Every once in a while, I stumble across a gem on the Internet, a piece of writing or a video that connects me to others and grounds me. So it was with Katherine Dunn’s article in Modern Farmer, on what it feels like to butcher your animals.
I’m not sure I can express how much this article moved me. My eyes got teary while reading it, in part out of relief in discovering that I am not unusual as a newbie farmer who struggles with slaughter time.
Yet it also moved me because of the dignity and respect with which she talks about the animals. I have wanted to view the animals in the same way but thought it was un-farmer like to do so. Now I believe it is the way to be an honorable farmer.
We are still quite new to farming, and we are very new to raising animals for food. We’ve figured out how to raise chickens and turkeys for food. This year we tackled pigs. (Sometimes literally, when they were little 3-month-old piglets and they escaped time and again and I had to chase after them. Then I quite literally tackled pigs, and I will be forever grateful that no one was ever nearby videotaping the antics to put on YouTube.)
Anyway, we raised pigs this year, and two were slaughtered a couple of weeks ago. I’ll admit it: I didn’t want to be there when it happened, and I felt guilty about that. In fact, I scheduled my day so that I wouldn’t be, even though I felt I owed it to the animals to be there. As it turned out, the mobile slaughter guy was several hours late, so I was there. Yet, I stayed clear of that part of the farm and kept myself busy with horses rather than be part of the slaughter. That is something I regret, but I’m going to cut myself a little slack. I need to ease into this.
I know those two pigs had a good life (and the one we kept for breeding still does, as a very happy pig who gets three times the attention now!). We worked very hard to make sure the six months the pigs spent with us were healthy, active, enjoyable and natural. They flourished. They were healthy, grew like crazy, loved attention, enjoyed life.
One thing I’ve yet to see reasons away by the impassioned vegans and animal rights advocates is that these animals would not be alive in the first place if they weren’t being born to grow up to be food. We hope to get our pig pregnant this fall and have piglets in late winter. If they were not destined to be food, those pigs would never be born. They would never feel the warm sun on their backs, dig their noses into musty-smelling moist soil in search of earthworms, cuddle together for naps in the shade, or romp around as silly playmates. In short, they wouldn’t experience the joy of living.
If the animal rights activists really cared about the animals, they wouldn’t be campaigning for everyone to be vegans. They’d be campaigning for a nation full of farmers like Katherine Dunn. They wouldn’t be lambasting Katherine for her beautiful essay. They’d be taking down Tyson while supporting small farms like hers.
People are going to meat. Always have, always will. That won’t change. The only thing that has changed is how that meat is raised, and most of the meat consumed in this country is raised and slaughtered in an inhumane artificial way. The question to ask ourselves isn’t, “Should we eat meat?” The question to ask is, “What kind of meat should we eat?” Meat from animals raised humanely or cheaply? Because they are two different things, with very different consequences.
I went 24 years without eating meat. I could easily go another 24. But I live in a family of carnivores, and I’m the cook, and I want my family to only eat meat I can vouch for. So we raise our own and buy from people we know.
Like the author, I hope I always question it. I hope slaughter day always agitates me. Because the day it doesn’t is the day I stop being an honorable farmer.