"If you eat meat, something had to die."
This is a line many customers have heard me say over the years. In the past month I have taken 1600 broilers, 3 steers and 27 hogs to be slaughtered. I have a lot of time while transporting them to mull through the issues surrounding the taking of a life to nourish our bodies. Even before we started raising animals for meat, I decided the only way I could eat meat with a clear conscience was to know that it had a good life. Our desire to live out our convictions regarding ethical, humane, sustainable food production is what led us to farming, and it was then that I learned that there was more to it than just ensuring these animals under my care have a good life, they needed to have a good death as well.
From its inception, our farm has been based on openness and transparency. Below I lay out how each species we raise is loaded, transported and slaughtered. My hope is that it will help customers know more fully the cost, the taking of a life, to nourish them. If you eat meat, something had to die. It's true, and I believe this truth should be acknowledged.
Chickens and Turkeys- The chickens we raise are butchered around 2 ½ months old. The turkeys are 5 months at time of processing. Chickens go to sleep when the sun goes down, so we go out just before dark and load the birds in crates and place them in our stock trailer. They sleep through the night and I leave early the next morning to take them to a processing facility owned and operated by an Amish family. I arrive as the sun is coming up and the chickens are waking up, something I believe minimizes stress to the birds. They are unloaded by hand, inverted and placed in cones. The main artery is cut and the blood drains out. From there the feathers are removed, then innards and finally they are cooled and packaged. A note about how I choose the processor we work with: before I ever brought a bird there to be processed, I showed up unannounced one morning and walked right in the back door. I figured if they had something to hide about their methods, I would see it. Thankfully, the best word I can use to describe their actions is “reverent”. The workers were calm and quiet and handled the birds with care. I watched for several minutes before they noticed me. I asked for a tour, then scheduled my processing dates for the season.
Hogs- Our hogs are pastured heritage breeds that grow more slowly than conventional hogs. They are butchered at around 8 months. Our hogs are loaded right out of the pasture using a make-shift corral. We generally take 16 hogs at a time in our stock trailer. The hogs are processed at a small, family-run processing plant located about an hour and a half from the farm. While there may be processors closer to us, we have a good relationship with these folks and trust that the meat we get back is always meat from animals we produced. The hogs have never seemed to be all that bothered by being in the trailer, but we like to load in the morning and take them straight to the processor where they are unloaded, weighed and put in a stall with water until processing. They are brought into a room where they are quickly and calmly killed- more specifically for those who will later ask, they are shot in the head. Each hog that is processed produces around 140 lbs. of pork.
Cattle- Our cattle are processed between 22-24 months of age, generally in the late spring and late fall. The cattle are accustomed to being rotated to new pastures, grazing all over the farm. At processing time, we bring them into a corral and funnel them into a chute and onto the trailer. The cattle seem to be more stressed in the trailer than the hogs, so we like to load them and take them straight to the processor just before processing so they don't have the stress being kept in the trailer or stall. The cattle are killed in the same manner as the hogs. Each steer that is processed produces around 500 lbs. of beef.
If you eat meat, something had to die. Know the full cost, and enjoy your next meal with a spirit of thankfulness for the life that is nourishing you.