There is a beautiful conundrum my husband and I experience in raising farm animals: the balance between caring for them and remembering their purpose: food. The beauty is in knowing that we provide for them and they know that when we walk toward the barn, their hunger will be satisfied. We know that too–when their time comes, our hunger will be satisfied.
Joel Salatin maintains that every farmer should only keep animals that have a purpose. Barn cats should not be fed, they should hunt and keep rodents out of the barn. Every animal should work to earn its keep, either by contributing to our meals, pulling wagons, or eating down an overgrown field, for example. Any animal who doesn’t contribute in some way is a bleeding wound to the finances and should be made useful, usually by being added to someone’s freezer.
I read that and fully agreed. My heart and mind were prepared for the task ahead of me. Having been raised in the suburbs, this farming life was all new to me and I am grateful to Joel Salatin’s honest and financially responsible advice. Not knowing the research I had done prior to our farming launch, many people warned me that it would be difficult. Don’t name the animals that will end up on your plate. Don’t get attached because I wouldn’t be able to end their life and fulfill the purpose of this farm, which is to provide excellent food at excellent prices.
We started with chickens and raised 25 Cornish Rocks. It wasn’t difficult. Thanks to Joel Salatin, I knew their purpose, I didn’t name them, and when the time came, I was ready. We were as merciful as possible with their end. Kosher. It was messy work, but the meat is delicious and we continue to provide beautiful chickens to our customer’s freezers.
We do name the pigs: Bacon, Ham, and Pork Chop. Three pigs, once a year, with the same names every time. By the time they are ready for processing, I’m ready for them to go.
different with my goats, however. They have names. I pet them and one in particular, named Milky Way, pushes all the other goats away so I can scratch her back. She is too old to kid, and too sweet to sell. She is not a pet, however. I am likely going against Salatin's advice by creating a use for her: she earns her keep by being the favorite “Auntie” to all the kids born each spring, playing “Butt the Head” with each of them. She also is a good defender against predators and is currently living with the ducks who are too slow to get away from the most recent threat: a fox. We do sell the goat bucks for meat and I will admit, I am not there for the initial process, but have no problem helping with the butchering. My friends who warned me about my weakness were right. I don’t know if it’s because I named them or because of their sweet nature. Probably a little of both. I am grateful for my husband who can follow through with the plan and for his ability to do it as quickly as possible.
We have another goat who lived in the house with us for 6 weeks as she recovered from an illness. It would have been easy to let nature take its course and cull out the weak ones, but we didn’t. And I’m glad. She is smaller than the other full grown goats, she is always the last one to kid in the spring, but she is a sweet and attentive little momma.
The laying hens are simply contributors to our meals. And when their egg-laying days are over, we don’t know because there are so many of them running around, we can’t tell who is laying and who isn’t. Sometimes they are found in the pasture, all tired out from good living and we bury them. Other times, the neighborhood hawk or Great-horned owl takes a chicken snack and we find the bones and feathers.
Our barnyard and pastures are designed to provide the best life we can offer our animals. We are in this together, my husband and I along with the animals we bring to the farm. And when the time comes, they provide us the best nourishment. We do our best to make sure every creature on our farm has a purpose, but admit that some of them are still here simply because they make me smile.