I use this annual reflection to track our record of animal husbandry since we began raising a few hens for a personal egg supply in 2007. Those few hens turned into over 100 in a few short years. It was contagious, I suppose, as our taste for productivity grew and we added not only more eggs but meat chicken and lamb to the mix.
I think one of the most provocative questions there is for small scale producers comes from folks who say “how can you kill them?” My answer is that I don’t. My job is to keep all my hens, broilers, ewes and lambs alive. The goal is to maintain healthy and productive hens that can range freely and will lay eggs frequently- and not get killed by fox. The goal is to maintain a healthy flock of breeding ewes and get ram lambs up to 100 pounds before they are processed. The broilers have 10 happy weeks on pasture if we do our jobs right and feed, water, shelter, move to fresh grass and protect from owls, raccoons, fox, weasel, dogs and hawks. All of this comes after we have successfully brooded them in the barn. Our job is to keep them alive until they have reached their potential as food.
Each year I challenge myself to one more task so that I can knowingly speak about the cycle of life that I have come to understand personally raising animals for food- both for myself and many loyal customers. When you are involved in every aspect of raising animals for food you realize how valuable that animals life was so when it ends there is a sense of urgency not to waste any of it. I have learned to make liver pate (and truly enjoy it); I can make some great broth and chicken soup from old stew hens culled from the layers. Andy can slaughter and I can process chickens (but I much prefer it when we pay other local businesses like Faulkner Meats or Marksbury to use their expertise to do it). The dogs get raw lamb bones that otherwise would have been thrown out at the butchering stage.
I have done almost everything except witness the slaughter of one of my own lambs (which may have to wait another year). Instead this last challenge was my idea but Andy actualized the hardest part of it. Typically the lamb hides are picked up from the abattoirs by rendering companies that also collect the offal (the viscera). The pelts are processed into leather goods. I felt like we needed to experience this part, too, to be fully engaged in the process. I picked up the hides, salted them and 3 days later we had a plan and crafted a fleshing bar. I was not grossed out because once you set to your work the focus becomes more about not screwing it up. Andy felt the same way particularly since he was the one doing all the scraping. 4 hours, four hides. It was work.
In Kentucky the infrastructure to support our small scale animal for food production is growing. Small, family oriented slaughter and butcher establishments will help to maintain a respectful knowledge base for the business of slaughtering and butchering but it will also help to keep the business closer to home so to speak. No absentee ownership that promotes a disconnect between the farm and the eater; no demoralized workers; no inhumane treatment of animals…this is what supporting local businesses promotes, too. The consumer has more control then they dare to imagine and slowly our localized food economy will reinvent itself. Perhaps reinvent is the wrong word; maybe I should say it can recover itself like when many of our rural communities where the greenbelts to our cities- country folks feeding their city neighbors. I remain confident that we can continue to restructure a new kind of food production that emphasizes small and close to home. I meet people every day that are new partners in sourcing food with a conscience.
I would like to thank everyone who has helped us whether it was with technical assistance, moral support, collaboration, purchasing product or just spreading the word. Our gates are always open to anyone else ready to join in. I will even show you our untanned, raw hide lamb pelts. Happy New Year.