Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Conflicting Desires

I am a strange bird. Most of the time I can't even figure myself out.

Ever since I was a little girl, I have always loved animals. I had countless stuffed animals, the only books I got from the library were non-fiction animal books, I dreamed of putting a horse in the backyard, I could tell the difference between a Norfolk Terrier and a Norwich Terrier from a distance, I did mounds of livestock projects in 4-H, I rescued all the animals I could find (oh wait, I still do), and at the age of 17 I decided I wanted to be a farmer so I could work around animals all day.

Nowadays I have an ever increasing desire to slaughter animals.

An exercise I routinely try to consciously do is really take notice of what I'm reading. When I pick up an agriculture magazine, I try to note what gets my attention first. Why do I read what I read first? After years of doing this, I find that I always go for livestock articles first, then horse power articles next, everything else comes after that and gardening articles are very rarely touched. I'm a terrible gardener. 

For the past 6 months I've noticed an interesting shift in my thinking. I didn't even realize it until just recently. When I read through my Ag magazines, newsletters and what-have-you, I'm finding that if there is an article of any sort that has to do with livestock processing (i.e. slaughtering), that's the first thing I read. If I see something online that has to do with a newly opened butcher shop, or a meat cutter new to the area, I always click and read it.  

It wasn't until the meeting on Saturday that I think it struck me just how much this strange work intrigues me. Someone brought up the fact that there aren't very many places to take our livestock to be processed here in the West Valley (I believe there are two places: one for poultry/small game, and one for everything else), and that person instantly had my full attention. Some folks talked about the area needing more butchers and all I could think of was, "Yes! I would LOVE to help with that!" For the rest of the day, whenever someone mentioned having more local processors, or anything related to that, my ears would always prick. 

This realization caught me by surprise. I am a huge animal lover (having 105 animals on my property right now can be something of a testament to that fact...), always have been, and always will be. Why this sudden desire to get back into the slaughtering business? Last year I worked at a poultry processing facility for a few months, and I have to admit that I really did enjoy the work. It was extremely physical, yes, and I came home every day freezing (it was almost winter), my hands/feet numb, and exhausted, but it was satisfying work. It was good knowing that these animals that came through were quickly and properly dispatched (i.e. "killed"), and in a very short amount of time we had what was now food. It was a great learning experience too, getting to compare all the birds that came through; I would ask customers how they fed and cared for their poultry and took note of how each feed and lifestyle affected the quality of the meat. It fascinated me to no end seeing the difference between corn/soy fed birds, pea/camelina fed birds, and totally free-ranged birds. It has helped me know how to raise my own animals for the best meat.

I am an animal lover, but I am also a meat lover. Two years ago I went on a meat fast for an entire month, and let me tell you, that was the hardest thing I have ever done, abstaining from meat for 30 days. I want meat, but I want it to be good meat. I want to know that the animal only had one bad day, that it was processed properly, that I have that best cuts possible out of the animal, that it was aged properly, and that it is everything good meat should be. I'm not paranoid about bacteria when I say I want to KNOW all this stuff, I say it because I'm a quality freak who wants the best, and wants everyone else to have the best. 

I am an animal lover, and I'm a strange bird. I love the cows and then I want to slaughter them. I read books like Black Beauty and Hope Rising, and then flip open my favorite copies of Good Meat, and The River Cottage Meat Book. I have conflicting desires here and I can hardly figure myself out. 

So who knows where all these wacky thoughts will lead... Maybe I'll apprentice myself to an artisan meat cutter, or maybe I'll get a job at a small processing facility again, or maybe I'll just relax, take a step back, and simply keep on processing my own meats for personal use. I don't know where exactly this is all going, but these are just some thoughts that have been swirling around in my head for awhile now, and it has become a blog post. 

And now I'm hankering for some bacon...


Bil @ Silk Creek Farm said...

Well, I think it makes sense! If you only wanted to butcher animals but didn't like them, then I would worry! ;)

You want to make sure that the animals you care for have the best care around from birth to butcher. Makes complete sense.

Down here in the South Willamette valley, there is no place to really butcher. I have to drive 70 miles each way for poultry and about the same distance for all others. We've thought about what it would take to learn how to do it full time because we need more processors who treat the animals with care.

Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

What is the difference between the corn/soy and the pea/camelina fed birds? What is camelina?

I know what you mean though, about buchering. I have done a couple chickens but I enjoy prosesing what we hunt. My brother and I were talking about the lack of decent butcheries and how expencive they are...probably could make a profitable side business as a moble butcher.

Now you've got me thinking about it again.

Goat Song said...

Thanks Bil! :)

Tasha, I found that the corn/soy birds very routinely had a 1" layer of yellow fat lining the carcass (some birds had more than 1" of fat!) and the heart/liver/lungs would also be coated in fat. Fat is good for you, but it needs to be the right kind.

The birds that were raised on alternative proteins, such as peas and camelina, were quite literally "squeaky clean" (that was the term that always came to my mind). They had a very thin layer of fat inside the carcass and it was white, not yellow. All the organs were clean and didn't have a trace of fat. I notice that for some reason these birds always cleaned out better; the feathers came out easier and they looked really good when they were finished. The corn/soy fed birds had skin that ripped a bit easier, and the skin has a yellow tint. We averaged 500 animals each day (turkeys, chickens, rabbits, waterfowl, pheasants, quail, etc.) so it didn't take long to recognize a corn fed bird.

Camelina is an oilseed crop that is quickly gaining popularity here in the PNW! The seeds are extremely high in protein, the plant is cold hardy, and the oil is highly sought after. You can read more about it at:

If I was stronger, I would totally think about being a mobile butcher; but alas, I just don't have the personal strength to do that all by myself. At a facility there is enough room that you can have more equipment to help with the strenuous stuff. But it's a cool thought though...

Illinois Lori said...

Hi Caitlyn! Sorry I've been AWOL lately...NOTHING will slow down here! Thank you, also, for the sweet award you gave me--um--a couple months ago *BLUSH*...I will be getting to posting that shortly, Lord willing!

I'm so glad you shared the difference in the fat layers of the birds. Fascinating and useful...please share what you saw in the Camelina carcasses, you left that out! (We are hungry for this sort of info, LOL!)

I've been in NY for the last week, flew out and Bryan picked me up at the airport...then, after he stayed for the weekend to visit one more time with friends and church fellowship he's made out there these last 7 months, we loaded up his Silverado and drove back HOME!!! Got back late Tuesday evening. Now we are on the hunt for farmland out here. Pray for us/him!!! You are BLESSED to have land in your family. Starting from scratch is scary hard. We're looking at about $7K/acre here, and they want a 20-25% downpayment. (*Bites fingernails...*)

Bryan also processed a LOT of chickens, and there was a USDA processor at SUNY Cobleskill (just down the street from where he worked), so he got to do a lot of observation there. They offer classes (that's who does the processing), he was interested but we didn't want to invest the time/$$$ since he couldn't do his own processing (other than the poultry) anyway. But I understand your interest, and pray that those who do the processing care as much as you and Bryan do about these animals, during their life and their death.

Hope you have a wonderful autumn out there on the other side of the country! And remember to tell us about the Camelina fat!!!

Blessings and {{{HUGS}}},

Karen Rickers said...

Great blog! I hope to start having chickens (and then a goat or two!) by the end of 2013.

Check out this video by Homestead Meatsmith ... he says that pork butchery should be a beautiful thing, and when he does it, it is!