Anytime you raise animals to provide not only milk and eggs but also meat, you are going to be asked over and over how you can do that. How can you raise, love and care for an animal that you are going to butcher and eat. I tell people I don’t like to do it, but we know from the beginning raising our own meat is the reason we have them. We give them the very best life we can and when it comes time to do the deed, we do our very best to make sure the animal has no idea what is happening and it is instantaneous. I don’t do the actual killing, Mark does, but he will tell you he doesn’t like doing it and truth be known if someone enjoyed that part of meat processing, there is something wrong with them. When we are catching and loading the meat chickens in the wagon to take them to our processing building, I have to force myself not to think about it. When we first started raising turkeys, they had become so tame, when the day came to butcher them I sat in the house and bawled while Mark did the deed, then I went out to help when that part was over. The next year I realized I was making it harder on not only Mark, but also harder on the turkeys. If he had extra hands and help, it went easier for all involved, so I put my big girl panties on and helped. I still can’t be around when he does a lamb or goat, but he doesn’t really need me for that. He feeds them some grain and then quietly goes up behind them and they never know what happened. No, I definitely do not like this part of raising our own food but it helps to remember what someone else said when they were tired of being asked the tiring question “How can you do that?” He said, “Just because your meat comes packaged on a tray and nicely wrapped in cellophane does not mean it didn’t get there in the exact same way. If it is meat, it was once alive and when I am in charge of the entire process, I can make sure every step is as easy and humane and kind as it can possibly be.” That is the absolute truth.
We really get a lot of enjoyment from our animals and one of Mark’s crazy sayings is “Go big or go home.” That way of thinking has gotten us to the point of having thirty breeding does (female goats) and ten breeding ewes (female sheep). They almost always have twins and sometimes triplets so that leaves us with a lot of babies to sell. In our area the lamb and kid (baby goat) market is good. It is a little seasonal, the best price is in the Spring, but the rest of the year the price is still very decent. Last weekend we sold eight lambs and seven male kids. We also sold a ewe who did not breed this year and two does, one who did not breed and one just because we cannot keep them all and have to make room if we want to keep some of the female kids for yearlings (does who are only a year old and having their first baby). We will be selling more older does once we are done milking them this summer, also to make room to keep some of the young ones. We will cull (choose and sell the breeding stock which you no longer want) the ones who are not the best milkers or were not very good mothers or who are getting old etc.
The young lambs and kids are sold when they are about five to six months old. I hate to see them go, but just like with butchering, the reason we have them is to sell them and recoup some of the costs of having them. The $2,200 check we got was awfully nice to put in the bank after writing so many checks for feed. But the breeding stock! The does or ewes we have had for years, they are so tame they eat treats out of our hands and come to us to be petted. I hate with a passion loading them into a trailer and taking them to a sale. I shed tears every time. I tell Mark how awful it is they have no say, they can just be loaded up and taken away from the only home they’ve ever had. A home where they are so spoiled Mark and I pour grain into a bin in front of a fan to blow the grain dust off because they hate the powder left in the bottom of their trough. I hate thinking about them being frightened, wondering what is happening to them, wondering where we are and where they are. I just hate it! When I ask for reassurance from Mark that they will be treated kindly he always says most people treat animals kindly. He will always add, “Do I think their grain will be poured in front of a fan to get the powder out, NO! They won’t be that spoiled, but I think they will be treated kindly” But the truth is, we don’t know. Once they are at the Sales Barn it is out of our hands. I feel like the wicked witch of the west on sale day. But it is part of what we do. We absolutely cannot keep them all so just like on butcher day, I put my big girl panties on and help with every step, but I don’t like it. Honestly, it is the hardest thing I do on our little farm.