From the ages of 12-22 I was a vegetarian. Yep, this chicken farmer ate zero meat for a decade. I stopped eating meat at the tender age of 12 because I had been doing volunteer work in a dairy barn and couldn’t stomach eating animals after I saw how affectionate and puppy-like cows can be. So how’d I get here, homesteading and raising my own poultry?
At the age of 22 I became dissatisfied with my health. I was thin, actually very thin for my naturally curve frame, and had low muscle tone despite my efforts at the gym. I also began to battle severe panic attacks that seemed to come on for no reason at all. For the record I’m not saying being a vegetarian isn’t a healthy lifestyle, I’m just saying it didn’t work for me.
I slowly started incorporating meat back into my diet and I felt a major improvement. I was definitely heavier, which in a way bummed me out, but I felt much stronger and I decided that was more important. While my vegetarian lifestyle is a thing of the past, my view towards animal suffering is not. Seeing an animal and accepting that your going to be the reason it dies is sobering to say the least. When my boyfriend originally declared that we would get meat chickens I was apprehensive. Could I do that? What if I got attached to them? What if watching them be killed traumatized me to the point I couldn’t sleep? All of these feelings are valid especially if you come from a city or suburban background where your food comes from the grocery store.
So how’d I address these feelings? Well, regardless on where you are getting your meat, I think it’s important to face the facts that it was an animal who was alive and is now not to feed you. Whether you killed it yourself or bought it at the store, it died for you. Having respect for the process is what keeps me doing it and actually makes me feel pretty damn good about raising our birds.
The number one fact to accept is we all die. Plain and simple, I’m going to die, people reading this are going to die, the squirrel that just ran through the yard yeah he’s going to die too. Some people think causing the death of something else is what bothers them about butchering an animal but I’d argue otherwise. What bothers me is the suffering. I bet everyone reading this has heard of or seen a documentary on the conditions animals are put through in large factory farming. From the day they are born to the day they die they suffer. That’s not okay with me and is the main reason I resorted to vegetarianism as a kid.
My solution is making sure my animals live the best life possible. Our meat birds free range in poultry tractors on pasture so they get fresh grass and bugs everyday. They are exposed to warm sunshine and fresh air. And after 10-12 weeks they are, one by one, gently removed from their pen and killed in a quick and humane matter in which I’m pretty sure they don’t even realize what's happening. I don’t want my animals to feel stress and we try to prevent them from feeling any pain in the process of “shepherding them to the other side”. I’ve actually witnessed the last chicken in a group, as it’s waiting it’s turn to be butchered, yawning and stretching out in his new found spacious pen, oblivious to the fact that all of the other chickens are dead and heading to my freezer. I don’t know about you but I’d like to feel that relaxed moments before I take the dirt nap.
Once the animal has been killed it’s important to remind yourself that they are dead and gone. I say this because it can be a little unnerving to see a chicken you just saw moments ago alive plucked and cut up into pieces. I struggled with that my first time, having “knee-jerk” type reactions to not wanting to pull their feathers off or looking away as their legs were cut off. Again these are understandable feelings but you can better wrap your mind around them when you are honest with yourself about what your actually seeing. Once the bird dies it’s essentially a piece of meat you are preparing for a future meal.
I think it’s important to have your own experiences with raising meat and handle them on your own terms. I say this because while I fully respect anyone who raises large livestock, like cows and pigs, I don’t feel that I’m mentally prepared for that just yet. The reason being is that the law here (and maybe all of the US I’m not sure) dictates that no one can butcher and sell pigs or cows themselves. They must go to a state licensed kill house and processor before being sold. This means that regardless of how well you treat your pigs and cows, the last moments of their life will involve a decent amount of stress and perhaps a little suffering as you loose control of the final step of the process. I don’t take issue with people raising cows and pigs, I just know, with where I am mentally right now on the subject, I would struggle with knowing my animals’ last moments weren’t peaceful.
If you’re not ready to butcher your own animals don’t worry it’s not going to make you less of a homesteader. Just be open to thinking about death and suffering vs putting it to the back of your mind because it’s an uncomfortable subject. You will grow and develop your feelings on the subject at your own pace and no doubt feel better about the subject overall.