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One Bad Day – Why We Need to Raise Animals Humanely

“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.

One Bad Day...

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).

One Bad Day

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.

One Bad Day

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.

One Bad Day

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.

One Bad Day

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.

One Bad Day

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.

One Bad Day

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:

  1. Finding a farmer to buy from
  2. Saving up money to buy meat in large amounts
  3. 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 livinga 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.

Storing Meat

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!

How do you vote with your dollars? Have you found a farmer in your area to support? What small changes have you made recently?

More Ways to Learn About Purchasing Meat Raised Responsibly:


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27 thoughts on “One Bad Day – Why We Need to Raise Animals Humanely”

  1. This post made me cry, really, really cry. When I was a child, my aunt and uncle bought a farm. My parents bought cows and pigs with them to raise for meat and they told us not to name them. Seems silly, because they didn’t explain it to us the way that you did to your children, but we did name them. Once they were slaughtered and in our freezer, my father would announce who we were having for dinner….he thought it was funny….I was horrified….I still has issues eating meat even though I purchase only from farms in my area where I know the animals are taken care of humanely… it fills me with great sadness. I don’t suppose there is any way to get past this, but I did want to express my emotions….thanks for listening!

  2. My family is mostly vegetarian, but it’s for environmental and health reasons. I agree that to the extent that we do eat animals (or eat their eggs or milk, use their wool, etc.) we should do it respectfully…but the same is true for plants. I recently pulled several weeks of farm-share carrots out of my crisper and cleaned and peeled them to make muffins. Many of the carrots had sprouted thready roots or weak little leaves while in my refrigerator, because they were still alive and reaching out for nutrients and sunlight; they were still alive as I peeled off their skin. I felt sad about it, hoped I wasn’t hurting them, and wondered if there is a more humane way to imprison and slaughter carrots. I am more grateful for the nutrition and have been more careful not to waste the muffins because I thought about the carrots as living beings.

  3. I really appreciate your article and your amazing effort to do the right thing. Being a good steward is honorable but very hard work and few succeed, I suspect. I’m saving your article for when the time comes that I need to explain the complex topic to others. Thank you and have a blessed day.

    1. Margaret, it IS a very complex topic. A few years ago, I read the “Compassionate Carnivore” by Catherine Friend and it was extremely helpful as I grappled with how to handle the whole issue of raising our own animals for meat. We also raise meat goats and meat chickens, and hunt/process deer, so this is something we deal with often.

  4. I totally loved your addition of how somber everyone was the day the hogs died. Death is sombering, even if you aren’t all that attached to the animal. But it’s great that you raised those hogs the way you did because they weren’t unhappy when they died. Wonderful post!

    1. It was very sober. I can’t even begin to describe the tension that was in their air. The man who handled the on-farm slaughter was very reverent and respectful. His goal is for the animals to experience the least amount of stress possible. I was so thankful.

  5. This post was amazing . My husband and I own 5 acres (bought 25 years ago), and short of a miracle of epic proportions, that is all we will be able to own if we stay in this area. Land prices are in the 10,000 range per acre average. We consider ourselves extremely lucky to have what we have. We raise dairy goats (11 including the buck), pigs (6 right now), broilers (2 batches of 150-175 a year) and layers (50, would be more but had a owl problem earlier this year). Our garden is approx 1/4 acre and growing and I am turning landscaping into edible/herbal areas also (I am a clinical master herbalist). We continually fence in what we can and everything is on pasture, roaming pasture, except the pigs. They have an outdoor house and area but it now has very little grass after the first batch kinda dug most of it up. It will grow back for next years first batch but it is the best we can do with what we have. I am continually trying to change things but land area is land area. We are 100% non gmo but the supplemental feed we have to buy is not organic. Joel Salatin changed our lives years ago and we have been progressively raising more and more of our food since then. I seek local sources of the products I can’t grow and then the best most sustainable of those I can’t get locally like my coffee. Life would not be as nice without coffee!
    We are trying to grow enough to start a small farm stand and hope we could eventually make a living off our small farm. The problem I have is the unrealistic expectations of the general population. My heirloom tomatoes are amazing, absolutely amazing in flavor. But, most want a round red ball and walk away if my beyond organic tomatoes, of which we have spent 25 years turning farm land into an alive, black gold, are more than the cheapest tomato at the farmers market. My chicken is 100% non gmo, including the chicks and pastured on grasses. This increases cost as the chicks, feed and time to 5 lbs is more than conventional. But, the grocery sells chicken cheap with the loss leader ads sometimes have boneless breasts at 1.99/lb. My eggs are the same, 100% non gmo and pastured. I can’t compete with the grocery. Most that buy them continue and say they will never buy a store bought egg again if they can help it but $3/dozen has most walking away.
    Thank you again for this post. The more posts like this that happen, the more people that change their lifestyles and buying habits, the more non gmo crops grown (with signs stating that in the fields), and the more the “media” raise small alarms the more people will see their health is directly related to their food and lifestyles. Mine sure was. I have wondered lately if I would still be alive if I had not changed our lifestyles drastically about 15 years ago. I was very, very sick and no one in the medical realm could help me. I am thankful beyond belief that I had been that sick as it forced a change that is our lives today. But, the work and obstacles are sometimes almost overwhelming. Wouldn’t change it but breaks are welcome periodically, especially after summer and the fall harvest/food preservation time.
    Have a great day and hope your fall harvest is going well. Wishing you a wonderful rest of the year.

    1. Jenny, where are you located? I live near NYC and would love to buy your tomatoes and eggs. Those are bargain prices.

      1. Jenny- Our Wholeistic Life

        Hi Emily,
        I live in northern Indiana. Thanks for the encouragement and I do wish we lived closer.

    2. Wow! What a great post! I like the way you have pointed out the struggles you are having so honestly. You are right, the more we share the greater the chance these problems will be solved. One question though. What is a clinical master herbalist and how doe one become one? I’ve been looking for accredited schools for herbology and i”m having a hard time finding anything.

      1. Jenny-Our Wholeistic Life

        Hi Greg,
        Clinical Master Herbalist means I have gone through a very involved program that includes a certificate stating I have successfully completed the program. Mine was 1800 hours through Vintage Remedies. They have a science based program that is excellent but not accredited. Accreditation is difficult to find. Vintage Remedies still has an advanced program but not what I got. There are many credible programs out there like Herbal Academy and Chestnut School of Health. I can’t remember the others off the top of my head. I figure I will go through a couple more in the coming years. I like learning. Good luck. I use herbs daily in my life.

    3. Jenny, I feel your struggle. It’s hard to get our message to the masses. I have the same problem with my tomatoes! People have no idea what they are missing! 🙂 Keep up the good work! I know it’s exhausting at times, but then we meet awesome people or hear stories of others in “our tribe” and we feel revitalized.

      Have you ever heard of 3 Cow Marketing? It’s a marketing site specifically for female famers. A farmer friend introduced me to it and it’s AH-mazing. I just signed up for the on-line class – my friend said it was the best money she ever spent and it really helped make their farm more profitable and created a loyal customer base. Sounds like you are trying to market to everyone, when in reality it might be best to try to winnow down your customer base (what kind of customer are you looking for? Be SUPER specific!) and focus on serving their needs really well.

      1. Jenny-Our Wholeistic Life

        Hi Lori,
        Thanks for 3 cow marketing info. Just got on the website and already have quite a bit of info to process. I totally blanked on a customer base demographic for this type of business. Know about the need for that and have done it for a small business my daughter and I run with a skin care line I developed. Don’t know if I would have applied it to the farm. Thank you so much for mentioning that. And, thank you again for the post. I keep thinking about even a few days after reading it.

        1. Jenny, you are welcome! I actually enrolled in the on-line class that started last week and all the info has been incredibly helpful. I believe the class will be offered again next spring… and I will probably retake it at that time! The whole idea of starting with your “ideal customer” and developing your marketing from there is just what I needed!

  6. Thank for this article! It is very hard to explain to people about taking responsibility for the food you eat. Meat doesn’t come from the supermarket. It is our job to love all people as our neighbors and to treat all animals humanely. I couldn’t tell you the exact reference but ” Don’t muzzle the oxen as he treads out the corn.” is one of the Scriptures that come to mind.
    You talked about raising them from babies, watching them grow up and then slaughtering them to eat. Yes, it is hard. It helps keep things in perspective. They are animals, they are not family. They were put on this earth for us to take care of, not treat badly.
    People get upset about the slaughtering of animals for food but it is a necessity.

    Thank you for your article! Keep up the good work!

  7. Thank you, Lori, for a beautiful post! I was vegetarian for 12 years and realized my body needed meat when I was trying to conceive. Part of what enabled me to transition back to meat eating was the availability of humanely raised meat. I’m thankful for the people who are willing to do the work of raising happy animals!

  8. Jenny- Our Wholeistic Life

    Thank you for this. My husband and I have been raising most of our food for approx 10 years. We only have 5 acres but are making the most of it. We live in an area where land is going for approx 10,000 an acre average so the possibility of getting more is slim to none unless a true miracle occurs. We treatise dairy goats (11 including a buck), 2 batches of 150 freedom ranger meat birds that are on a small pasture, 50 layers on pasture and batches of 5/7 hogs a year that are on a small pasture that is no longer much pasture but a water hole and room to roam but little grass. All the animals get garden and kitchen scraps and the layers have a summer home under my fruit trees in a small pasture area. All our feed is gmo free but not organic. No one, including me could or would be able to afford that around here. Working on changing areas so everyone has grass, ie the pigs everyone else has constant pasture, all the time but we both work off the farm-full time husband and part time me. Our garden is approx 1/4 acre and growing. We keep fencing in yard and utilizing every square inch God has given us. I am beyond thankful for what we have. Yes, I would love more land to let everything roam more and raise more for more people but I can’t so I do what I can. Joel Salatin changed me years ago and I cannot go back. I so agree that everyone should have to look their food in the “eye,” literally and figuratively. At a previous place of employment I was quietly told to stop talking about butchering chickens one day because one of the women had a hard time handling the thought of butchering. I held my tongue, but just barely. This woman had no problem eating a “chicken” sandwich, “chicken” nuggets or a “burger.” I did say ” Something has to die if we eat meat.” and then walked away. We have some serious issues in this country. Thank you again. I enjoy your posts greatly.

  9. This article is disgusting. Lori, using the Bible to justify why we should continue the psychopathic process of consuming flesh is something a typical Christian would do, so congrats there. Face it, you felt bad about factory farming but you couldn’t bear to leave animals off your plate, so you took the middle ground. You are not a barbarian. You are a psychopath.

    1. Christina,
      I’m sorry I didn’t catch your rude comment before Lori had to see it – I’m glad she let it run off her back. Please don’t visit Kitchen Stewardship anymore; we love to have varying opinions but have zero room for personal attacks. –Katie

  10. Thank you for the wonderful story! I loved it. Years ago, I raised my 5 kids on an acreage and we had the same experience, although maybe not as profound. It gave me more of a respect for animals, the land, the world and an even higher reverence for God! However, I wish I would have taught my girls as you did, with the fact that the meat was raised for food. They became too attached and I didn’t handle it the best way. Bless you!

  11. I also have been raising pigs before choosing to do this I read Carla Emery’s book it is an encyclopedia of raising animals. Her take it was this if you respectfully raise them and give them the best you can you can respectfully harvest them. I use the word harvest on purpose I only raise crops that produce. Slaughtering brings to most peoples minds wanton destruction this is not the case with farmers who respect the animals we raise to feed us.

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