Processing Your Own

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Driving out to the farm where we planned to learn how to process chickens, my husband Ed and I were nervous. We had to talk a lot about why we were seeking this particular experience. A number of reasons sounded good, but the closer we got to the farm, the more our conversation turned toward our discomfort about taking another creature's life. Neither of us grew up on a farm, nor have we spent time around hunters. Killing our own meat is new. Could we do it? Would it be horrible? How could we justify it?

After a decade of vegetarianism, when my husband and I married we decided to eat a little meat now and again - me because my skinny old self burns through everything else too fast, him out of solidarity. But suddenly the decision felt difficult to defend. We are lucky to live in an area where it is easy, if you have the means, to get high quality, humanely treated meat. It's feel-good meat, no doubt about it. But it is still meat, and the closer we got to the farm, the more acutely we felt it.

There were seven of us in the group that assembled at Callister Farm in West Concord, MN, five women who had driven down from Minneapolis and us. Some were there because they had farming ambitions; others, like us, because they wanted to become familiar with this part of the food system.

After a little small talk and a short overview of the process, our hosts, Lori and Alan Callister, led us into the barn where we donned long aprons and rubber boots. Then we walked back to the kill room. (I guess they figured that giving it a nicer name wouldn't help much.) The Callisters run a state-inspected plant, where they process their own birds and those of some 50 other local farmers. The kill room held an ingenious contraption involving a suspended metal frame that held about 20 upended highway cones, cut so that the narrow end is big enough to allow a chicken's head and neck to come through. The cone holds the birds close so there is none of the frantic wing flapping I was dreading.

Let me say here that Lori and Alan were spot on in their role as teachers and guides. It is not nothing to slice a chicken's neck for the first time, and the anxiety in the room was thick. The Callisters walked us through it, with Alan demonstrating and then standing right next to the person who was up, and Lori talking to the rest of us about why they chose the method they did - one cut to the jugular on either side of the neck - and how it compares to other methods. Another farmer who offers a similar class described it as "a matter of fact chore that needs to be done from time to time," and that was definitely the tone here. Thankfully, the chore was relatively quick.

The next step was the scalding (a one minute dip in hot soapy water loosens the feathers) and the plucking, both of which were greatly aided by machines. We moved into the processing room for the deconstruction, as they called it, and I must admit, that part was fascinating. Without its feathers (and soon, without head or feet), the chicken seemed much more like meat than a bird. Lori described the anatomy, talked us through each step of the evisceration, and offered individual help as needed. It was calm and slow; chicken butchering demystified.

Ours was definitely a class, in no way to be confused with a regular work day at the Callisters, where a full team of trained staff can process 500 chickens. Other farms, like Hidden Meadow Ranch in Mount Vernon, WA, combine a public workshop with their regular processing days. Four times a year, six to ten people come out to the farm and join the Faleys in processing 75-100 birds. They set up a production line, and Laura first describes and then demonstrates what needs to happen at each station. People then assign themselves to whatever station feels most comfortable and begin there, rotating jobs as desired.

Laura says she has noticed that even people who start as far as possible from the beginning of the line usually end up trying their hand at most of the different jobs. "A couple of people have come here to seek confirmation that this is a horrible, traumatic thing that we do. They found that it was not, and that not only is it humane, but they themselves feel comfortable with their own participation," she says. "People seem to be the opposite of grossed out; they feel reassured about the process."

Still other farms offer poultry processing events with a "let's practice together" approach. Eden's Cove is a new farm in Cedar Creek, TX. When they ordered turkey hatchlings through the mail last spring, the company included 20 rooster chicks in the package to help keep the turkeys warm in transit. By Memorial Day, Kevin and JoAnn Smotherman were ready to scale back their rooster population and try their hand at butchering. They researched techniques online before attempting it. Soon JoAnn, who is part of a couple of online poultry chat groups, realized there was interest among other new bird owners in practicing the art of processing. This coming Saturday, the Smothermans will be hosting a practice day. Twenty people have signed up, mostly from nearby Austin, which has an active community of backyard bird enthusiasts, but some coming from up to three hours away. The main point is to practice together. As JoAnn wrote in the publicity flyer, "Many of us have poultry that we'd like processed for meat, but have no idea where to start. Books, websites, and lectures are all good for understanding the process, but getting up the nerve to actually kill your first bird sometimes requires emotional support. Part of the process is learning if you can do it before attempting to do it on your own."

Sound advice, I say. Before our class, a friend told me about the time she and her housemates tried to butcher their own chickens, and it did not go well. Humans and birds were all pretty well traumatized by the first attempt, and the remaining birds lived out their days as pets. It pays to practice under conditions where you are not so freaked out you can't really learn.

Back at the Callisters, we were finishing up our birds. Though we'd each grabbed a random bird when they came out of the plucker, by the time they were ready to go into the cold water bath, we all wanted to tag our birds so that we could take home the one we'd worked on. We'd become attached.

An hour or two later Ed and I left with our nicely shrink-wrapped birds, a couple dozen eggs, a certificate of completion, and a deep sense of gratitude. Gratitude to the birds and to the Callisters, gratitude for the experience. I've always felt that because we eat, we ought know what it takes to bring food to the table. Having worked on vegetable farms, I know something of the price that vegetables extract from humans - the long, sweaty days, the aching back, the mind made stupid by too much sun. I am glad, not happy but glad, to begin to know what butchering meat requires. Now that I have seen it done well - respectfully, on a scale that felt humane to both humans and animals - I feel all the more committed to eating only this quality of meat.

It sounds hokey, but as we drove home I felt changed. Still do. I know plenty of vegetarians who would adamantly disagree, but for me it feels like knowing how to properly kill and prepare a bird initiated me more fully into the human experience. As if being willing to be responsible for the death of this animal changed my relationship to the darkness that is part of eating meat, and made me part of the death that is necessary for life. I don't know whether I'll butcher my own birds regularly in the future, but it feels good and right to have the unknown be known, the fear faced, the circle closed.

From a wider perspective, it is a great thing that some city folks want to learn the skills that were so well known to many of our grandparents and great-grandparents, and equally great that some farmers are willing to teach them. Canning, butchering, cheese making, curing, fermenting - all these are skills that many of us can learn. This, I believe, is the next step for the buy local movement. Re-learning the skills of self-sufficiency will make us strong, keep us well fed, and deepen our appreciation for those who grow and raise the food we eat.

We know of only a few farms offering poultry processing classes so far. If you are a farmer who hosts them, be sure to post yours in our events calendar . If you'd like to hear about food and farm happenings in your area, sign up for LocalHarvest's weekly customized email, Keep Me Posted. Finally, if you'd like to comment on this article or tell us about your experience with meat processing, please do so below. We'd love to hear from you.

By: leeann nay | Aug 6, 2010 05:32 PM | Permalink
Wonderful Article! My first & only experience with butchering chickens was when I was a newlywed in 1973. Grandpa in-law had died and grandma could no longer tend the chickens on her own. No one would chop the heads off and grandma tried. She was so crippled up that I felt the poor chickens were "not getting a fair break". So I volunteered. As a city girl I had not done this and it wasn't really pleasant but I was proud of myself for helping.

I want to raise my own chickens and your article helped me understand that butchering can be done much more humanely now. I had cancer last year and I am trying to eat foods that are much less processed than most grocery store items. Thank you again.

By: | Aug 4, 2010 06:58 PM | Permalink

By: Catherine Carter | Aug 4, 2010 12:48 PM | Permalink
While the majority of the responses to this article are positive, I'm struck by one of the real divides between people who would otherwise be aligned on eating as locally as possible and minimizing animal suffering--the divide of whether it's acceptable to kill animal life for food. Readers like Derek say it's not because there's no humane way to kill. And leaving aside what, for me, is the very real question of why animal life trumps plant life so absolutely in this paradigm, it hinges on death: some people think death is good, okay, or at least necessary, and some think death is simply appalling, the worst thing we can do to another living being.

And, you know, I'm not sure this is a bridgeable divide, because it comes down to what's essentially a spiritual matter, a belief about the nature of life and death. People who are genuinely appalled by death qua death are never going to feel able to kill to eat. People who believe death's part of a natural cycle are never going to feel that it's inherently a terrible thing that everybody who doesn't photosynthesize lives by eating somebody else.

Like I said, we probably can't bridge this; it's very likely a question of faith of one kind or another. But I'd like to try. So I have a question here, and a real question: for those who feel there's no humane way to kill (animals), and that death is the worst thing that can happen to us...why? any sense of what has made you feel that way? What is it that's appalling about death? And for those who feel that humane killing is far from the worst evil of the world, again, why? What's made you feel that death is basically okay if it isn't linked to torture? any thoughts? Maybe we can take this debate down to its most basic premises.

By: Linda Maggio | Aug 4, 2010 11:47 AM | Permalink
As a producer/ processer of pasture raised chickens I read this article with great interest. When I began 6 years ago I was fortunate to have a friend who was experianced in killing birds. Your article made me remember the trepidation I felt as I killed my first chicken. Now, 6 years later we have refined the process to an art and sell our birds at 3 farmers markets. I think of our chickens as artisanal- we can provide our clients with cuts that are unavailable anywhere else such as whole chicken breast and split bonless chicken ( awesome on the grill). A few remarks directed toward some commenters: 1) I tried to use the only poultry processor in the state with mixed results. The birds are shackeled instead of placed in cones and this caused them to panic. They are given an electric shock to immobilize them before being cut and occasionally the the shocked birds wings would strike its neighbor shocking that bird but not rendering it unconscious. Not pleasant. When processing costs were factored into total expeditures it became quickly apparent that everyone was making a profit except me. I cant produce pasture raised chicken at a loss- 2) To the man that felt "no death is humane" Well maybe not, but dying under my knife is a hell of a lot better than being killed by a fox or a coyote. Predators are brutal when they kill and do not wait until their prey is dead before they start to eat it. Nature is balanced but not necessarily kind.

By: Beckie Perell | Aug 4, 2010 01:59 AM | Permalink
Interesting article and I enjoyed reading through the experience. Today I found one rooster that has been with me for several years had passed away. He had been weak and the heat got to him so I too wanted to remind myself about blanching, de-feathering, gutting and cooking a chicken is about.

I am proud of myself for learning more about the chickens and their anatomy. I find it interesting that some posters were offended by the truth of killing and eating meat. I don't hear them understanding that farmers spend their time, talent and treasures on raising healthy and strong animals so that the end product is rich.

Keep exploring.

Beckie

By: Cynthia Klein | Aug 2, 2010 01:12 AM | Permalink
This is a beautifully written and thought out description of something that most folks will not allow themselves to think about. I remember a poem that I chose to present to a class in college..it described how the neatly wrapped, unidentifiable meats are lined up in a store case, and how this allows people to think of it as "steak", "hamburg" and "thighs", rather than pieces of a once living animal with warm breath and eyes that can look at you.

This description of the experience of learning how food comes to be "on the table" is spot on, and respectful of the entire process. Many people need meat in their diet to be truly healthy, and this should not be a source of guilt or shame. Thank you for sharing your experience.

By: | Aug 1, 2010 07:23 PM | Permalink
This is an excellent article about a subject many people are thinking about. I would like to do it, but I'm CHICKEN! My grandparents did it . I would like to find a way to learn this skill near tucson, arizona. There are alot of us chicken raisers out here. Josie

By: Sara Ewen | Aug 1, 2010 02:38 PM | Permalink
What a great article. I've wanted to learn how to process my own chickens but I just don't want to jump into it without doing it with someone who has already done it. I'd like to find someone locally who can help me out. Shoot...20 chickens would last us a good long time. I could swap with our friends who raise beefers and pigs.

Thanks for the personal touch. It will help me renew my search for someone in my area.

By: Is Avid | Aug 1, 2010 10:00 AM | Permalink
The article was well written. And I have had to think about this subject when I contemplate the future and food shortages that are sure to come.

But I do have to agree with the person who wrote about the fact that vegetarians do it because of their conscience.

I do NOT condemn nor judge anyone else for there views on this topic.

But I realize that when I contemplate doing what the author did, my conscience will not allow me to do it.

And morally and spiritually I can justify it in times of true need. I appreciate the way the Native Americans hunted and used the animals. It was not for sport nor show. It was for survival.

For me I had such a peace when I stopped eating meat that I could scarcely believe it. I realized it must have bothered me a lot.

I was recently camping and we met some fellow campers next door that worked and lived on a ranch. They were used to butchering. Their young boys thought it was just fine to use the native chipmunks around us for target practice. They thought it was "cool" to watch them explode. They also captured escaping non-poisonous snakes and chopped their heads off for the same reason.

So .. while eating meat may be a necessity at times, I think that it is paramount to also be able to respect animals and teach children that animals aren't here for their sport.

By: Debi Potts | Jul 31, 2010 01:06 AM | Permalink
This was a wonderful article. I have always enjoyed meat but forever felt guilty about taking it's life and cowardly knowing that I probably would not eat meat if I had to butcher it myself. I truly appreciate what you said about by taking part in the process you felt less of the darkness of eating meat. It makes sense to me. Perhaps I will follow in your footsteps if the opportunity presents itself. I feel strongly about the animals having a quality life prior to becoming our sustenance and have slowly begun the process of eating more "humanely". Thanks for sharing this experience.

By: | Jul 30, 2010 02:07 PM | Permalink
For the past several years we have been processing our own chickens. I grew up in the city and had a difficult time getting my head around it but now am ok with the process. We provide our birds with a great life....pasteured on grasses, free feed, etc., so when we go to slaughter them.... We try to block the living birds from seeing the ones being slaughtered, we try to be as calm as possible so they are not stressed. not sure if this works but makes us feel better. We dont like to do it but it is necessary. There are many skills our great grandparents knew that really are great assets for us to know. I believe there are many things they did that unfortunately our communities as a whole have no idea how to do. With the economy becoming less and less stable these skills are almost necessary. I make my own laundry soap, yogurt, sourcream, etc., and am always trying to stretch my brain at learning something new. .......thanks for the great article...you can never have enough information....God Bless

By: Lydia Zackery | Jul 30, 2010 02:04 PM | Permalink
Thank your thoughtful report. I have been a vegetarian (and vegan when no humane cheese and eggs were available) for 15 years. We own a very small farm with heritage ducks (for eggs) and heritage sheep (for breeding) and also grow vegetables. We work very hard to become self sufficient and to leave a small foot print on this earth. I've not eaten meat or eggs or milkproducts because I do not want to participate in factory farming. I despise cruelty of all forms and like a commenter before me I grieve when we loose animals to predators. When we bought a gun to kill these predators I began seriously to think about life and death on our farm. We are a single income family and the farm supplements this income. When a big cat kills one of our $200.00 sheep it not only hurts my heart but it takes food out of my kids mouth. When we have a year like this one where we only have ram lambs or when we have too many drakes we have to decide to either keep them as pets or sell them. We know what will happen if we sell them we just don't know how. So I have come to regard my vegetarian stance as illogical, impractical and detrimental to my local community and my family in particular. Just this week I have meade the decision to eat meat again. Preferrably only the animals I can kill and process humanely. Your article was incredibly helpful. You have put my mind at ease about a decision that I have given months of thought to. For the vegans and vegetarians out there condemming this I have the following thought. I know you mean well but I bet most of you don't live on a farm and you do not have to make a living from it. I congratulate you on being able to survive without killing or profiting from killing. I am glad you can do it. For myself and my family we have chosen a different part.

By: | Jul 30, 2010 10:20 AM | Permalink
Thanks for writing this article, I have often wondered if this is something I could do. I have gutted fish, dressed deer/elk with my Dad as a young lady, but have never had this experience. Now I want to know.

By: | Jul 30, 2010 06:47 AM | Permalink
Just wanted to clear the air. I wrote a blog earlier starting with "Here's to all you vegans out there". My blog is to the few people writing negative blogs based on this article. I personally love the article, and I say kudos to this lady for such an experience. I may take a class myself someday. After all, to keep it humane, keeps it sane.

By: paul johnson | Jul 30, 2010 03:57 AM | Permalink
I have a small poultry farm and offer local grown and freshly ground feed as well as processing classes and equipment rental to backyard growers in our area. There are few options for both of these services in most of the country, and I am excited about articles like this that prove people care about where there food comes from. Vegeterians and vegans are free to make their choices, but only seem sad and confussed when they try and proselytize or shame someone else for eating meat. pastured sensations

By: Nyssa Mills | Jul 30, 2010 02:59 AM | Permalink
Bless you for being able to do this. I grew up on a farm but could never get over watching a processing. I have my own little backyard flock in central MA, breeding heritage rare-breeds (Delawares). I would love to find someone who would take away my roos and bring me back half of them in neat little packages.

Anyone?

By: Margaret Blickenderfer | Jul 30, 2010 02:45 AM | Permalink
Thank you for the article. It was articulate and sensitive. Most American's are so lucky, almost to the point of being spoiled silly, to eat as they choose and to eat well. Being self-sufficient is appealing but hard, hard work. The majority prefer modern conveniences, to be sure. The price of easy living is usually a complete disconnect to many realities, including the need to kill ones dinner. However, I'd rather have these skills to keep my family alive, if it ever came push to shove. Thank God I don't have to rely on eating fat bugs when I get a bit hungry...

By: Sandy Kavanaugh | Jul 30, 2010 12:02 AM | Permalink
Congratulations on learning a new and useful skill. I remember watching my Granny butcher birds for dinner, but of course it wasn't nearly as neat, (or sanitary!) as the way you were able to do it.

I admire your fortitude, and have rationalized eating chickens by realizing that they would eat chicken too, if given the chance, or by necessity. However, because I can't find anyone close by to buy humanely raised and killed birds, I've not had fried chicken for almost three years!

I can order and have them shipped, but the cost is prohibitive, besides negating any locavore virtues.

Well done, and thank you for sharing your experiences. Killing should never come easy to anyone, but if done with respect and done quickly, it allows the animal and human to retain their dignity.

By: EastmeetsWest | Jul 29, 2010 11:53 PM | Permalink
I grew up in rural East Texas. My great-grandma "processed" her chickens with small Colt (not the horse!). She would be amused by the political and pseudo-religious commentary that now results from the simple act of preparing a good wholesome chicken dinner.

By: Sandy Gallagher | Jul 29, 2010 11:36 PM | Permalink
Nicely written and very informative. Thank you for sharing this experience, which would have been a bit frightening for most of us!

By: | Jul 29, 2010 11:35 PM | Permalink
I applaud your efforts in this. I sat at my grandmother's knee while she dispatched her chickens. It seemed so effortless. However, I would have to be starving to do it myself. North Coast Muse @ http://sally1029.wordpress.com

By: Melissa Graham | Jul 29, 2010 11:17 PM | Permalink
Thanks for the article, I also raise chickens. My husband has had to kill a few due to sickness, but now I have some chicks that are sure to be roosters. So in 6 months time, we will kill our first birds to eat. If we choose eat meat, I believe it's just being responsible to know how it gets from farm to table.

By: Anne Marie | Jul 29, 2010 10:53 PM | Permalink
Thank you, Erin, for your beautifully written and informative article.

I was reluctant to even read the article, although I do eat meat. I have been working for a fruit and vegetable farmer recently, and in doing so, am becoming better connected to the food I eat. He also has pigs, chickens and cows on the farm.

I was reassured by your description of the chickens being held close (by the cones) to lessen any anxiety. If only other growers, butchers and meat handlers were so enlightened and would practice their craft in humane ways. Being required to hunt, gather, grow and prepare one's own food could truly be a catalyst for a powerful and peaceful change in society. Or one can hope.

Other reader's comments touched me, especially those who observed chickens being blessed before becoming food. Saying Grace before any meal is something I diligently try to remember, but I find it so easily forgotten in the rush of the day.

To experience vicariously through your bearing witness to and participation in this cycle of life, helped me to realize that perhaps I also have the strength within me to become "initiated into what it means to be fully human." Death, dying and the creation of life so readily generates fear, strong emotions and unfortunately, harsh judgments by others. I have a very sensitive and gentle soul.

Thank you for the opportunity to express my opinions on this topic. I am happy to have found Local Harvest.

By: suzanne levesque | Jul 29, 2010 09:56 PM | Permalink
people shouldn't judge other peoples beliefs. i was a vegan years ago when my kids were very young. they have grown up knowing about proper nutrition. i have suffered with anemia since i was a small child. over the years i have been able to keep it at bay because i eat well.we have a dairy goat farm and have to sell animals every spring which i dread doing because i know some will go to slaughter. we do not slaughter our animals, but this is a matter of choice, we have fellow farmers that do and we do not judge them. i have recently had to start eating lean red meat due to having extreme side effects from menapause which has left me with chronic anemia from my complications. having a vegetarian diet at this point is not an option for me unless i want to have a blood transfusion. so all you vegans out there please don't judge others without knowing all the facts. i have tried heal myself without meat protein, but having the demanding life of a farmer and cheesemaker being a toatal vegan with my situation leaves me with not enough energy and i am sure there are many farmers out there that will agree with me. if i worked in an air conditioned office without much physical labor i am sure i could do it!! our personal choices are not always the right choice for everyone else. suzanne/farmer/cheesemaker

By: Lynette Hughes | Jul 29, 2010 09:51 PM | Permalink
I applaud your actions. It is so very important to see and understand where our resources come from and how they are prepared for human consumption. This understanding should not be limited to food sources but to the trees, fuel, and water resources (to name only a few) we use to survive. We live in a society in a time when no one cares because you can go to the store and buy it. But what happens after a natural disaster. Give it some thought, it can happen to you. What will you do?

By: Laura Aguiar | Jul 29, 2010 09:46 PM | Permalink
Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I have enjoyed the dialogue that has come of it as it has made me think deeper about how my organic meat gets to my table. It is too bad that Ms. Foster's anger blinds her enough to miss the point of what you have shared, as she writes, "to brag about it as you have and proudly take home the remains of your homicidal, thrill-seeking adventure, is repulsive." It is clear that you are not bragging and that yours was not a thrill-seeking adventure.

By: Khristyna Meintz | Jul 29, 2010 09:38 PM | Permalink
This lovely lady writes about an important event that she attended and people just want to punish her for her experience. She went out to learn and understand the process and to say such rude comments is wrong. Whether your a vegetarian or not its not her business to judge someone that is trying to connect to what they eat. If you choose to eat only plants then that's your business. I know many vegetarians that had to change back to eating meat due to medical reasons. Not eating meat cause of feeling bad is just non-sense. I think vegetarians need to get a life. Keep your comments to your self and go eat your plants. I have many animals and butchering is life. Thank you for sharing your experience.

By: Philip Rutter | Jul 29, 2010 09:19 PM | Permalink
In case any of you missed it, Michael Pollan's account of killing a pig, in "The Omivore's Dilemma", is also extremely thoughtful. And he does a great job observing and dissecting his first time "hunting", too; about the best description I've seen.

Seriously useful, for those seeking insight.

I applaud the willingness to look reality in the eye. Failure to do so is one of humanities biggest problems. But you knew that. :-)

By: | Jul 29, 2010 09:13 PM | Permalink
Here's to all those vegans out there. Stop with the negative comments and blogs thinking you are holy than thou about your very confused ideas on not eating meat. Let me put to you in a short but sweet way, we are the modern humans we are because we thrived on meat to survive naturally. Did you know that we need meat just for your brains to function? You can only get all your amino acids and abundant B12 to mention a few from meat sources. Vegan could actually be destroying their health by "trying" to be politically correct. I am an animal lover, but we do RESPECTIVELY need to consume animals to live. If you do a little research, you would find that cave man's diet was almost identical to that of the wolf. It is purely media that has filled your heads with guilty about something that is natural to do as a human being. I DO NOT agree with a animal suffering in order for the all mighty buck to be made from corporations such as Smithfield & Tyson to name a few who abuse animals with disgusting never to see light, crammed, injected, fed unnatural diet living conditions. This is why people like me study and search for information on healthy and humane ways that the animal doesn't have to suffer for us as humans to survive. It is the practice just like tribal people like the indians. They respected their kill for life and used every part of the animal not wasted, so please stop the UNNATURAL MADESS of the "vegan" way. Vegans clearly need to do their homework. Maybe it is because of the brain fog that is created due to lack of nutrients(omega 3s, amino acids B12 ect.). All I'm saying is look into it. You may actually changes your convictions on your very diet.

By: Laurel Shaver | Jul 29, 2010 09:07 PM | Permalink
I also appreciated this article. I am now a farmer, answering a life-long dream after being raised in the suburbs. Our farm is listed here on LocalHarvest. We raise veggies, have organic egg layers, and yes... we raise and sell meat animals as well... chicken, lamb and goat. Kudos on the article.

I do want to rant, just a bit, and that is about the folks who have written things here which make it apparent that they didn't pay much attention to the article AND that they didn't pay ANY attention to the comment guidelines. The author stated why she gave up being a vegetarian. Insulting her about her choice is not necessary and is quite immature, in my opinion. Being a vegetarian is not like being a Christian or Muslim or Jew. There need not be a life-time committment or a spiritual nature to it. The reasons for being one can vary, as can the reasons for reverting back to eating meat.

I was a vegetarian for many years because I didn't have access to properly raised and processed meat. My brother and I both avoided meat to avoid supporting a factory "farm" system. I went back to meat when I found good sources of free range meat. My brother went back when his doctor advised him to do so. Like the author, he also has a very active metabolism, and he was loosing far too much weight and energy without a reliable source of complete protein and fat.

SO, are we hypocrites? Not at all. But I think if given a chance to examine the lives of those who are so quick to judge the omnivores in this crowd, I'm sure it wouldn't be hard to find a few.

Thank you again for the article, and to all of the commenters who have included your own experiences here as well, thank you.

By: | Jul 29, 2010 08:40 PM | Permalink
I've never done this before, but while growing up (not in the U.S.) I have watched my local butcher butcher animals at dawn, chickens, cows and lambs. And I have to say, it's very important to realize your food comes through taking the life of another animal. Not because it's morally wrong, anymore than the fact a dog or cat eats meat is morally wrong, but because it makes you understand the importance of the gift the animal gives you, and increases your respect for this circle of life. I applaud you.

For the previous commenter, there are people who can get sick from being vegetarians, or get really thin and unhealthy, simply because their body needs certain nutrients and essential fatty acids and proteins that can only come from animal sources. You can look it up medically. Judging her entire relationship and motives just from that is unfair and assumes a lot. Also, not everyone believes vegetarianism is the healthiest way to eat. It works for some and doesn't for others.

By: Sheri McNeil | Jul 29, 2010 08:40 PM | Permalink
This was a great article. I am trying to find someone to teach me in my area. I feel that if we eat meat, we need to know how to process it. Also, I am sure that a chicken raised in a backyard or on a family farm and then butchered has had a much better life than that of a factory farmed chicken. All living creatures die, the best we can all hope for is a comfortable, happy life before we go.

By: r worrell | Jul 29, 2010 08:14 PM | Permalink
I am disgusted with this post. I am so sick of people who "give up" eating meat, then "pick it up" again. Either they were vegetarians for totally fake reasons, or they discarded their conscience along the way. There are no health reasons for resuming a carnivorous diet, none whatsoever. Even the AMA admits that!

To me, that's the big fallacy in her discussion. She hurriedly gives an invented reason for resuming meat-eating then takes several paragraphs telling us "it's really okay" "it's not that bad" "its humane" et cetera. All rationalizations for her faulty decision.

The author of the post did NOT give a good explanation for "eating meat again." Was her husband a meat-eater? Did she conveniently shed her convictions to please him? Does she believe that being a doormat is a good way to begin a relationship? Or was it all about "convenience"?

There are no reasons for killing animals for food, short of starvation.

Self-indulgent Americans have jumped on the local food bandwagon for all the wrong reasons! Eating locally is just one factor in transforming consciousness and a more humane world. If it's the same old food (dead, skinned animals) with the same old attitudes (greed) and the same old practices (pesticides, sludge, GMOs) -- then local food has little to recommend it.

It's all about self-awareness and compassion. Without it, none of this means anything.

By: Amy | Jul 29, 2010 08:11 PM | Permalink
Really great article. I too am in the process of learning how to harvest my own food and this is great to read. Some of the comments are a bit sad though. It reminds me of a woman that told me she would never eat eggs from free range chickens because they eat bugs and that is why she only buys her eggs from the grocery store. Well, I just can't argue with that logic...

By: Paige Hill | Jul 29, 2010 07:27 PM | Permalink
(I started to write something else but decided it's not worthwhile to discuss logic with illogical people. So that's where I'll leave that.)

Thank you for sharing your experience with us so more people will know that it's possible to be connected with our food in a balances and respectful way.

The industrialized food system is not balanced, is not respectful to animals or consumers, and is greedy and manipulative by nature. This is not how we were intended to be. But we've come to pretend that's the only acceptable way to nourish ourselves because we've gotten so disconnected from nature.

Thank you for reconnecting us and in a way that highlights the multiple processes by which it can be done. You covered your personal experience of getting well prepared, you covered botched attempts, and you covered the fact that there are processors out there who are much more humane than the hidden world behind "chicken from the store". So you've shown us we have choices again.

One person asked, "Did you NEED that chicken?" You already stated you did, and had pondered that question when you decided to eat meat. Everyone should ask that type of question and evaluate the answer for themselves. (And not judge others for their answers!). Do I need this? What's the best way to get it? Can it be done better? Repeat.

Others here have concerns that people learning for themselves again is putting them out of business. That assumes a capitalistic society is the best and healthiest way to exist. I'm personally pleased to see people learning skills that everyone used to know as standard practice because "mom/dad/grand taught me." If you're losing money because people are learning to do for themselves...excellent. Adjust and learn to do something people can't do. Then you're actually providing a service to your community. Please don't ask others around you to stop evolving and learning and growing because it keeps you comfortable.

Argh! Still a bit of a rant. Congratulations on your new skill and your new found connection with nature. Thank you for sharing!

By: | Jul 29, 2010 07:25 PM | Permalink
Thank you so much for this well-written article. We addressed many of these same issues when we first took on raising our own poultry and waterfowl. Access to processing was difficult [distant mostly but also very limited] and we felt butchering was a skill we needed to acquire. Fortunately the farmers we had purchased our organic poultry from back then were very willing to let us see how they did things and explain what they could to us. And we read everything we could find online as well. Truly, butchering is a functional and worthwhile skill that has largely been lost in recent generations. It was difficult even ten years ago to find anything in print on the subject. Bringing back this knowledge set is essential to those of us who value small and sustainable farming. We know how to process our own birds and could teach others [we have actually] how to do it now. That knowledge provides us an alternative option to conventionally raised poultry. And our respect for our food has only increased as we have come to more completely understand the cycle of life for poultry.

By: Charis Walker | Jul 29, 2010 07:17 PM | Permalink
Well written, informative article. My husband and I have butchered our own chickens and used a processor. It's a ton of work to butcher our own. We like using the processor, too. I hear Amy's frustration as a processor, but I must respectfully add that no everyone lives within a reasonable distance from a processor. I drive nearly 3 hours one way to the ONLY processor in the state that will process my small flock. I have to make a return 6 hour round trip to pick them up several days later. There is such a tremendous backlog that it's often difficult to get an appointment at all. While I would love to be able to take them to a local processor, we simply don't have that option. Given the rising cost of gas and the impending arrival of a little one, next year we will again process our own birds. Any person who raises their own birds with love, respect, and care is to be applauded, and regardless of whether we have them butchered or butchered them ourselves, it is a wonderful, practical skill to have. Thanks for the article-- I'm glad that I'm not the only one that blesses my birds! :-)

By: | Jul 29, 2010 07:08 PM | Permalink
I applaud you for being brave enough to tackle this thankless chore, and learn in doing so. I grew up on a farm, and was taught that animals are meat on the hoof (or foot, or whatever). We butchered our own chickens, and had a mobile slaughter truck come out to do the beef that we raised and then ate. God intended us to eat meat, as He gave us canine teeth for that purpose - and animals are not for pets, but to eat; so we never got too attached. Having said that, my Dad was tender-hearted enough that he couldn't stand to be around when the butchering was done - so it was Mom and us children that did that! I have tried to teach my children the same way, but most of them are rather reluctant to get involved :) Hopefully, that will change when they are older!

As far as Derek's comment is concerned, they are not human, so humane is not an issue! They are animals, and were put on this earth for us to eat. The problem is that people like Derek have swallowed the false idea of evolution, that we are decended from the animals - and God's designs are left out or forgotten. Read the Bible (preferably the KJV) and get His viewpoint, and forget man's false and misleading ideas, and all of us will be better off!

Joe

By: | Jul 29, 2010 07:03 PM | Permalink
killing is still killing, no matter if you have a class in it or profess to do it humanely. did you 'need' to kill this animal to survive? i've done it before but i could never do it again which is why i will remain a vegetarian. as long as you can live with your conscience then that is the only part that really does matter

By: | Jul 29, 2010 06:58 PM | Permalink
Amy Sipes - Based on your logic there is no reason to buy local then. Look at all the middlemen losing money because we buy local. Instead of fighting this trend, why don't you embrace it by having your business host some of these events for a small fee?

Great Article by the way. I am going to look for something like this where I live.

By: Melissa Foster | Jul 29, 2010 06:56 PM | Permalink
I am not a vegetarian but I know that to take a life one's self is different from consuming something that is done by another. When you say that you felt changed after you finished your killing, you were right -you are changed and will never be the same. You have purposefully killed with your own hands. To seek out this experience is not noble, to brag about it as you have and proudly take home the remains of your homicidal, thrill-seeking adventure, is repulsive. Immediately after posting this, I am removing my name from your mailing list.

By: | Jul 29, 2010 06:36 PM | Permalink
It's great that you decided to try your hand at butchering. Knowing how to effectively break down a chicken carcass to its parts saves money at the grocer (or the butcher, etc). Notice I said carcass - i.e., already slaughtered. But to say that you've taken this one seminar and now you know how to slaughter and can do it again strikes me as naive at best. Learning to can or to bake bread or make simple cheeses are one thing, butchering properly is an art. If you want to retain that skill - and yes it's a skill - means you'll have to do it more often. Are you planning on doing that? Slaughtering should be done by someone who knows what they're doing so they don't torture the animal. Why humanely raise livestock otherwise? There are reasons why jobs like butchering evolved - having someone who knows what they're doing properly. Just because your great-grandparents did it doesn't mean you should - chances are they didn't care about the animal's welfare. Food was life and death for them.

By: Elena Broslovsky | Jul 29, 2010 06:31 PM | Permalink
Thank you so much for this well written article. As an owner of a small farm with goats and chickens I am attached to my animals.

I have never butchered one and probably am not capable. I have felt that if I am going to eat meat it is hypocritical to let others do the 'killing.' Many times I have vowed to either give up meat or learn to butcher. Yet I have not done either.

I am pained each time I loose a chicken to dog or coyote even though I know it is natures way. I get incredible pleasure from watching each one hatch, grow, watch the way the mother hen protects them and then decides to send them off on their own.

They free range in my yard pecking at bugs, spreading manure, and turning over soil. The rooster awakens me at sunrise and clucking and chirping is sweet music through the day.

I do not see myself butchering anytime soon but I admire your courage to do so and thank you for sharing your experience.

By: Carla Roselli | Jul 29, 2010 06:26 PM | Permalink
To those who say that home butchering takes money from the pockets of processors, I cannot argue. But in the state where I live, there is NO processor of poultry within a 200 mile range. So either I kill it myself, or I don't eat it. Knowing how to humanely convert a live bird into a meal is a valuable skill.

By: Amy Sipes | Jul 29, 2010 06:00 PM | Permalink
Did anyone ever bother to think that perhaps this is why there are few processors left? Not supporting processors is a huge reason why they don't exist. Believe me, as a processor, big meat & USDA are the least of our worries. We're more worried about the backyard butchery that takes dollars out of our pocket and makes it difficult to pay the electric bill.

By: debbie hill | Jul 29, 2010 05:47 PM | Permalink
Erin, thank you for this article...very very interesting! We used to have a few chickens and my husband decided to thin out the roosters and butchered a few (I didn't care to be involved with that process!) I imagine it was less traumatic for you and Ed to actually be at a farm where they can teach you correctly...and a more humane way (by the way, we never had "yardbird" chicken again after that.....i imagine it was not something he wanted to repeat!) Interesting to know that you can find farms to teach you this, among other things.

By: Ginger Marks | Jul 29, 2010 05:46 PM | Permalink
thanks for the very well written and informative article. We Don't eat our own chickens, nor do I think we will get to that point. And it still seems like live chickens bring more money than dead ones.

By: | Jul 29, 2010 05:25 PM | Permalink
Great article, I was a custom kill butcher for 25 years owned and operated a small slaughter house, no chicken processing we were a beef and hog operation. I still do all my own butchering, help out the neighbors on occasion have my own smoke house for hams, bacon and sausage I have taught many people over the years to do their own processing, skills that I think need to be retained, over the years small processing plants are starting to disappear and these skills lost, Oh there are lots of meat cutters but few butchers, I have nothing against the guys that work cutting meat in grocery stores but what they are is a meat cutter,they open a box take out a primal that is in cryovac and almost completely ready to cut into stakes or what ever. A lot of the guys I know unless they are hunters don't have the knowledge of how to break down a quarter of beef or how to kill it and these are journeyman meat cutters again nothing against them it's just how the system now works, And with centralized process becoming more prevalent you won't see many meat cutters in the future, all you will see is people stocking the meat case, look at a Wall-Mart meat counter some time that's what it will come to

OK so I kinda got off the point, what I'm trying to say is the more skills you learn the more independent you can become, you will have skills that you can teach to others, have a healthier life and knowing were your food is coming from is just another side benefit

Good for you in learning all you can

Jim

By: Be Nag | Jul 29, 2010 04:56 PM | Permalink
I had a similar experience several years ago. Instructor began with a short prayer of gratitude and a blessing over the chickens. He treated each chicken with respect. The process was quick, and as he explained it, the best method he knew for minimal suffering.

If you are a omnivore, it's important to know where your food comes from, and how to correctly and humanely kill an animal. Perhaps the disconnect from the farm and harvest has contributed to the eating disorders we see in modern life.

By: Sara Patterson | Jul 29, 2010 03:34 PM | Permalink
Derek, I'm afraid you've missed the point. If you truly believe that "there is no humane way to take a life," then I certainly hope that you never have to face the decision to euthanize an ailing pet. For those who do choose to eat meat, this is the way to do it--in a way that shows gratitude and respect towards animals who evolved for and are raised for food (which domesticated farm animals are, no matter how you look at it). Which is better, promoting this point of view or pushing people back towards CAFO meat with a militant, vegetarian-is-the-only-way approach? I vote for the author's tactics. And I say that as a former vegan.

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