Sunday, January 4, 2009

The S word - slaughter

My experience with slaughter

I'm relatively new to raising animals for food, and before I started I had to make sure that I could actually go through with the slaughter of the animals. It's all fine and good to have a theory, but when you have the knife or gun in your hand, that's when it really hits you that this is it.

"Very nice rooster"

When I decided that I wanted to start farming, I wasn't sure that I could actually go through with it. I've fished all my life, and I've killed thousands of fish, and cleaned them, and I've hunted a bit, and killed wild animals, but its different with an animal that knows you, and that you know. So one Saturday morning I went down to the Enumclaw sales pavilion, one of the local livestock auction houses, and purchased 3 roosters. You really don't get much of a chance to look at the birds prior to the sale, and so i got a glimpse of each bird as they were held up, and then put back into the cardboard boxes they were packed in. I paid $8 each for the roosters, and put them into the back of my truck and took them home.

Internet didn't help

When you search the internet for information on slaughtering you get all sorts of crazy answers. Everyone has a theory on how best to kill the animal, and each culture has their own practices. Some folks hang their chickens for a few days before cleaning them. others kill and gut, but refrigerate for a day or two. In another post I recommended a book that I found helpful, "basic butchering of livestock and game". If you're going to do this yourself, I recommend that book.

It's just the roosters and me

So in my back yard, I did the slaughter setup, and went to get the first rooster out of the box. Someone had written on that box "Very nice rooster, very gentle". This did not help at all. I would have much preferred "nasty, mean rooster" or "dangerous rooster". But I had the very nice rooster.

"I could never do that"

When you are raising food it actually helps if you name them after a meat product. "brisket". "nugget", "cutlet"... Its easier if you remind yourself that this animal has a date, and that it's not a sad thing. In fact, slaughter is often a time of feasting and partying in many cultures. We all have to go sometime. For your animal, you're just picking the time.

Coq Au Vin

Later that night, I reflected on the rooster that I was eating, and I appreciated his sacrifice. Killing my own animals has changed my cooking habits; nowaways I treat meat as a fairly precious commodity, and waste as little as possible. That's part of why I encourage people to eat the entire animal. And coq au vin really is better when made with a rooster.

How I feel when I kill an animal

I know that the animal had the best life that I could provide. I know that its end will be as quick and painless as I can possibly make it. I'm sad that it has to go, and I appreciate it for the sacrifice it's making. And the most difficult part is the actual kill - pulling the trigger. After that, the farther into the slaughter process I go, the less it is an animal to me, and the more it looks like food. I posted this picture of a piglet that was to be roasted at a tongan wedding because it's still "an animal" to me. Its death was for a celebration, and really that's what food is, and what I philosophically appreciate. I celebrate this little pig by honoring it for every day of its life.

Some things that make this easier for me

It helps if you don't name your animals. Or if you do name them, name them "bacon" or "brisket" or "cutlet" or "veal". It really does help to remind you where this animal is going.

When you get your animal, grab your calendar and set the date of its demise. This allows you to schedule in the farm kill and other activities, and more importantly, becomes a date certain. Because you'll want to put it off, and that's not why you're raising this animal.

Appreciate its contribution to you, and your family and friends. Recognize that this animal is a partner, and value it for what it provides. Sounds corny, but I do really appreciate the animals.

Take the time to observe your animal and take joy in its joy. If things are right, you'll see joy. Be current -- the future will come. Enjoy today.

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