Slaughtering Animals

We slaughter animals for food. On our land, we raise chickens, rabbits, and goats, and in addition to eggs and milk, we use them for meat, slaughtering them ourselves. We've done chickens and rabbits for several years now, and we just slaughtered and butchered our first young goat.

There's a lot of information on the internet about how to kill and clean an animal, and I don't intend to give much of that here. What I hope to get across is a sense of why we raise and process our own meat, and what it's like when it goes wrong — because it can go wrong, against all intentions and preparation.

Why We Raise Animals for Meat

We raise and butcher meat animals for several reasons. First, it's important to us that the animals we eat not suffer, either when they're alive or in their death. We've seen some farms that are perfect: well-kept animals in sizable spaces with plentiful food; we've also seen scrawny animals in cramped quarters without any comfortable place to rest. We can make sure that our animals are more like the former. I'm also certain that most slaughterhouse workers are conscientious and skilled, but there are no doubt some that aren't; I can know that I'm careful to cause the least suffering possible when I kill an animal. Finally, when we kill an animal and prepare its meat ourselves, we're forced to morally confront where our food comes from; if we're not willing to do that — to see an animal walking, eating our grass, and trusting us for sustenance and shelter, and still be able to eat its meat — should we be eating meat at all?

Beyond those humane reasons, there are practical considerations. A primary one is that the meat is, frankly, incomparable; you'll never find meat so flavorful and dense in a supermarket. It's much easier to properly sear meat that isn't injected with 15% of its weight in salt water, for example, and a few scraps of chicken left on the bones after butchering is enough to make the richest broth I've ever tasted. We appreciate the pleasure of having animals around the place; there's nothing we enjoy more than watching the goat kids running around chasing after one another, or holding a soft rabbit, or scooting a chicken to get to the eggs underneath her. Having animals and knowing how to process them helps us be prepared for an uncertain future, as well; if hard times were to come, we will be equipped and able to provide meat for our family, which would be a great blessing. Carefully managed, our small herd and flock could be the core of future comfort. And it's just plain good for a person's mind to learn new things, especially when they involve providing for your needs from the world around you.

Our children, learn a lot from raising and slaughtering animals. They see how to care for an animal; they learn about birth, care and feeding, milking, and breeding them. They see clearly where food comes from, and they are conscious of what meat production entails. They watch and help with the butchering, and learn what the different organs are and what they do, and ask a lot of interesting questions.

Notice something I didn't mention: raising our own meat isn't saving us any money. It's much more costly than buying meat at ALDI (which we love) or Walmart. Maybe if we were buying meat of equal quality, or if we were growing alfalfa and corn on every spare inch of land we own, the price might be more competitive, but as it is, we could easily eat for less. For us, the contribution raising animals for meat makes to our life is worth the extra cost.

How We Kill an Animal

Here's where I give a few details on how I kill various kinds of animal for meat. If you're uncomfortable reading this, you can skip it, and you should probably skip eating meat, too.

General Remarks

First, I always kill an animal where the others of its kind can't see. I don't know for sure if it makes them anxious, but I'd rather not risk it. Second, you always want to make sure to bleed the animal as soon as you kill it, or it doesn't bleed out completely, and the meat tastes and looks wrong. Finally, I always pray before I kill an animal, out of gratitude for the food and for assistance in being humane, and I think it's a good practice that helps retain perspective on the process.

Chickens

Chickens are built to be eaten, like walking meatballs. They can't fly away, so they're easy to catch. If you hold one by its feet with its body extended down, it stops struggling and just waits. And they are easy to kill quickly and humanely: you hold them with one hand as I've just described, grasp the head with the other, bend it backward gently until it reaches the end of its range of motion, and then forcefully straighten the arm holding the head, extending the neck past its range of motion until the head separates internally from the neck. If you go a little farther, the skin and muscle holding the head on will separate, too, and with the head off the chicken will bleed out thoroughly, which improves the meat. I've never had a failure with this method, and even a tough rooster that we've let mature too long or an old hen past her prime is killed immediately. (Yes, a chicken's body continues to move for some time after the head is removed; the wings flap and the talons scratch aimlessly but forcefully, leaving scars on the arm of anyone careless enough to release their grip, e.g. me — but the bird is dead.)

Rabbits

Rabbits can be killed just like a chicken, but I'll never do it again. I had my one real failure in humanely slaughtering an animal trying to break a rabbit's neck, and I felt awful about it. The first batch I killed were young and tender, and were no more difficult than a chicken, maybe even easier. The second time, the rabbit was old, large, and muscular, and its neck was thick and strong. I had to try two times, and I definitely injured the poor rabbit the first time, so it had several seconds of pain before I could adjust my grip and complete the job. That wasn't an experience I'd like to repeat; I'm not ashamed to admit that I was pretty upset over it.

Since then, I've used a .22 bullet through the back of the rabbit's head to kill it. I have a narrow cage I put in the grass, and usually give the rabbit something tasty to nibble at to keep its attention. I get behind it, line up to go through the head just above the base of the skull in a way that should exit about between the eyes, and fire. Next, I part the fur on the neck under the chin and cut the rabbit's head off with a sharp knife. I then hold the animal up by its hind feet until it ceases bleeding.

Goats

I've only just killed my first goat, but the technique was similar to a rabbit. The differences were that I had to tether the goat by a leash, I used a heavier caliber bullet, and that I used an ax to separate the spine after cutting the flesh of the neck with a sharp knife. I'm very comfortable saying that the goat felt no pain: death was clearly immediate. With a larger goat, I would not be able to easily hold it up while it bled out; I'd probably have to use a pre-prepared rope and hooks.

A Note on Kosher and Halal Slaughter

I'm aware of observant Jewish and Muslim slaughter, where a trained person of good character prays and then rapidly draws a long, straight, sharp knife across the animal's throat, which is represented as causing instant unconsciousness and quick death with optimum bleeding. I'm not qualified to evaluate the claim of quick, painless death by that method, though I doubt it. Even if it is true, I don't feel able to emulate the success of a trained shochet, because I don't own a knife long enough to make such a swift, deep cut, and if I got one, my sharpening skills aren't up to it keeping the edge sharp and straight. If I did have a properly sharpened long knife, my facilities aren't equipped to immobilize an animal while I line up for the cut. I just don't see it as a realistic, practical method of humane slaughter for me, and I question whether it's a good method at all. If I were choosing a way to be killed, I'd certainly rather that someone shoot me in the back of the head than slit my throat.