Wednesday, January 25, 2012

# 184 - Anonymous Food

Today, I was posting a comment on a blog buddy's story about their turkeys being killed by a fox. They had several turkeys killed, but were left with one for this past Thanksgiving meal preparation. A mighty big turkey I might add.

If you want to read about their story first-hand, go to and get the whole deal laid out.

Anyway, I left them a comment and I began to consider the issue on a deeper level. This blogster wrote about how the loss of the other turkeys prompted the one remaining lone turkey left alive to look for friendship within the farmers themselves. This attachment made the turkey's sacrifice for the Thanksgiving dinner table even more poignant and it tells of how difficult it can be to raise your own table food.

How do we keep our farm animals from becoming pets?

After I made my comment about the turkey attack, I found myself being grateful for those who are brave enough to raise and process their own food. This is not a task to be taken lightly.

After you have raised an animal for months...fed it, watered it, housed it on your land, provided a healthy environment for it and taken the initiative to be nurturing during its growth, it can be a tough ordeal to have the farm animal go from tenant to table food.

And this is the reason farmers often have a depth about them concerning the cycle of life...they understand seasons, the life and death cycle, they develop a sharp eye for their environment and the animals in it, and the farmer knows of survival hardships as a byproduct of running a farm, not from reality television. I admire the farmer's tenacity.

I believe that text book knowledge is much easier to come by than hands-on knowledge. Therefore, I respect the Pioneers of our past and the Homesteaders of today who are recapturing lost farming techniques that bring self-reliance. I especially appreciate those who are bringing back the small scale farming lessons for the rest of us to absorb on whatever scale we wish to absorb it. From those who walk their land and explore the indigenous plant life to the people raising goats, I am appreciative of their efforts. I'm sure the farmers of yester-year found the hands-on, trial and error learning process of farming to be much more difficult than the written record part of the equation.

Recording all they had learned was probably a cinch compared to everything they'd endured to get to the stage of being able to write about their experiences.

So, most of us are on our own when it comes to learning how to grow our own food or process our farm animals. We might find a book about processing chickens, but unless you have the fortitude and the willingness to dig in and get it done, you will likely continue to only read about it with paralyzed action.

For me, I've been like the rest of society and have been purchasing most of my food from the grocery store, especially our meat. As for tomatoes and many herbs, we've tried growing them ourselves, but presently, our garden is kaput. I currently do not have canning knowledge to extend the life of my garden to my pantry shelves for the off-season, not just yet. That will be another area of change for this 2012 year.

And when the growing season is finished, you can bet that all of us are having fresh garden vegetable withdrawals. I promise you that the grocery store tomato cannot compare to the flavorful taste and intense fragrance of home-grown tomatoes.

The older I get and the wiser I become, hopefully, and the more that I can see that knowing the source of my food, especially my table meat, is something to pursue further. Choosing the anonymous beef or the anonymous chicken in the industrial package or the grab-bag turkey at Thanksgiving is not something that I can do anymore without it being a conscious decision that will bring me a bit of uneasiness.

Putting a face to our table food while they're still out in the pasture won't make it easy to set out a roasted chicken, but it's honest, it's involved, it's pro-active and it's a great opportunity to control more of what we consume.

Of course, there will always be those faces that we cannot
begin to think about putting on our table. Yes, it will be difficult to
not make all the faces on our land a pet, but that would mean
the continuation of purchasing more "anonymous" food, which I want to avoid.
The farming generational gaps have left the majority of us dependent on others for our food. We think the money in our pocket or shoved into a bank account will always put the food on our table and perhaps it will. But, what food are you paying for? Are you absolutely certain that it is the best that you could be forking into your mouth or could that anonymous meat donor be of a questionable background?

I don't know how to process my own meat. I've never raised my own livestock nor poultry for my table, but that will be changing. I've got to learn how to do this...I am convicted to learn how to better feed my family with food that is no longer anonymous because of being distantly produced.

Our chickens during early stages of their growth.
This will be another huge Farm Life Lesson for me and my family in 2012. We've been raising chickens for the eggs they produce over the past few months now, and it's almost impossible to imagine having to process my chickens from my own yard, but I know I can do it. Well, not right now with THESE chickens, but later this year, with specific chickens raised for meat.

As I always say, I'm nowhere ready to forgo my chicken and dumplings; there's nothing wrong with being the carnivorous animal that I was meant to be.

I've heard the old saying that a farmer believed each animal on his land should earn its keep. Our ancestors didn't have the advantage of feeding and housing farm animals simply as backyard "entertainment." So far, we've been very fortunate and non-pressured to see our chickens as great stage performers of our backyard; I have enjoyed every moment. For our family, the act of owning chickens has already educated many of the young people in our lives about these awesome creatures. Children absolutely love gathering eggs, and I've witnessed most adults being terrified of chickens while children are drawn to sit among the chickens without being afraid.

And, I cannot imagine waking up and not being able to see Big Mama and Miss Speckles, but I don't want to move to our acreage and keep expecting to raise farm animals without them serving a greater purpose for our family. There has to be some accounting for maintaining acreage.

After we get settled into living on our acreage, my plan for processing our first set of meat-chickens is to sign up a few serious family members and close friends to spend a day on the land conducting the dirty deed an organized, cooperative fashion, we will process a batch of chickens. Each person gets to take home 3-4 farm-raised chickens packaged for the freezer and a life-long remembered Farm Life Lesson. I expect we'll share the horror. Anyone whom I love and adore will be allowed to learn about this farming task with us. So far, I've had several family members and friends ready to join us, even if they are squeamish. The will to learn is high. I'm thrilled.

On that day of cooperative chicken processing, my youngest daughter, Stefie, is guaranteed to be absent from that group. However, she will be happy to continue eating her food from anonymous sources. If she sees a face, it gets a name from her...she's not farmer material...not quite yet. She's got a lot of "country girl" in her that she can't deny...I have pictures...but she's definitely not one to do anything with a farm animal except love it as if it were a dog.

She's young. Heck, it's taken me over 40 years to gather the courage to even consider these topics in straight-forward new manner. The country girl in me is learning how to outlive and outlast the city girl in me. And that's okay. I'm ready.

I'll be living in the country very soon and looking forward to tracing my food from the growth-chart phase to the table with steam rising from it. The entire ordeal is appealing and a challenge I'm ready to tackle. In 2012, I'll most definitely be eating less anonymous food. The prospect is encouraging and this keeps me motivated to keep packing and to keep painting to get this house SOLD!


LindaG said...

I agree with everything you said.

The only small advantage I have is that hubby grew up on a farm. He has processed chickens and pigs. Ducks and fish. I believe the cows were taken to the processor (the same people who process deer in the fall).

His grandmother raised the chickens though, so we'll both be learning there.

But as my hubby was quick to inform me, food doesn't get a name.
Your first flock has earned the right to be separate from your table food, I think. And when you have your rooster, they can (hopefully) be your broody chickens and raise the chicks for you. :)

Have a great Thursday, Lana, and thanks for the link. I'll check that blog out now. :)

Mike said...

Growing up we raised animals for food. I only had issues once, if you remember my rabbit rearing days of old? I still won't eat a rabbit. My Polish girls will never be considered food. For one, their not meaty enought and 2, their too damn cute. I felt funny cracking Goldie's first egg and eating it. Damn cannibal.

Anyway, we butchered the chickens ourselves, in the backyard with a boiling tub of water. The pigs and steers went down the street to a small processing plant. The pig carcasses came back and we put them in salt encasements for preservation. I hate country ham to this day.

If you know their a food source it tends to place your mind in a different mode. It's accepted as such and doesn't bother you.

Unless it's my rabbit, dammit! ;)

A Primitive Homestead said...

When I got my little flock last spring I had plans to eat them when fall came. Within minutes of adding the fuzzy cherping peeps to the broder box my kids started naming them. I still have them all. Each with its own personality. I decided I will have to get others for meat chickens. I read later No names please. So any new flock members will have to be kept separate and no names for them. I will look for your upcoming processing post. Blessings!

Karen said...

Growing up on a farm it's tough not to get attached to the animals, but you have no choice, it's a way of life. I was around ten years old when my cow had to be sold due to low productivity. I had raised her from a calf and cried like a baby when she was sent to market. It was hard, but it made me tough. I could raise a steer or two now on my idle eight acres but I don't. I guess I've gotten soft over the years. We did butcher our roosters this past Thanksgiving, but that was easy, since I'm not fond of the noisy buggers and they can turn mean. Even though they were fuzzy chicks I protected in June, by November it was 'good riddance!' But the Girls, well, they are a different story. Those hens are sweethearts, and yes, they all have names, too, just like yours.

I had a visitor here this fall who was upset by the whole notion of butchering the roosters; 'Why don't you get chicken from a grocery store like everyone else, then no chickens would ever have to die!?'

Well.....oh, I let it go, what can you say to a person who is all upset and doesn't have a clue?

Farming is a challenge in so many ways, but you'll do just fine!

Anne Kimball said...

This post was very timely, as I am going through the same thing here. I am on the cusp of getting animals that will give me meat, not just eggs or "brush-cutting". Recently wrote a post aabout it, in fact:

I'm going to send the link to your post to my aunt, who I know would also appreciate it.

And by the way? I also have a chicken named Big Mama! Named after my own sweet grandmother. And we have a roo named Big Daddy. Of course!

Rae said...

The thing to remember with food critters is to always remind yourself that they're FOOD. Tasty food that you are raising with love and care. I really really liked my tom turkeys, but from day one they were food. Handsome, but food. Friendly food. Same with the pigs. Food. Just because they're food, though, doesn't mean you can't enjoy having them around, or that they can't be raised with a little love. :)

LJ and I had a discussion recently about how easy it was for us to raise our own meat. It was sparked by us driving past a "farm" near us where the poor chickens/ducks/geese are living in muck and rotting vegetables (the person is obviously a gleaner, and just dumps boxes of produce in the pen. Disgusting mess, and right next to a main highway). Anyways, we said at almost the same time something along the lines of, "at least our critters have good lives while we've got them". We make sure our animals have good clean food, water, etc, and we give them attention. We even name a lot of them, though I know most people don't like to do that. Our pigs grew up running around the woods. If we hadn't purchased them, someone else would have... Would that person have raised them in a little concrete stall? Who knows. Yeah, they ended up our food, but had a great life up to that point (which they may or may not have had somewhere else...)

Having a bunch of people out to do your first round of chicken processing is a great idea! We had a couple friends over when we did ours, and had a little slaughter party. It helped to have more hands. The guys did the slaughter, all of us plucked, and our buddy J and I did the butchering/cleaning of the birds. A great time had by all (especially when we fried up all the livers and gizzards afterwards!). :) Nummy num num! said...

Linda --- I know that you will be one of the happiest chicken owners around. Your husband having experience with processing will be nice for when the time comes to do such a job. And I do think that I'll do exactly as you suggest and have my chickens be my broody hens once we get moved and onto more chickens. I know it will be so difficult to go thru our 1st processing experience, but I'm also looking forward to raising our own table meat. Stefie has informed us firmly that any animal that is destined for the table...she does NOT want to see in person beforehand. It always reminds me of that movie with Elizabeth Taylor - "TEXAS?" My mom had a similar experience with a pet chicken being killed to impress a dinner guest. Augh. I guess we'll see how long my chickens will last in the country.

Mike --- your rabbit growing days brought lots of experience. I'd never have been able to "off" Thumper either. And your Polish girls are too gorgeous and fun for anything other than being two bundles of feathered sweetness. I laughed so hard about your comment with feeling horrible about eating your first egg...that's how I felt when eating the first few eggs our girls laid...they went down with thoughts of knowing a bit too much about my food source, but it's been my first, tender lesson in raising some of my food source...without having to "process." And about pork, my dad always had crackling around, fried pork rind...huge here in Texas, I don't know about elsewhere. My dad always bought home-made rinds from a hunter friend of his. I loved them, until I was a teenager and found out exactly what I was eating. HaHa. And, we wont' be eating rabbit either.

Lara --- that is so funny. It's exactly what would've happened in my household. With these chickens, my youngest daughter, Stefie, was naming them as fast as she could think of a word to fit if she were placing a protection spell over each one with the name. Well, I guess it worked. I think we have to ease into this kind of's definitely not easy. said...

Karen --- I can't even imagine having to sell off an animal at such a young age, after raising it. I guess farming does toughen up the kids on a level that is hard to think about doing as a city parent. As for the roosters, I guess that it will be easier to process those once they start multiplying. My hens are definitely sweethearts. I have become so attached to them and it's getting worse every day!! I'm a wimp! As for your visitors who choose the "don't kill your chicken when there is chicken for sale at the store" attitude...that is hysterical! It sure is easier to buy it, but I am eager to taste farm-raised chicken for the first time in my life. I'm glad you have confidence in me...we'll see how it goes and how Deputy Dave thinks about my resolve when slaughter day arrives. :-/

Anne --- I will be visiting your blog. We can laugh and learn from each other's experiences. As for the "Big Daddy" name...I can't use those for any of my animals because Charade has forbade me to do so months ago!! But, I'll be coming to visit you to see all of your farm friends and farm tales as well. This is the great part about blogging, the sharing! I will check to see if you're on my "favorites" so I can make sure you pull up for my regular reads...if you're not on there by this week, PLEASE remind me.

Rae --- You always give me such wonderful advice. Are you still flying everywhere? I hope LJ is okay from the surgery. Your words are so wise about the proper raising of animals on a farm. I think that is what some radical-angle animal rights people have a difficult time understanding...that we can eat meat and not be cruel just because we prefer to eat meat. I enjoyed all of your blogs about your turkeys. As far as animal rights go, it's very disgusting to see someone mistreating their animals, always sickens me. I hope to develop thicker skin in the area of raising farm animals. I guess I'll learn. I grew up in a family that loved liver and gizzards (I'm a duck liver lover myself) but no one in my current household will touch it! However, I might have to learn to cook them for my dad as my mom used to do when she was here with us. I'll be giving details of our processing-party, it'll be interesting, I'm sure. Anyway, glad to see you blogging!!

Mike said...

Lana, I'm southern. Of course I know what Pig skins, cracklins are. I buy a bag a week of them for the whoa-man, it's a staple for her. ;)

Paula said...

I can understand your feelings completely, Lana... I would have a hard time ever killing and eating an animal I had raised and "named"... we tried that once with a ram lamb and I nearly choked to death trying to eat it. *haha* said...

Mike --- Maybe all of us Southerners are required to have cracklin in our house at one point or another, some more than othes!! I guess we'll start learning to make this once we raise a few pigs - I know my dad would be doing back-flips to get home-made cracklin again.

Paula --- Yes, you described it nicely...nearly choking to death trying to eat a newly processed farm raised animal will also be something that I will have to get past. I am glad that I don't choke on squeamish thoughts when trying to eat my Chicken Tenders from Carl's Jr!


Stacie, A Firefighter's Wife said...

I was raised on a ranch and one way I made money was to raise bummer calves by bottle feeding them. I LOVED these little guys, but they did grow up and eventually made it to our table. It was hard sometimes when I would think about it. I would lose my appetite. But it was good for me. I knew where food came from. There are so many people, children especially that don't.

farmland investing said...

Boy, what a horrible situation. I suppose it is really hard with animals, especially if you've known them for years and they have almost developed their own personalities with you. said...

Stacie --- I bet with homeschooling your children that those experiences you had while growing up is invaluable for teaching life lessons. I can understand loving the animals, but having land is expensive and the way of life with farming/ranching is not for the light-hearted.

Farmland investing --- I think that being a good farmer/rancher probably offers no way around connecting with the animals, it's just a part of the territory.

Anonymous said...

I remember when I was servicing in Mozambique, Africa. We had a local student who lived with us and helped cook and raise some livestock. Ofelio, the student, introduced me to "processing the chickens". The plan was just to have them for laying eggs. But after 4 months of no eggs we decided to eat one for a local the holiday. After we butchered it and began to clean it, we saw that there was a egg beginning to form. The look on Ofelio's face was of utter disappointment and sadness. The feeling of killing that chicken was pretty disturbing to me. Sure, I've killed a few flies, but pulling the life from such an animal put me into quite a shock.

Often, here in Sherwood, OR when cleaning windows (soon to be Racine, WI!), I get to work and see customer's gardens or livestock and I begin to wish a way out of this apartment living!