It is personal.
This harvesting of our animals.
I was talking with a “good ‘ol farm boy” today and he was relating how one of his customers asked, “How can you do it?” Meaning, how can you kill an animal you’ve raised. “Do you name them?”
This is a huge mindset challenge for beginning farmers. We don’t personalize carrots or zuchinni, though they are alive and consume air and respond to their environment. But a goofy turkey or personality-less broiler chicken is different. It feels somehow more personal, even if the animal in question isn’t loved and is a royal butthead (or worse).
We do name some of our animals. Our steers have names. The sows and boar have names. The dairy cows have names. Sometimes the turkeys earn a name. Even the nameless hordes of chickens and feeder pigs get our attention, though. It is personal. Relationships always are, and we have a relationship with every animal here on the farm. They are here because we’ve put a mom and pop animal together to get that animal, or because we’ve paid money to have them here. We’ve invested time and money in feeding them, watering them, sometimes doctoring them. We give our lives to provide them with the best chicken, turkey, pig, or cow life possible. It’s a personal relationship because it’s a personal investment on many levels.
We serve them for months, or up to many years. Then they serve us. The animal fulfills it’s purpose by literally giving it’s life so we can have life, because that’s the bottom line in nourishment, whether you’re eating a carrot or a chicken. It is personal, and it’s a give and take relationship.
Looking at it that way changes things a bit. It explains why we harvest all our animals on farm, and teach people how to do it. It seems counter-logical that you’d invest so much in an animal just to turn around and kill it. In part that’s a symptom of our cultural disconnection from the value of the life cycle and how death plays a role in a healthy system. Always, one thing gives life to another. That’s the way things were created to work, and the farm is the most obvious place to experience it day in and day out.
“Isn’t it hard?”
Even with all that said, yes, it is hard. Taking a life is not pleasant. Anyone who gets excited about it has issues.
We understand that it’s part of what has to happen, but no one at Baker’s Green Acres loves that part of butchering. Some people have lost sleep over having to kill an animal for butchering the next day. That’s why we work hard to make it as stress free as possible. Handing off the task isn’t stress free for the animal even if it makes it easier for us. Sometimes, we get it, that’s the way it has to be. But we choose to honor that animal’s gift of life by keeping the process personal and being there to the end. It also makes it essential for us to do an ethical kill, and why we teach our students how to do a stress-free kill. The animals go from one life stage to the next as quickly and painlessly as possible. It is a personal relationship and we care for our animals to the very end.
Philosophy and responsibility of the relationship
If you come to a class you’ll discover another aspect of this personal relationship. When an animal gives it’s life for us, it’s our responsibility to honor that by using as much of that gift as possible. We find ways to be nourished by the organs: the offal parts. We use the bones, heads, and feet: the odd parts. Even if it’s parts we can’t or choose not to eat, our other animals (dogs and pigs) or soil (via compost) can benefit from the nourishment. Nothing is wasted or “thrown out.” In this way we honor the animal and treat it’s life with respect and appreciation.
The relationship between a farmer and his or her animals is personal. That’s why we care for them up to and through the end of their life.
And that’s why we offer others the opportunity to come and learn how to be self sufficient and take care of their animals all the way through the end.
Because it is personal.