Since late spring we have been raising this year’s free-range chickens. We started fifty chicks back in May and fifty more at Lughnasadh (the beginning of August). We began butchering the first round some two weeks ago. It takes time to do all the butchering because processing a chicken for the freezer is a lengthy affair, and we aim to do it as humanely as possible. The girls round them up for me one at a time. We kill each one at a fresh site so there is no scent of blood to cause them fear. I kill the birds with a hatchet. Whack, and it’s over. Quick and painless. Then I remove the legs and wings and gut and clean them with a razor sharp, stout small puukko. After I’ve done my bit with each one, one of my daughters runs it to the house where Daphne removes the skin and finishes the cleaning, then preps it for the deep freezer. The organs are roasted and fed to the cats, so there is little waste. Toward autumn, after the deer hunt or soon as I take a deer, I will smoke some of the venison and some chickens in the large smokehouse at the edge of the Elfwood, just off to the side of the cottage.
In today’s industrialized world, with so many living far away and alienated from the skills of Nature, inevitably someone writes me via email or FaceBook to tell me how ruthless and cruel I am to raise livestock on the farm, all to kill it heartlessly at the end of the growing season. And yet, often these very people will eat meat bought from a grocery, or state they are vegetarian and consume soy and possibly dairy products. But there is no cheating the cycle of life and death that is part of Nature’s Way. All things live; all things die; and from that death life springs anew. This is an ancient mystery as true today as ever. But to try to circumvent that Way . . . well, that has dire consequences. Meat purchased from a grocery is invariably produced on industrial farms. That livestock stands around in the filthy muck and mire of feedlots which are intentionally kept small and packed so the animals can barely move, thus putting on weight faster. Or, worse, the meat purchased at a grocery might come from animals that never get a breath of fresh air or see the light of day because they are raised in giant warehouses. If one tries to circumvent the Way by being a vegetarian, there is the fact that modern farming is so incredibly destructive to the Earth. Monocropping and the use of artificial fertilizers kills the soil and causes vast lost topsoil. Even dairy is not acceptable through the industrial system. In a typical modern dairy operation, cows hybridized to yield dozens of liters per day are milked to exhaustion over just a couple years, then sent off to butchers to be processed into ground meat. Bear in mind a domestic cow’s natural lifespan is up to twenty years, and if it is not abusively overused it can yield milk for much of that time.
So, I do not feel any guilt for the killing of our livestock. It all lives well. Just using the chickens as an example, the chicks are raised in a kennel in my own home until their feathers grow out and they can stay warm. Then the semi-grown poulets are turned loose in a large coop in the barn with lots of space till they put on a little size so they can wander the meadow safely. Soon as they are big enough to romp and stomp outdoors without being carried off by an owl, they are cut loose as young chickens in the Firefly Meadow with our dairy goats.
As to our other livestock, the dairy goats eat free range grass and browse, as goats were meant to, and are milked only for however much they can provide naturally. The geese have the run of the entire homestead except during the first spring growth of the gardens when they might eat the new, tender plants. When we occasionally raise a cow or pig or sheep, they too have the run of the land. And then one day, when the animal’s time has come to become food, it is killed where it stands so that it had no notion of what was coming. Death is swift and humane. We lived right with the animal, and treated it right at the end. And doing this allows us to use livestock to make use of marginal land. Plus, their droppings become compost for the mounds which eventually becomes the nourishment for our vast gardens. The detritus of the gardens later goes back to feed the livestock. The circle of life. A homestead ecology. Nature–caring and balanced. This is the Way.