My experience is different from yours. Your experience is different from the next guy. And so on! 

      You are right in that it is a sacred act and one I do not take lightly. 

  • http://lynnfang.com Lynn Fang

    Thank you for sharing your experience here, it is so compelling. Though I have maintained a mostly vegetarian diet for the past 4-5 years, recently I’ve been much more of a flexitarian. I realize that my simply being alive is killing other living things. Growing food kills rodents, worms, and microbes, and probably other animals as well. Whether or not they are highly evolved is not so important – the same life force runs through all living things. I don’t know that I could slaughter an animal, and yet it feels like something I really should experience in my lifetime. There is nothing wrong about eating another animal – that is the natural cycle of life, the foundation of a healthy ecosystem.

    I think you’re very right – the process of killing/slaughtering an animal for food is truly a sacred act.

    I didn’t realize the effect stress played on increasing lactic acid, that was really important to learn.

  • http://www.wholesome-food.org/ Tess Giles Marshall

    Thanks for posting this, I agree with other comments that if we eat meat, we should be fully aware of the process. The late British self-sufficiency writer John Seymour  had similar things to say, and he spoke against the law here which insists animals must be slaughtered at a licensed slaughter-house because the last journey can be traumatic for the animals. His argument was that it is far more humane to shoot the animal in the field, with no warning or distressing journey first. 

  • Edward B

    I heartily agree with your sentiment, and the way you went about expressing it was wonderful too. I have a great interest in sustainability, especially from a Christian perspective, and also tying it in with a commune/intentional community.

    Last year I watched Tales from the Green Valley (http://goo.gl/k1mzM), a TV series where a group of historians replicated farm life in the British Stuart Era for a year, using a reconstructed period farm on the Wales/England border, which I have visited (met the man behind it, too). The episodes are half an hour long, with each covering a different season. In the November episode (I think), they naturally slaughter two of their hogs to provide meat for the winter. However, it was the earlier episodes and some of the comments made about the animals that really caught my attention.

    One of the participants mentioned that in that culture, animals were not seen as just “food on legs”, something to be fattened and then eaten at the appropriate time, but also as a kind of tool. Each animal had a contribution to make to the system of the farm during their life as well as death. Case in point, for one or two of the episodes they were clearing out an overgrown field, with a view to planting a crop (peas, I think). After doing some of the heavier work such as removing the bracken and the larger of its roots  and patching up the walling and fencing, they let the pigs into it (about five, half-grown ones). The pigs then ate up the rest of the roots, turned over the soil and fertilised over the next few days, paving the way for planting!

    This is a concept that really intrigues me (everything in the system having at least two uses and purposes), and it sounds very similar to what I have heard about permaculture techniques. Have you ever come across or done anything similar? Did your pigs just live in a pen, or did they have a more active role on the homestead?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Annie-Blair/1415542022 Annie Blair

      Awesome comments Edward B. I share a similar viewpoint. 
      Blessings!

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