I love the animals on the farm, I love hanging out with them, petting them, giving them their daily food as well as treats which always excites them, and I name them all. I like getting to know their personalities and talking to them, I especially like the ones that behave a little out of character for their species which always makes me smile and often makes me laugh.
We have breeding animals that live long, happy and healthy lives. We also have 'grow outs' that are meant for butchering from the minute they are born. Our grow outs also get names, are loved on, talked to and treated with the same amount of love, respect and humor that the breeders do, we don't distinguish between the two. We know that anywhere from two to twelve months time we'll be killing and butchering the grow outs, and at first that was emotionally hard on us, but in time we learned that any grow out that isn't timely butchered needs to be housed and fed, and there just isn't enough room to keep them long term.
We've tried selling and giving animals away, but in truth that's harder to do than it is to butcher them. What we want for these animals is a good life, healthy bodies, a feeling of being loved while experiencing joy, with plenty of space to move around in. Not everyone interested in these animals can provide that kind of environment. Travel stress is also a real issue and smaller animals often don't live through the move. After a few years of trying to find homes for animals we can't keep, we've come to recognize that our method of butchering these animals is better than sending them to a new environment where their health fails, their enclosures are too small and they are not fed enough.
There have been exceptions that have worked out. There was Steve, a rabbit buck grow out that had one ear that was in a perpetual flop. He grabbed my heart at a young age and wouldn't let go. I didn't need another buck and his genetics weren't something I wanted in my breeding rabbits. I tried to butcher him, but come butchering day, while I hesitated, he gave me a look that made me pick him up and put him back in his hutch. Two weeks later I found him a home on a friends farm, where he could run free in a large enclosed field with another rabbit doe that was already there. He had a light colored coat and there was a good chance that he'd be picked off by a predator at some point, but that didn't concern me. If he had even a few days running free in a field before his life was over that made me feel happy for him. Steve fared well in that field for two years before my farmer friends needed to make changes on the farm and gave him a fast death with a single shot one day when he was out and about. They told me that later on that evening they threw more love to him while they had an evening meal of Steve Stew, that's a success story for me.
There was also the rooster, AJ, who looked just like his sire, Alistar, and had his sires temperament. Alistar was the best rooster any homesteader could ask for. He watched over his hens, made sure none of them were too far astray from the flock, waited until they ate before he ate. When the hens hatched chicks he did the same thing. making sure the chicks had their fill of food before he pecked a bite. We saw him throw himself at predators, spurs first, to keep his girls safe. AJ was so much like Alistar that we didn't want to butcher him. Happily, friends a few miles away, who gave us our first chicken eggs for hatching out our original flock, had just lost their beloved rooster, Andy, to old age and hadn't replaced him. They have a wonderful set up for their chickens, which are well fed with plenty of space. AJ was a decedent of Andy's, he looked a lot like Andy and had the same temperament as Andy had. We offered them AJ and they happily took him, overjoyed to have Andy's great grandson to replace him with.
Then there was the young goat doe, one sister in a set of triplets. She was feisty and fun and we named her Pipi Longstocking. Even as a really young doe we knew we didn't want to butcher her, but finding a good home for a goat can be hard. Goats aren't easy animals to keep and we weren't willing to give her to anyone who didn't already know how to keep goats healthy, happy and have a really good set up for them. A friend who has a buck that we use when it's time to breed our does came by one day with his girlfriend and young daughter, and we wandered down to the goat pen so everyone could hang out with the new goat kids. All three of them instantly fell in love with Pipi. They mentioned they were looking to add another doe to their herd and wondered if they could get Pipi from us when she was old enough. Done! When Pipi was six months old she moved a few miles down the road where she is happily living now.
But, most of the time, the grow outs are butchered at the right time so the space we have to house them in isn't overcrowded and the foraged foods we depend on for feed isn't spread too thin or dwindling in supply. All butchering days are the same for us in that we take the time to set up for them well, often times doing the entire set up the day before so we're ready to go first thing the next morning. Our first priority is always to make sure the animal will leave this life in a fast and pain free way, without any stress and preferably while they are chowing down on a mouthful of their favorite food. Our second priority is to make sure we have everything we'll need, set up and in place, to utilize every part of the animal that we just killed. A table, buckets, bowls, knifes, a water source, rags... whatever may be needed to process that animals body so nothing gets missed during the skinning, gutting and aging process. For us, part of butchering an animal with love is making sure we've used every part of that animals body in appreciation for the life it has given us.
Over the years I have found that raising and butchering livestock in this way, I feel myself humbled by the grace and dignity of theses animal, from the smallest rabbit in a hutch to the most aggressive goat in the pen. I have found that not turning away or shutting down emotionally while consciously participating in the cycle of life while butchering these animals in a loving manner, I am firmly grounded in the energetics of grace and dignity within myself, and I learn from these animals how to let go with ease.
We all get to choose, every single day, how we approach any thought, task or event before us. When it's approached with love, I find that grace shows up rapidly, even in places you never thought to find it, and that changes the manner in which I am willing to live for all time. I find the feeling of grace addictive. Living a life without the feeling of grace, for me, is a dim shadow of what living is...and the only doorway I know to it is love.