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Meat Processing Day at the Farm

December 4, 2008

**Warning, the following post might be offensive to my vegetarian readers**

Weekly, we head out to a local farm to pick up our 1 1/2 gallons of raw cow’s milk. It is a working farm, so you never know what you are going to see when you go. One day it might be a new cow tethered to the walnut tree looking at you with those beautiful big brown eyes that Jersey cows have, another day it might be goat kids jumping and running around and playing chase with the children like little puppies. It could also be helping to gather eggs and finding a chicken carcass or looking through the yard and finding a goat kid that didn’t make it through the night.

This past Tuesday when we went out, I got out of the van and immediately smelled a metallic smell that reminded me of the smell of the small meat processor when I picked up our goat in the spring. I didn’t really look around, though, just headed into the self-service farm store. Our friendly farmer told me that it smelled like death today because they had hired a local processor to come out and process chickens and lambs. I looked out and realized that the lumps in the bucket of the tractor were actually lambs.

Those of you who know us in real life or have been reading my blog for awhile know that it is very important to us to teach our children about our food sources. Living in the city, it isn’t always easy to do this with the animal sources of our food. Since we have aspirations to move to the country eventually, Lawrence may help friends process a pig, we will help to process chickens soon and we would eventually like to raise our own meat rabbits (a very viable self-sufficient meat option for we city dwellers) this was an ideal opportunity for our kids .

We want to have respect for the animals that we eat, make sure they are humanely raised and processed and also use everything we can from the animal so as not to waste. This is somewhat limited since we don’t raise our own and don’t have access to the hide and such, but we do use all the bones and organs we get.

We are also very firm in the belief that if we can’t stomach where our meat is coming from, that we shouldn’t be eating it. That doesn’t mean that we have to personally slaughter all the meat we eat, but if the opportunity arises, then we shouldn’t expect somebody else to do the dirty work for us. We have told Maddy (mostly her since she’s older) that she is welcome to become a vegetarian if she is opposed to the concept. We are serious; it’s not a phrase that we throw out to use reverse psychology to get her to clean her plate.

Taking all this into consideration, we were presented with the opportunity to watch a lamb being field dressed. I’ve never seen it and the girls obviously hadn’t either. I’ve never hunted or watched any animal being field dressed, so it was an education for me as well. I assumed that the girls would look briefly and then be ready to leave. However, they watched him do an entire lamb and even documented it with photos. They thought that it was gross when he removed the organs, but weren’t overly disgusted with the whole process. I was mightily impressed with their responses. I think that the meat processing man was a little taken aback by being watched and photographed by two girls!

When we left, we talked about it and how they felt and what they thought. They told me that it wasn’t as gross as they had imagined it would be. They also talked about how they were glad that they lambs were already dead because they thought the hardest part would actually be killing them and they didn’t think they could have watched that.* They also thought that they man who did it would also feel sadness at killing the animal and I shared with them that I thought he probably didn’t feel a whole lot about it because he had just met them and it was a job and a product for him. That, probably, farmers who kill their own animals feel much more because it is animals that they have fed and cared for. It was a very unexpected and unusual education experience and I’m glad that we are afforded these opportunities to keep our children in the loop of life and our food sources.

EDIT: Just to clarify, this wasn’t something that we had prearranged to go see, it just happened to be going on when we went to pick up our milk. I realized it wasn’t entirely clear on this point after talking to a friend yesterday. I don’t know if it even makes any difference, but there you go. I don’t actually know that I would have arranged it, thinking that the girls may not be able to watch it, but since the opportunity presented itself, I took advantage of it and they outdid my expectations.

*I agree that I don’t think they would have been able to watch the actual killing. I also probably wouldn’t have let them watch that part at this age.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. underthebigbluesky permalink
    December 5, 2008 4:39 am

    Nice post. I was vegetarian for three years for ethical reasons. I started craving meat really badly when pregnant for the first time.

    My girls and I get all of our meats from a local organic farm about five miles away.

    It is SO important for me that if I am making the conscious decision to eat meat again that I see these animals and know that their life has been valued.

    Em’s tends to shy away from meat, like me, she eats very little, but I think it’s so important that our children know where the food comes from instead of the plastic wrap and foam container.

    And to know there area no antibiotics, hormones and other trashy stuff being given to them, makes it all the better.

    Bravo. Though I have to say you are much better than me. Don’t think I could watch a slaughter or maybe even a dressing.

  2. Mon permalink
    December 5, 2008 10:47 am

    I think you handled this fantastically – with thought and care for your girls, and with just the right amount of discourse.

    My OH and I are totally pathetic about killing our own. But I will ensure the kiddo at least witnesses where meat comes from. My nieces didn’t know that the chicken on their plate was the same as the live chickens they saw on telly until they were over 9yrs old.

  3. Evelyn permalink
    December 5, 2008 1:43 pm

    I think it is great the way you are handling things with the girls. Having grown up in the country, it was just second nature to witness all of this. Also, Dad would hunt and get a deer each season to feed our family. We all participated in the cleaning, cutting and packaging the venison. Looking back, I am grateful for all my parents taught us about nature. My brothers raised rabbits for food too. On the other end of the spectrum we also got to see the births of various animals. I am so amazed at the number of people that have no idea where their food comes from. Mom

  4. Tonia permalink
    December 5, 2008 3:21 pm

    I became a veg. because of seeing the slaughter and processing one too many times of our farm animals. (A pet heifer.) I have gutted a deer with my Dad without crying. (I was about 12 and was determined not to cry.) I have plucked chicken carcasses that my grandmother beheaded. I wish more people that eat meat would see the processes involved. At least they could make informed decisions rather than having their food aseptically packaged and handed to them in the grocery store. I have no illusions that one day everyone will be veg. I think my hope is that one day animals will be treated humanely while alive and dispatched quickly and respectfully. I think it is good your kids got to see that process. -tonia

  5. Rane permalink
    December 5, 2008 3:59 pm

    Wow what a great mamma you are!
    Good job! Give yourself a pat
    on the back. I dont think that my kids would have handled it as well!
    I was raised on a farm and this was
    a daily thing just about….
    we had chicken very very often
    and my dad would kill the chicken
    and my mom would dress it out.
    I was the one and my sister to
    care for the chickens I gathered
    the eggs and she feed them.
    (I found out that she was scared
    of the chicken so that is why
    I got the eggs.) * my mom never
    went to see the chickens saying
    that it was our job…I found
    out latter that she did not want
    to get attached, because she
    had a pet chicken as a child.*
    We lived on a very big farm…
    196 acre farm. It was full
    of all kinds of animals and such.
    I guess I need to do better with
    my kids, I over protect my kids.
    My oldest son can not even watch
    me make meat loaf. Poor boy.
    BTW…oh I totoally understand
    about the recipe for the soap!
    Thanks a million!
    I think I found a recipe so
    dont worry!
    You are so sweet!
    Take care keep warm!
    Rane and kids
    ~~~~~~*~~~~~~~~~

  6. Steve and Paula permalink
    December 5, 2008 7:56 pm

    Bravo!!!!
    Yes, being a part of the whole process is important.
    I took part in the great chicken butchering day when I was little.
    Now, I am an integral part of the hunting process, since we eat only wild game.
    And the only way to get enough meat for the year is for me to get in that tree stand with my 6 ml.
    The only part I do not do, is the gutting.
    If for some reason I had to, I could do that as well.
    Paula

  7. Lisa permalink
    December 5, 2008 8:16 pm

    Jen-We have the same values.

    Mon-I never want my children to be like your niece. Isn’t is strange how some people can allow their kids that kind of ignorance. It always shocks me to hear thing like kids who don’t know that carrots grow in the ground!

    Mom-You were lucky to have that exposure.

    Tonia-Absolutely we want to be sure our meat is humanely raised and slaughtered. That’s why we don’t buy grocery store meat. I’m glad most of our local farmers have a processor come out and do it. Much less stressful for the animal. Thanks for sharing your reasons behind becoming a vegetarian. I’m always curious. I would become a vegetarian if we didn’t have access to healthy, humane meat.

    Rane-That sounds like a great place to grow up!

    Paula-We are going to be doing some chickens soon! We haven’t hunted our own game yet, maybe in the future. It is kind of cost prohibitive because you have to buy the tag (about $100)and you’re guaranteed to get any meat!

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