In my last post, I updated you on our chickens. Although I mentioned culling them, there is much in my heart that I did not mention. My goal is to do that today.
If you a homesteader and are vegetarian, then the question of butchering your own meat is not a question at all. In fact, the topic is likely disagreeable, to say the least. If you are a meat eater however, it is a question of no little importance, especially if your goal is to be self-sufficient and have a self-sustaining food supply.
In some ways it seems odd that this should be a question at all. Backyard flocks of chickens were once common in our culture, along with backyard gardens, even in urban areas. Butchering chickens was an acceptable culinary skill, practiced by almost every housewife. Yet butchering one's own meat is a concept that it largely foreign today. So much so, that some who've blogged about it have incurred the wrath of protesters who make mean-spirited, anonymous, potshot comments on the subject. I contemplated this before I chose to blog about it myself.
I think though, that the heart of such protests are less about dietary choices and the rights of animals, and more about how far corporate farming and food industrialization have taken us from the natural world. Our so called advancements have mentally and emotionally sanitized us to the point where most people are no longer in touch with where food actually comes from. (It comes from the grocery store in tidy packages , right?) Or what real food is. ("But I like the taste of chemicals," someone once told me.) This isn't limited to meat. I have relatives who refuse to eat anything out of the garden because it didn't come from a store.
Another example illustrating this breach from natural reality, is fabric and clothing. Would it surprise you to know that a common question folks ask at handspinning demonstrations is, "do the sheep have to be killed in order to get the 'fur' "? Whoa. I remember having a unit on farm animals in the 1st grade, don't they teach that stuff anymore? It's as though the more technologically advanced we get, the stupider we become.
Many of us are aware of this, hence the growing movement toward homesteading and simpler living. However, simpler doesn't' necessarily mean easier. Simple living requires a lot of hard work, as well as making a lot of hard choices. If one wants to eat meat, then what to do about it is one of those choices.
When we ordered our chicks, we got straight run (i.e. mixed sex, theoretically 50/50), with the intention of keeping all but one rooster and using the rest for meat. It was a deliberate decision and at the time, we understood that was more than a mere intellectual one. Because of this, we had to view our chickens in a certain light from the beginning, not as pets but as livestock. That's why we never named them. We had to keep in mind that their purpose was not to provide companionship, but to provide eggs, meat, manure, and hopefully, more chickens. In addition, we had to view them with a sense of responsibility, of stewardship if you will, understanding that someday we will be accountable for how we have treated everything we've been given.
Even so, this experience has had its emotional ups and downs. The concept of butchering a chicken seems straightforward enough, but we didn't know the step by step details of the process. We read the books and websites, only to discover that there are a number of methods. This meant more decisions. In addition was the uncertainty of never having done it before, and the sense of clumsiness that comes with any new skill. Our sense of responsibility required that it be done quickly and with as little stress and suffering for the chicken as possible. Could we manage that the first time around?
To not beat around the bush, we bought a killing cone, and Dan slit its throat. We plucked it, eviscerated it, roasted it, and ate it. To be honest it did not go as smoothly as we might have hoped and the truth of the matter at that point, was that we didn't know if we wanted to do it again. In spite of trying to steel ourselves against the emotion of the whole thing, we had the emotions of an awkward new experience to deal with anyway.
Still, we had to do something. We had 11 more cockerels to deal with, some of which were becoming aggressive, greedy bullies. Craigslist was filled with young roosters for sale, from folks looking for their own solution to the same problem.
It made us re-evaluate. Our motivation to raise our own meat came not only from our goal for food self-sufficiency, but also from personal convictions about the sources of the food we eat. What were our other options? Take them to a butcher? Well, that would take the "self" out of "self-sufficiency," wouldn't it? Give up eating meat?
To be honest I've been very take-it-or-leave it (mostly leave-it) when it comes to eating meat. I tried for years to convince Dan to become vegetarian, with no success whatsoever. After reading Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon however, and further researching what I read, I realized that meatless diets, as well as whole grains, and vegetable oils are associated with enough health problems to cause me to re-think everything we eat and how I prepare it.
In the end we pressed on. We allowed ourselves to experience the emotions of our inexperience, but did not dwell on them. We allowed ourselves time to learn and adjust to this new part of our lives. The rest of the processing went better, though I can't say we have this skill down to a science. Both of us will admit that it will never be our favorite thing to do, but Dan is talking about raising meat chicks next spring and ordering the plans for a Whizbang chicken plucker .
Like any other journey, the one to becoming self-sustaining is taken one step at a time. Some steps are easy to take, others are not. The forks in the road must be thought out with care, and with a view to the consequences of the choices we make. Yet there is no other road for us, no other journey we can take. So we press on, rejoicing in the progress we make and thankful to be able to make it at all.