“May all your animals live a glorious life, with just one bad day.” – Joel Salatin
October 6, 2010 – I was sitting in a church pew listening to my hero, Joel Salatin, speak to an enthusiastic audience, people eager to discover ways they could change the food system and advocate for more humane agriculture. As he finished his speech, Joel raised his hands in a benediction, blessing us and instructing us to go forth with our new knowledge to change the world.
When he uttered the words in the quote above, I felt something pierce deeply into my soul.
Yes. YES. YES!!!
THIS. This is how farm animals, how ALL life should be treated – with great care, respect and dignity.
Just days before hearing his speech, my husband and I had sold our house in the city and were preparing to move to our “new” farm. After watching the documentary “Food Inc.” months before (in which Joel Salatin stars) and being exposed to the horrific shock of factory farming, we both felt a powerful urge to leave our city life and dive into a lifestyle that allowed us to have more control over our food.
We planned on having a nice garden and a few chickens.
Within two years, our “nice garden” was huge and our “few chickens” turned into 20 laying hens, along with 25 chickens raised for meat, a few goats, honeybees and hogs. Funny how a little dream just keeps expanding!
We’ve enjoyed all of the animals, but raising hogs was a revelation for us. The more we learned about these incredible animals, the more we appreciated them. The more we appreciated them, the more distressed we grew with the treatment of these wonderful creatures in factory farm settings, where they are crowded together in unnatural environments (read more over at my blog post).
Did you know that hogs are regarded as one of the most intelligent animals on earth, ranking on nearly the same level as dogs? Let that sink in for a minute. Can you imagine if dogs were treated the same way that hogs are treated in factory farms? It just blows my mind. I don’t understand why treating animals in this manner is considered acceptable.
We decided that we could no longer support factory farming and resolved to raise as much of our own meat as possible.
I want to share with you our honest experience of what it was like to raise hogs, to interact with them daily on a personal level… and then eat them.
Are we barbarians for raising an animal, loving it, petting it and then eating it? Perhaps some would think so.
I invite you to read and form your own opinions. This excerpt was written on my blog on October 18, 2012, while all my thoughts were fresh and emotions raw (and almost 2 years to the day after hearing the life changing message from Joel Salatin).
“One Bad Day”
Our dear hogs experienced their “one bad day” and were sent off to the butcher a few days ago. I’m still trying to sift through my emotions.
On one hand, I am excited to pick up our order of delicious hams, roasts, bacon and sausage.
We worked hard caring for these creatures, making sure they were happy and comfortable at all times, and I’m eager to receive our end of the deal.
On the other hand, I have to admit I feel a sense of loss. We raised these hogs since they were 8 weeks old, and while we never allowed ourselves to get really attached to them, we certainly felt affection for them.
From the day they arrived, we made it a point to go in the pen each day with them, to scratch their ears and talk to them. They were never elevated to “pet status,” but we cared for them and were emotionally invested in them. We named them, for goodness sake. In fact, my husband insisted on naming them.
Names have power, significance. Names are a constant reminder that these are creatures who deserve respect and dignity.
We received countless questions along the lines of: How can you do that? Raise them, love them, and then eat them? Don’t you feel guilty? How can you eat something you have looked in the eye?
The message I got was: “If you love animals so much, how can you bear to eat them?”
Don’t get me wrong. I love animals. For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to make animals a part of my life.
Part of loving animals, though, is realizing that they are indeed animals, not humans. While I firmly believe animals have feelings and emotions, I also believe they don’t process thoughts like us.
We must be careful that we do not elevate them to human status – there is danger in humanizing animals.
The Bible clearly states in Genesis that mankind is to care for creatures of the earth, to rule over them. God put us in a position of authority over creation and its inhabitants and He expects us to treat them with the honor and respect that they deserve – it’s a command, not a suggestion! The word “rule” implies “to care for,” “to protect,” “to treat fairly and justly.”
What a noble task God has given to us!
We Tell Kids Where Their Food Comes From
We have been completely honest and open with our children when they ask questions about where food comes from. They have the right to know the truth.
When we brought the piglets home, we allowed our son to name one of them. Then we sat down with him and explained to him that we were going to take very good care of Rose – we could love her and pet her and bring her treats. But one day we were going to butcher and eat her.
He was silent for a moment, wheels turning in his little head.
We informed him, “This is how we get sausage and bacon.”
He perked right up. “Ok!”
It made complete sense to him – we take care of the pigs and then they will take care of us in return by providing meat.
When other children come visit our farm, I don’t beat around the bush – we introduce the animals, saying “these are the hogs we are raising for meat.”
We’re not doing our children any favors by allowing them to keep believing that meat magically appears on the grocery store shelves. We must teach them the truth about food.
The Day – Slaughtering the Hogs Humanely
We are fortunate that there is a mobile slaughtering company in West Michigan, which means we don’t have to send the hogs to a slaughterhouse – everything is done right on the farm.
We hired Keith DeYoung of KDY, Inc. to come to our farm and handle the process. He handles the killing, skinning, eviscerating and then delivers the carcasses to a USDA approved processor, who transforms it into hams, bacon, sausage, etc.
Keith arrived with his specialized truck, drove right up to the hog pen and got down to business.
The mood was somber and serious. The air felt heavy as I realized the gravity of the situation.
I could scarcely breathe. These hogs would be sacrificed for us. I was trembling.
No there was no joking, no chit-chat, no laughing. Keith loaded up his rifle and it was over quickly.
My hogs felt no pain, no fear. One minute they were happily snuffling around in their pasture, the next moment was darkness.
Just one bad day.
I cried tears of relief, thankful that our hogs maintained their dignity until their final moment. There is nothing glamorous about killing animals, but Keith did it respectfully and honorably. I am grateful.
I made myself watch the entire process from beginning to end…and no, it did not make me want to be a vegetarian. On the contrary, it filled me with awe, reverence and thankfulness.
I will never, ever take meat for granted again.
I have witnessed first hand what it takes to get meat from the farm to our plates. Friends, meat is a precious, costly resource (financially, physically, emotionally) which should be consumed thoughtfully and with joy, not with indifference or ignorance.
Be filled with gratitude when you eat meat. Life is precious – another living, breathing creature of God died so that you could eat and grow strong. I have looked my meal in the eye, cared for it, loved it… and I appreciate it all the more for it.
I would be lying if I failed to mention that my emotions fluctuate wildly moment by moment. One second, I’m grateful the hogs are gone and feel overwhelmed with relief. They were an enormous amount of work for me. I was ready for a reduced work load and our reward of delicious meat.
Then the next second, I glance out my kitchen window, to watch the hogs playing in their pasture as I did all summer long… and realize they are gone. A strange sensation fills me… sorrow? Regret? Guilt? I don’t know what to call it.
We went into this hog raising endeavor knowing that we would eat them. We tried hard to not get attached, but of course we did.
I find comfort knowing that our pigs lived a fabulous life, well fed, happy, comfortable, loved and cared for. As Joel Salatin says, we did our best to honor the “pig-ness of the pig,” making sure that they were allowed to engage in the very activities for which God created them.
They were allowed to root in the dirt, wallow in mud puddles and roll in the grass. Their joy and happiness was clear for everyone to see, their grunts of pleasure a constant sound all summer long. My husband says they “won the pig lottery.” I’m not sure they could have had a more glorious life.
I wonder how our world would be different if everyone had to look their meat in the eye before they ate, if they realized how sacred the act of eating another creature is. It’s easy to forget you are eating a living breathing animal when the meat comes chopped, frozen and in a shiny package.
I’m not trying to convert you into a vegetarian – I’m simply trying to drive home the idea that meat is to be honored and respected. I see the $1 burger as an insult to the animal that died so we could have cheap “meat” (I question how much actual meat is in those pink slime infused, chemical and preservative-laden atrocities called “burgers”).
Eat meat. Eat good meat. Eat meat from animals that were raised humanely, by people who care for their animals.
If possible, look that animal in the eye before you eat it.
Your life will be forever changed…
Making the Change
We raised our own hogs for 3 years and can honestly say that we loved it. However, as our farm work load increased, we needed to cut back in some areas and we decided with regret that raising hogs needed to be set aside for a while.
Our task then was to find another farmer to purchase from who treated hogs with the same respect and dignity that we did. Thankfully, we were able to find a few farms in our area doing just that.
Perhaps you have decided that you also want to opt of supporting factory farms as well. Perhaps you, as Joel Salatin says, “hunger for a relationship to food, land and to people who care about those things.” You want integrity and character in your food.
How do you go about doing that?
I’ll admit, it does require a huge shift in mindset, lifestyle and buying habits. Instead of buying individual cuts of meat at the store, you will most likely find it more economical to purchase larger quantities of meat directly from a farmer.
This requires 3 things:
- Finding a farmer to buy from
- Saving up money to buy meat in large amounts
- Creating space to store large amounts of meat
How to Find a Farmer
Friends, there are lots of small farmers out there who are deeply passionate about making sure their animals are living “a glorious life with just one bad day.” Seek them out and support them. These are the people who are working hard to change the world and you can be part of their story!
Joel Salatin says that this kind of purchasing not only “fills the dinner plate with better food, but also moves the culture toward truth and righteousness.”
There are lots of ways to find “your farmer.”
- Farmer’s Markets – There may be farmers there selling meat by the cut. You could talk to them about buying larger quantities (1/4 of a cow, 1/2 a hog, whole chickens, etc.).
- Local Butcher Shop – They may be able to direct your to farmers in your area.
- Craigslist – I know this sounds sketchy, but it’s not. Craigslist has been a fabulous way for small farmers to advertise their farms for free. Type in search words such as “freezer beef,” “freezer pork,” “grassfed,” “pastured,” etc. You will usually purchase the animal directly from the farmer, who will then send the animal to a USDA certified and inspected processing facility. Be sure to visit the farm.
- Local First –If you live in West Michigan, this site can help you find farmers in your area.
- Local Harvest – A website to help locate farm markets and farms in our area.
- Word of mouth – Ask around or use social media to help you find a farm!
When you do find a farm, I highly encourage you to ask if you can visit. You want a farm that offers complete transparency – they should have nothing to hide.
We asked all our customers who bought from us to visit our farm so they could meet “their hog,” and so they could see first hand that their hog lived in a happy, healthy environment. We also felt it was important for our customers to feel the connection with their hog.
If you have never been to a farm before, keep a few things in mind:
- Farms are dirty. Don’t wear nice shoes!
- The animals should not be wallowing knee-deep in filth, but remember they are animals and tend to poop all over, ALL THE TIME. Don’t expect a pristine environment. On the other hand, it should not be revolting. Ideally, animals should be raised on pasture and not be forced to lay in their own feces all of the time.
- Be respectful of the farmer’s time. If you make an appointment to visit a farm, be ON TIME. Make your visit short and sweet – don’t linger. Farmers are incredibly busy and don’t necessarily have time to give you a tour.
- Ask questions and don’t be quick to make assumptions. Here are 10 Questions to ask your Farmer.
- Be sure to thank the farmer for their time… and maybe even bring them a small gift! Baked goods are always appreciated. 🙂
Purchasing Meat in Bulk
Money is one of the biggest hurdles facing consumers wanting to buy from a farmer. I have two suggestions:
1. Start a Savings Account for Meat: We set aside money each month for making large meat purchases. We calculate how much it will cost to purchase all the meat we need for a year, divide it by 12, then set aside the money in a separate account (or envelope, if you follow an envelope budgeting system).
- Our family of 4 goes through about 30 chickens, 1/2 a hog, 1/8 of a cow and a whole deer each year. Most animals are slaughtered/hunted in the fall, so if you have no money for large purchases, you could start saving now and be ready next fall.
2. Consume Less Meat: It’s the simplest way to save money and stretch your meat budget. Start by reducing meat consumption and increasing vegetables.
- For example, we rarely eat steaks, pork chops, chicken breast, etc. Instead, we cut the meat into small pieces and serve it in soups, stews, stir fries, pasta dishes, casseroles, etc. Meat is not the main part of the meal, it’s more like a condiment, something added to a dish for flavor.
Unfortunately, you will probably need an additional freezer to store large amounts of meat. This is simply not an option for everyone. If you can’t purchase a freezer, perhaps your town has a meat locker, or a friend (or even the farmer!) has a freezer that you could “rent space” in.
We invested in the largest freezer we could find. It was a fabulous deal at a scratch and dent appliance center. We were sure to purchase an energy efficient model.
In the fall, it’s not out of the question for it to filled to the brim with 1/2 a hog, 1/8 of a cow, 30 whole chickens and a whole deer (my husband is a hunter). That is a lot of meat! I use my Bullet Journal to keep track of everything.
A Sacred Experience
Since we are so personally involved in the production of the meat we eat, we have found consuming meat to become almost sacred. We eat meat about 4-5 times a week and it’s always a real treat. It sounds strange, but when I’m preparing meat for dinner, I give thanks for the animal who is feeding my family. We keep photographs of our hogs on our fridge as a constant reminder that eating meat is not to be taken lightly.
I hope this has made you think a bit more about your food purchasing practices. Maybe it will even inspire you to make a few small changes.
I encourage you to vote with your dollars whenever you can and make the earth a better place for all creatures!
More Ways to Learn About Purchasing Meat Raised Responsibly:
- Farmers’ Panel: My Local Favorites Talk Grassfed, Organic
- Farmers’ Panel: Real Cattle Farmers Talk About their Livelihoods
- Farmers’ Panel: Behind the Scenes at the Big Farms (Part 1)
- Farmers’ Panel: Behind the Scenes at the Big Farms (Part 2)
- Farmers’ Panel: Behind the Scenes at the Big Farms (Part 3)
- Farmer’s Panel: My Thoughts on Big vs. Small, Grain vs. Grass, and Where to Buy your Food
- Michael Pollan: “Can Grassfed Feed the World?”
- Got Meat? (Where Does Your Meat Come From?)
- Beef: From Farm to Freezer, A How-to-Buy-a-Cow Guide