Slaughter Day Sucks

I’ve written about this before (see Introducing Haley), but feel the need to talk about it again. Last Thursday was slaughter day for my second round of pigs.

Raising animals is hard. I know I talk a lot about the negative side of having an animal farm, but I do that for a reason. So much of what you see/hear when you’re not in the farming community is animals froliking around in pasture living their best life. There’s a lot of that, but there’s also a lot of lost life.

Yesterday, a wonderful man named Darron came over and helped me slaughter my pigs. By “help”, I mean he did everything while I watched and kinda helped with their fence. I’ve been more involved before when they weren’t my pigs, but at this point, I can only really handle watching the processing of pigs I’ve raised.

So, Darron came over, parked his big ol’ truck in the pasture and got out with his gun and tools. We talked for a bit (he also slaughtered my first round of pigs so we’re old pals) and then he got started. Once looking at the pigs, he commented on how healthy they looked, and then told me how much harder it is to shoot pigs that were clearly loved. He said this the first time he was at the farm and I really appreciated both statements. First, because Darron’s father owns a butcher shop and he’s been around livestock his entire life, he knows what he’s talking about. So a compliment from him goes far. The second is that this day is so insanely hard for me and it helps to know that it’s difficult for him, too. Misery loves company and all that.

Darron shot two pigs in the head, with a .22 rifle, pulled them out of the pig area, and cut their carotid arteries so that they would bleed out while their hearts still beat. Honestly, this is the hardest, hardest part. I know that they can’t feel what’s happening, but the process is very physical and they move a great deal. It’s hard to watch.* While they bled out into the ground, he shot the other two and repeated the process, and just like that, I had no more pigs. That realization is never a fun one. I don’t love our field or property as much when pigs aren’t on it.

Next, he positioned them just right on the ground and started skinning and eviscerating them. While on the ground, Darron cuts off their feet, takes off most of their skin (except their back), and opens up their body cavity with a knife and then with a super intense saw. After this, he suspends them on a hook (I’m sure that’s not the technical term) to finish skinning and eviscerating. Side note: I’ve done this before, and it took about 2 hours to do one pig. All said, Darron was on my property for maybe 2.5 hours. He’s very fast. While he went about his work he talked to me about the pigs. Most of what he said was complimentary, some of it was things to look out for in the future, and some of it was just tips he’s learned over time. I will forever value his point of view and his ability to help me get through his work.

Lastly, before cleaning up, he separated out the organs for me. I usually keep the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, ears, and feet while everything else gets composted. This time, a part of Darron’s truck wasn’t working so I kept all of it. The parts that I haven’t brought myself to eat (or feed to Jason) yet will go to the dogs, chickens, and turkeys. If there’s anything left it will be buried on the property to enrich the soil.

Slaughter day sucks. It’s constantly in the back of my mind when I’m with the pigs. Watching them die and know that I orchestrated it affects me for weeks, if not longer. But I also know that I need to eat meat to be healthy. I know that most farms don’t raise meat the way that I’d like them to. I know that most restaurants don’t serve meat that was raised the way I would want them to be. So there’s the age old adage here that “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself”. If I want to continue to eat meat, I have to keep raising it, giving the animals the life that I want them to have, ensuring that they’re as healthy as they can be, and living their best piggy/chicken/turkey life. It also means that I have to keep putting myself through trauma everytime there’s a slaughter day. I’ve come to accept that, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

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*The day before slaughter day, I spend even more time with the pigs, soaking up their piggyness. I thank them for the enjoyment that they’ve given me, remind myself of the frustrations, and give them lots of belly and butt rubs. The morning of, I do the same thing and they get an all you can eat buffet of juice scraps and grain. Then, as they’re bleeding out, I come over one more time and thank them for the nourishment they’ll give me, Jason, Max, Minion, the chickens/turkeys, the soil, and my customers.

 

Lennox Hill Detective Agency

PSA: A lot of people don’t know this, but during winter months a lot of chickens reduce the amount of eggs they lay, or stop laying completely. This is because their egg laying is closely tied to how many hours of sunlight they get each day. The magic number is 14 hours of daylight. One way people mitigate this problem in winter is by using lights in their coops. I decided not to do that this year, so we had a drastic reduction in eggs, despite having 21 hens of laying age.

PSA #2: Egg shells are very good for chickens (they have a lot of calcium) so our chickens get all of ours.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a hen running around with an egg shell in her beak. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal, since we feed them shells. But this time, it was weird because I knew I hadn’t fed them any shells in a number of days. Suspecting what was happening, I went over to their nest boxes and sure enough, there was a broken egg in one of the boxes. I saw that and thought “Oh no! Something’s eating our eggs.” I immediately did a walk around their coop, enclosure, and pastures to see if there were any spots that something could get in to steal eggs. There was a lot of evidence that something was getting inside. Crap! Jason and I then added smaller wire around where we saw animals getting in. We later discovered that it was squirrels and they were not stealing eggs. They were just eating some of the chickens’ food.

We already owned security cameras that we just hadn’t put up yet. So, I put one up in the coop hoping to catch what was stealing my eggs. The next day, we watched the footage and we had been outsmarted! Our camera was too far away to pick up movement in their coop (because chickens are so small, the motion activated camera only turned on when they were all going to bed or waking up). Jason moved the camera a couple of days later and we re-started our investigation. From hours/days of surveillance, Jason figured out who was stealing and eating our eggs. IT WAS THE DANG CHICKENS.

I was worried we had something breaking into our coop, disrupting the chickens, and then stealing the eggs, but nooooo. Those jerks were eating their own eggs. They get the best feed around, oyster shell, grit, and fresh scraps every day and they were still eating their own eggs.

Jason narrowed it down to two chickens who were doing the breaking and on Thursday we removed them from the coop and put them in isolation to confirm what the video footage told us. Before we moved them, we were getting 1 - 3 eggs a day. That’s still 14 eggs a week, but that’s not a lot for 21 chickens. Up until this, I thought it was because of the low light. I WAS WRONG. EIGHT. WE GOT EIGHT EGGS YESTERDAY. Those jerks had been eating anywhere between  4 - 6 eggs a day.

In the next couple of days, the culprits will become soup.

Introducing Haley

Last month, Jason and I went on a much needed vacation. While at the airport, I got my first rude email regarding raising animals for meat. As I was advertising multiple places for pork shares, I wasn’t surprised to get it, but her words still upset me. Not because she was rude, but because she assumed that I don’t think about and/or question every single point that she brought up multiple times a day. Her email made me realize that some people might not understand why I've decided to have an animal farm, or understand my point of view, so today I'm going to explain how I got here.

Look. I love my animals. I challenge anyone who has been to our farm, or spoken to me for ten minutes, to tell me something different. Every single day while looking at the pigs I wondered if I’m doing the right thing, and now that they’re gone I wonder if I can do it again. For some random, angry stranger on the internet to assume that I don’t really frustrates me.

If you look on my pricing page, you’ll notice that I’m not raising animals because it’s lucrative (spoiler, it’s not). I’m doing it because I think the meat industry is fucked and I want to help change it, but you can’t be part of change if you’re not participating in the conversation and giving people options. Don’t get me wrong, it would be great if everyone was vegan. But that’s not a reasonable expectation and depending on who/what you read, it’s also not the answer for the environment.

I’ve been a vegetarian and I’ve been a vegan. For personal reasons that I won’t get into here, it doesn’t work for me. That being said, I have a plant-based diet and eat meat only about once a week. This is what I think everyone should strive for. It drastically reduces the amount of livestock needed to sustain the meat market, it reduces the strain on the land that they’re being raised, and decreases the amount of methane farming is responsible for. It also allows us to continue to replicate ecosystems and provide the land with foraging animals that fertilizes and nurtures the soil when pastured properly. Finally, it gives consumers the option to spend more money on the meat that they do eat. That means that the organic, antibiotic/hormone free, pasture raised meat at the farmer’s market, grocery store, or from your neighbor doesn’t seem so expensive.

Another reason why I’m doing this is because I don’t think livestock should be looked at as a commodity. If something is going to nourish you, it’s only fair that you give it dignity and respect while raising it for that purpose. Our pigs and chickens get all of the attention and love that they could need. The runt of the pigs liked belly rubs. Know what she got? Belly rubs. At one point, Jason told me I had to stop giving them to her because I was getting too attached. But I think that’s the point. Those pigs are going to feed people. They deserve to get whatever they want while they’re living. Also, raising an animal for meat shouldn’t be easy. At the end of the day, you’re taking a life, and that should be done with as much consideration and respect as possible.

The woman who wrote the rude email tried to guilt me into feeling bad about what I’m doing and how I raised my pigs. I do. I’m upset that six pigs that I love are no longer around, that I won't get to hear their grunts every morning while they wait for breakfast, but I’m also damn proud. They ate the best food available. Got to frolic on pasture and root around to their hearts' content, and they were so healthy. The butcher who came to slaughter them told me they glowed. Glowed. Can you imagine higher praise? They weren’t chest deep in mud, cramped together, and eating the cheapest, poorest quality of food available in order to make a profit. Between the two, which would you choose?