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Introducing Children to Livestock Slaughter

 
steward
Posts: 5558
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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This summer, after a family party, we were butchering rabbits at my place when the nieces and nephews started arriving unexpected from a number of different families. They weren't the slightest bit traumatized by the proceedings. They watched. They touched. They took body parts. Whatever. It was just a normal family activity.  

My brother raises 3 turkeys per year, and they are named -- Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas. Always exactly 3 birds. The same names every year.
 
pollinator
Posts: 2566
Location: Zone 5 Wyoming
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My kids have always dealt with the fact that they're food. We name them. We still eat them. Sometimes they'll tell me an animal is being mean and we need to eat it. Sometimes at dinner they'll ask if we are eating "insert animal name here". We hug and pet our pigs and refer to how yummy they will be. No problems. They're 5 and 7 now.

Our family, however, never wants to hear about the Thanksgiving turkeys life, or death. I don't get it.
 
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Location: NE Wyoming Zone 4-ish
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My kids were in 4H but we just had a horse ranch, not a homestead per se. My husband at the time had raised cattle before and I had been around stock much of my life too.  At our place, we gardened and canned and hunted game.  I hunt deer and elk, but neither child had ever gone with me.  They had seen a lot of dead animals but usually those that had died of old age or had been killed by wild animals.  When we adopted our kids, we raised pigs and learned quickly to raise more than they were going to show and sell, so that we would have meat for ourselves. It also made sense because the more hogs the more work and fall would be an emotional time to say goodbye but the work would end.

The first year in 4H, the parents all bought each other's animals but never told the kids who got whose, so nobody would discuss if "Spot" was tasty or anything.  It was a crazy mix of people from all backgrounds, so we just went along with it.  I learned what to look for in a hog that would taste good - not the ones finished with fish emulsion so they looked like little body builders with no fat.  Of course the kids named their piglets- I think they had to put the names on the project reports and entrance paperwork for the show and sale. We talked about their favorite cuts of meat that came from pigs - mine is bacon, and which part of the animal it comes from.  They both had no idea what I was talking about as they were both special needs, but I said it over and over and over when we were looking at our hogs.  We explained that they will be selling the pigs at the end of the season, and someone would be buying them to eat. I'm not sure they grasped that right away, but I had a countdown calendar to the sale that we referred to.  Well that didn't work, since our gilts were bought for breeding stock and the buyers assured my daughter that she could visit them anytime.  However, we then took our hogs to our friend's processing "plant" and for the first few years, we didn't name the packages of meat, making it personal. Once in high school and FFA, they were judged on fat content and body structure and needed to know from their buyers what was good and what was bad. My kids had repeat buyers who even called and asked them to raise extra and they would buy them outside the sale.  It became a real business even if neither kid wholly grasped how well they raised meat.  I labeled our packages by ear tag number.  We discussed what was good at dinner.  When we prayed before our meals we thank God and the animals for their sacrifice to feed us. Even to this day, my son and I do this. I was raised to do this.

I know that my kids didn't miss getting up early to feed and water and "walk" the pigs after the sale, and by year 3 they were enjoying the enormous check they got for their pigs.   I am not sure at which point they started naming the pigs by their breed or favorite cut of meat but it was just their own decision.  Even for me, I just liked "the big Hamp"  for the Hampshires etc.  The larger the herd the better.  My heart was broken after one sale where a very young little girl was in her hog's pen, crying and hugging him while he sat like a dog and looked emotional himself.  The reality of how the children who have spent the entire summer with one animal to befriend and train it to be guided and shown made me glad we always raised many.  I still try to report back to the older children who raised the animals that I buy at the sale so that they remember what they are doing. Surprisingly it actually takes some of them aback - but hopefully gets the discussion going with their parents.  The goal is to learn how to raise them for meat and what a quality animal should look like and taste like, as well as the responsibility to give those animals a great life while you have them.

At 17 years old, my daughter watched her last hog getting dispatched, which was a little shocking for us both, but very fast and clean and necessary to complete the circle of life and the job of raising livestock.  Right then she decided that she wanted to get an agriculture degree and have a hog farm some day.  (Although she passed away when she was 18 we have an endowment at the local college in her name for Ag students)

I believe it just takes time for all of us, even if we have to kill animals for our own survival.  I still get emotional when I take game, but I use it all and thank God for the success and thank the animal for its sacrifice.  

Thank you for allowing your son to be involved from such a young age.  We all should be/should have been. You are great parents!


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