It’s difficult to live on a homestead. While we don’t slaughter out own birds – yet – the emotions that you go through packing them into the kennels and loading them into the car, driving to the butcher’s and handing them over, picking them up an hour later, and bringing them home to the freezer, it’s a roller coaster ride.
You’ve held these birds in your hands since they were a day old. You fed them, cuddled them, loved them. You give them your attention, your time, and your devotion. In return they give you education, experience, and sustenance. It’s never easy to see anything come to an end, much less the life of an animal, even one that has been born and raised with the sole purpose of giving your family food.
We’re asked often why we raise our own birds if it is so hard to see them go off to “freezer camp.” There are so many ways to answer this, but it all boils down to the fact that it is by far healthier for us and for them. They have room to grow, are not debeaked, and are not kept in an area the size of an iPad. These birds have been tended to for every wound and illness, from pasty butt to bumble foot, to torn combs. Each rooster has been held, named, and identified as a living being, not a “production unit.”
We eat meat because we are carnivores. But that does not mean we need to become heartless about it. Our current industrialization of animal husbandy that has formed concentrated animal feedlot operations (CAFOs) have let the US become such a heartless, unaware society as to where our meat comes from that many no longer realize their food as once having been a living animals. We, like all homesteaders, fight to close this gap. We long to be connected back into our food chain, giving each animal we consume the best life possible until it’s time for their ultimate destiny as one of our “farm hands.” As a family we’ve decided to raise our own meat birds, buy local beef, and purchase additional meat from the local farmers’ market. Is there more that we could do to strengthen our connection? Yes, but raising our own chickens for slaughter is the first step.
I could wax political and spiritual for hours on this topic. It’s a job we don’t take lightly, raising our own food, but it’s one that we readily take upon ourselves instead of taking it for granted. It is rough. It leads to tears, sleepless nights, early mornings, and deep meditation, but Gods above is it worth it. We know where our food comes from. We know each bird was happy and healthy. We know we are making a difference and raising our children to know where their food – their life source – comes from. I will never give up that opportunity.