Homesteaders Are Not the Enemy
Raising Meat Chickens and Other Livestock Doesn't Always Make You Popular
I’m not a popular person. Sure, Facebook shows a different image. Snow peas and fresh eggs adorn my photo albums. As a homesteader, I post updates about caring for baby chicks, making goat cheese, or this year’s upcycled greenhouse. Accolades flow in. But Facebook posts are a carefully chosen façade. They don’t reveal what goes on behind the six-foot wooden fence.
I Raise My Own Meat.
As I wait for gasps of horror to subside, I’ll run out to ensure my Cornish cross chickens have enough water and shade for the hot weather. I’ve also saved the tops of my organic daikon radishes in the crisper. Can chickens eat radishes? You bet! Chickens love radish tops.
All right, this homesteader is braced for the backlash. Bring it on.
Homesteaders take a lot of heat for raising meat animals. And I’ve heard it all. I thank the documentary Food, Inc. for bringing this reality to the world. If you haven’t seen the film; I recommend streaming it on Netflix. This is factory farming, folks. This is what you get if you buy your meat from most grocery stores or restaurants. And though the horror has turned many of my friends into vegetarians, it has provided one side of the meat industry but only a little of the other. It shows Joel Salatin with his sustainable, humane, sanitary meat-processing establishment and explains how he raises his animals with love from start to finish, but the main focus of the documentary is the atrocities of CAFOs.
Incomplete education brings prejudice. Little backlash comes from vegetarians who research the industry and eschew meat because they have no humane farm-fresh alternatives. They often thank me for my efforts as a homesteader. The biggest critics are omnivores who claim to want a better world for animals but have rarely looked into what that actually means.
So I’m here to respond to the most common criticisms I receive as a homesteader.
“But … The Butchering Process Can’t Be Fun.”
Of course it isn’t. If it was, there would be something wrong with us. Butchering is a necessary process to bring the animal to the table, and my responsibility as a homesteader is to perform it in the cleanest, most humane way possible. It gets yucky, a little smelly, and will take away a Saturday of boating on the lake quicker than anything. It also raises my level of respect for what has been given to me. As I nurture the animal from a baby and dispatch it in a way that shows the most compassion, it makes me question how much meat I really need. It makes me grateful for what I have.
“Are You Mean to Them Before You Kill Them?”
We taunt them and call them names. Really, are you serious? Why would we do that? Not only does cruelty make the meat taste bad but it’s also wrong.
This is McNugget, whose name changed to Stinky after her second hour in the house. She slipped a tendon just two days before butcher and could not walk. I carried her to the house and set her on clean sheets with food and water within reach. We had two humane options: butcher her that night or keep her comfortable until the scheduled time. Several friends were horrified, perhaps because it revealed how much I cared about a condemned animal. I wonder what they would rather I had done. Left her lying in poo, trampled by the other chickens, away from food and water?
“That’s a Lot of Poop.”
Why yes it is; thank you for noticing. And here is my shovel, my composter and my happy, green garden. Here are my children, who know the value of hard work at the long end of that shovel. And here is where we wipe our feet before entering the house for a joyous family meal.
“That’s a Lot of Work.”
Why yes it is; thank you for noticing. And I notice that you spent 60 hours this week at your job. We all work hard. I’ll gladly take my chicken run and garden over an office desk.
“Do You Make Your Children Help Kill Them?”
No, no, no. Absolutely not. As a homesteader, I’ve always been adamant that my children have a choice. When we butchered our first rooster, my son went vegetarian for a month. We supported that as well, as long as he wrote a small report on alternative protein sources. Now that they’re teenagers and the meat processing has become a regular feature, they still get to choose. My daughter is pretty good at dressing out a chicken, but I say, “I could really use your help today but it’s up to you.” So far she has helped. My son, who is squeamish, chooses to clean the house while we work, then clean the processing station afterward.
“You Better Not Have Fed Me One of Your Chickens!”
Oh heavens no, I’d never do that! I wouldn’t want to waste something this precious on someone who doesn’t appreciate it. I save my carefully and lovingly raised animals for people who acknowledge the sacrifice, hard work and care that has gone into the process.
“I Could Never Eat Something That Was Loved Before It Was Killed.”
Homesteaders know love comes in many forms. Loving an animal can mean being willing to put it down if it’s in misery or humanely using it in the purpose for which it was bred or hatched. A good homesteader loves every one of her plants and animals and intends to do what’s best no matter what happens. Compare this to the factory farms where a disgruntled minimum wage employee with no emotional connection to the animals is the most common thing they see aside from poop-covered steel walls. Many of those employees have appeared on PETA videos. Emotion is a good thing. It keeps us human.
“I Could Never Do That.”
Friends who intend respect will follow this statement with, “But I respect you for doing it.” Those who do not use this addendum mean criticism and malice. My retort is that it’s a good thing someone is willing to do it. If the animal is going to be born/hatched with a fate under the broiler, and is going to the butcher block anyway, it’s good that some can live in small backyards, eating radish tops.
“Where Do You Live?”
Haha. Good try. I live somewhere in Reno, Nevada. With a several huge dogs.
“You Scare Me.”
I wonder if people say this because I’m a woman who butchers animals, since my husband never gets this comment. I’m also a martial artist and a writer. I know how to do things much worse than butchering a chicken. Common sense keeps me from actually doing them unless it’s necessary.
“How Could You? They’re So Cute!”
To that remark, I respond with only this picture. I call him Carl’s Jr.