This weekend was hard. I’ve been dreading it for months. I didn’t grow up hunting animals. I’ve never eaten an animal that I’ve harvested. I do remember my brother cleaning a deer at my Grandparents’ house one Thanksgiving. It was a pretty traumatic experience just being on the periphery. It wasn’t a process I ever wanted to participate in. When we bought the farm, one of our goals was to be self-sustainable. We dreamed of stocking our pantry and our freezer with vegetables and meat that we had grown here on the farm. We know we’ll always have to go to the grocery store for certain things. After all, we don’t grow avocados in Arkansas. And everybody loves guacamole, right? So far, harvesting has been a beautiful process. We have picked fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, okra and peppers from the garden. For several weeks, we ate fresh tomatoes every day. We have lots of peppers left to can and a freezer full of salsa and other garden goodies. The meat, however, is a little different. When we got the meat chickens, I intentionally kept my relationship with them very transactional. We fed them and made sure they had a good place to forage and sleep. But over the past few weeks, I’ve developed a love for them that I never dreamed was possible. They are not smart chickens; they are very motivated by food and they are fat. I allowed myself to care for them a little more than I intended. They follow Steve around like the Pied Piper and when they run, they look like ducks waddling through the field. They are funny and sweet. We have been planning harvest day for weeks, making sure we had the right equipment and that we had researched the most humane ways to complete the harvest. Steve grew up hunting and cleaning animals to prepare them to eat. We had many conversations as he encouraged and reminded me of the goals we set when we moved here and started this life. He even said he would take care of it…..that I didn’t have to participate. So Sunday was the day. I was ready, needing to be part of the process, but full of nervous anticipation. Out of respect for our chickens, I’m not going to share the details right now, but if you’re curious about the methods we use and would like more information, feel free to reach out. After experiencing the process, it is, by far, one of my least favorite things we have to do on the farm. I was afraid that I’d be traumatized, that I’d never want to eat chicken again. But I survived. It was not an easy process and we learned along the way. There is much more involved than I had imagined. I’m proud that we now have a freezer full of chicken to feed our family. I’m grateful for the sacrifice they made in order to sustain us. I’m proud of the way they were raised up, living off the bugs and grass in the pasture. We cared for them with respect. I have a nightly ritual when we do chores where I tell every animal that I love them before bed. They were loved. And that’s what has made this all okay for me. I know our animals live a good life in a safe space full of bugs and grass. I know they aren’t just trapped in a cage, being fattened up, awaiting their fate. Even though it’s not easy, I would rather have that in my freezer than the alternative. Once, I lost a dog that was my heart and I was distraught and simply heartbroken. I still tear up when I think about my Scottie dog, Max, who I loved for twelve years. I was crying to my mom and she, in her infinite wisdom, told me something that I’ve never forgotten. She said, “Kelly, you will live longer than your animals and the best thing we can do for them is to give them the best life you can while they are with you.” That has resonated with me throughout my life and especially though this process. We will continue to harvest our animals. I will eat chicken, turkey and pork that we raise. It is a beautiful thing, this Circle of Life, as they call it. I’m simply grateful for the opportunity.
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Very good blog, Kelly. You’re right. It is the circle of life.
Remember I told you about a Jewish friend of mine who will not eat anything, plant or animal, while standing and chatting. She said that, in order to show respect for the plant or animal that gave its own life to sustain hers, she will sit in thoughtful gratitude while she eats, thankful for the plant or animal, and the gift of sustenance it provided her.
It was something I had never even thought about- that even the bread we eat is made of wheat- a grain-a seed-whose original purpose was to create another plant- yet that purpose became secondary,as the seed is ground into flour to make bread so we can be nourished.
You are learning valuable lessons as you learn to be a farm girl. Kelly. Love you.
Kelly, you have such thoughtful and beautiful observations!