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The struggle of raising animals, with love, for the slaughter

As published in Peak Prosperity

By Judith Horvath on December 29, 2022 Let’s talk about the psychology of raising an animal for meat, and how to face that. We’re going to look at the bigger picture, and the effects on the family and children; both short term and long term.

I like to call it harvesting, not to be politically correct, but because it’s what I’m doing. Butchering is a term that means taking a life. Granted, that’s part of the harvest. But this bigger process – the harvest – is about converting energy from one form to another, and gaining sustenance and food from another source. It’s not focused on the killing aspect, at all.

I encourage people new to livestock farming, or homesteading, to enter into the relationship with their livestock with this “purpose” in mind. People ask me, “how do you decide which animals to cull? I struggle with that choice every year.” My answer is, “let’s view this from a different angle. These are meat animals, right? Well then, we are going to stick to our plan and these animals will fulfill their purpose. We might select for which ones we keep for superior production and future breeding stock.”

In other words, “inferior” animals are not penalized with harvest. The outstanding ones are retained for perpetuation and for sustainability. The continuation of the cycle.

These are not noble wild creatures on the endangered species list. These are domestic animals selected for specific traits over millennia. The ones that I raise are some ancient breeds like Icelandic sheep. And to preserve them, you must eat them.

Without even getting into the matter of nutritional density of pasture raised heritage meats and the benefits of eating an animal raised like this, I’m going to mention the experience of this slow cuisine and the enjoyment thereof. Unless we embark on this endeavor, none of us will ever experience the difference between factory farmed (CAFO) meat versus the delicate flavor of a grassfed primitive breed of low lanolin lamb, hogget, and mutton so mildly flavored that a 4-year-old ram tastes as good as yearling ewe! Yes, it’s true. I know it because I have a freezer full.

What about a pasture-raised dual-purpose chicken that has huge dark meat thighs from running around, and the fat is a rich golden yellow from all the sunlight, beta carotene from native vegetation, and insects it has consumed? You’ll know when you have cleanly raised meat when you smell chicken like this. It smells like… NOTHING. Yep, that’s right. No “chicken” smell. Because what you smell when you get chicken from the grocery store isn’t chicken. It’s pathogen stew. (Listeria, Salmonella, Campylobacter, E. Coli anyone?)

You can experience and raise an animal that’s had a great life. Running around. Chasing bugs. Dodging hawks. Dustbathing. Sunbathing. Scrambling around and competitive eating with its flock mates. And what’s wrong with harvesting an animal that’s had a life like this? Maybe you’ve had the privilege of being the source of a life like this? There’s honor in that. Pride. That’s top-level stewardship. When you purchase a bird that’s had a life like that, you should be pleased. When you’ve raised an animal like that, you should be deeply proud. Animals like this have one bad day in their lives. No months of misery in filth and fear. No massive feedlots. No cannibalistic overcrowding. This is honoring the ingredient. Through its whole life.

And when you do this, something magical happens.

You feel connection with your food. Your family will NEVER waste food. You can’t STAND the thought of that animal’s life going to waste. You’ll make that whole chicken into three meals or more. Plus, broth. That lamb will be the centerpiece of a special occasion. And then great stock or broth afterwards. It brings a reverence for the life energy that is present in food. You will experience the effort and care that you put INTO that animal’s care, INTO your own food. You’ll not just taste the difference; the energy and care are in there too. I swear it’s true. It brings deep satisfaction, security, and a new understanding of how food can be grown, handled, harvested, and prepared. It is a world of new security and peace.

Harvested heritage turkeys.

For Starters

Please, don’t give these animals human names. It makes starting this process harder. Instead, give them food names to help remind yourself of their intended purpose. It will help your children. More than that, it will help you.

People ask me, “when does it get easier to butcher an animal you’ve raised?”

I say, “never. It becomes less of a shock. But it’s never easy.”

See, I don’t believe it SHOULD be easy. If it is, you’re doing it wrong. You need to care for them, with the same care that you give to your own body, your own family, your own children’s health, your mother’s wellbeing, your ageing father…because it’s all connected.

When you raise your own animals for meat, it IS all connected. Deeply.


I think sometimes as adults, raised in suburbia, only getting food from a grocery store (I did!) we worry that our kids will be scarred or something, when it comes to harvesting meat animals. We are afraid it will be shocking or detrimental in some way. I understand that thought. Because I had it.

But, in my own life as a parent, I haven’t found it to be the case.

Back when I first started with chickens, I decided I was going to learn HOW to do the deed properly before I had to. So, I signed up for a class and took my daughter along. She was six.

I remember telling my mom I was taking daughter Caroline to this butchering clinic. She basically melted down and I thought she was going to drive all the way from New Jersey to Ohio to “save” her granddaughter from permanent scarring. (Spoiler: she didn’t.)

I mean, I laugh now, because I just had NO IDEA how it was going to go. Yes, it was a standout day. Caroline was not doing well with the whole thing and I was getting stressed out, so I let her go run around with the other kids while I was being taught the ins and outs of gutting and plucking. When I was almost done, she showed up with a totally different vibe.

“Mama, can I do one before we leave?” her attitude was all different.

“Honey what’s up? What changed your mind?” I asked. “I thought this was too much for you.”

Caroline looked at me and said, “No! Chickens are no big deal. I saw them doing a LAMB over there!”

Well, being barely okay with the concept of harvesting an animal by my own hand, I kind of froze and looked at her, “Wait. What?” “Yeah!” she said, “You should have seen it. It was really big and after they caught it, it was having no part. It dragged three men across the field until someone shot it. Then, we saw how it was all put together and comes apart. It was amazing and scienc-y, how they showed us and explained it! I’m ready to do a chicken now. No problem.”

I sort of stood there, aghast, proud, confused… all kinds of feelings roiling around in my tired brain. That girl, I’ll tell you what… she doesn’t disappoint.

She’s one of my greatest teachers through this journey. My own daughter. Watching her adjust to farm life has been tremendously beneficial to me as I’ve watched her grow into it and absolutely FLOURISH in ways I never did as a kid.

Today, she works with animals for a living. She’s the biggest advocate for quality of life for food animals. She can butcher a deer, a rabbit, quail, chicken, turkey, just about anything. And she can do an autopsy and tell you what killed that animal and how healthy (or unhealthy) it was. She’s a total whiz at this. Talk about life skills and understanding how life works. She GETS IT. And I couldn’t be prouder.

She’s almost 23 now, and she’s deeply aware and connected with food animals and the slaughtering processes. Temple Grandin is one of her heroes, someone she wants to meet. She plays classical music for the animals on harvest day. And thanks, each one for its life sacrifice. And NEVER EVER wastes food. And YES, she is a serious meat eater. NO, she NEVER gets meat from the grocery store.

If that isn’t the best example of the pure benefit that you’re actually giving your children, I don’t know what is.

Breaking it Down

So, in practical terms, what does this look like? The learning curve? This process to getting there?

I have some advice.

  1. If you’re about to start livestock farming, be prepared to harvest them BEFORE you have to. Take a class if you’re doing your own poultry. For bigger animals, make sure you have a butchering place lined up. You’ll have to choose the date way in advance. I make appointments 6-9 months in advance. Seriously; that date is out there before that animal is even born. Yes. For real.

  2. I was serious about that no-human names thing. Give them meat names. It helps, truly it does.

  3. When it comes to treating your animals remember that you’re doing something for your own future health when you give that animal fresh water, clean its area, move it to fresh grass, scrub out its water or food pan, ensure it’s physically healthy and comfortable and free of parasites. Or treating an injury.

  4. When selecting for breeding stock, select for temperament and productivity. You never want to feel angry at an animal, and take its life in anger because it attacked you, or something. Ok, that’s it for now.

Here’s to harvest time. Let’s stock our freezers, be thankful, have gratitude in our hearts when we honor the ingredient, enjoy the fruits of our labors, and feel good knowing we gave our food animals the BEST DAMN LIFE POSSIBLE; All for superior quality nutrition for our bodies, for our family’s future, and for our community.

Eat what you grow. Bloom in your community. Enjoy an abundant, resilient, rooted life.

I’ll see you in the field.

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