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Introducing Children to Livestock Slaughter

 
Dan Ohmann
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We're coming to a close on our first season of homesteading.  My wife and I, along with our 5 year old son, began raising 4 meat lambs this summer after spending nearly our entire lives as city folk.  I've been studying permaculture and sustainable ag since 2013 so I have a pretty descent grip on the daily management aspect but I overlooked the slaughtering process and what effect that may have on my son.  I initially thought, "we'll have lambs, we'll slaughter lambs, and my son can learn the true cost / value of our food". 

What I didn't count on though was getting so attached to the sheep.  With a flock of only 4, it was real easy to get attached to them individually.  If we had 50, they probably would have just been seen as a flock.  Just 4...they were more like pets.  My son became real fond of our runt in the group who we referred to as "The Little Guy".  But I still didn't really think there'd be issues with slaughter.  Some family members who don't live or understand our lifestyle (homestead, taking responsibility for our own food) began questioning me about it and admonished me against exposing my son to slaughter. I realized I needed to do a better job communicating with my son about our intentions with the lambs.  We had a discussion about "where meat comes from" and the fate of the sheep.

I have a YouTube Channel - The Grass-fed Homestead where I share a daily "vlog" video about our new life transitioning to homesteading.  One of our viewers asked how we were preparing our son (and ourselves) for the fall slaughtering.  I addressed the viewers question in this video (starting at :23)



The video started a lot of conversation about the topic.  I got wonderful feedback from the community.  One comment in particular I found really insightful:
"the way I have approached this topic is to invite but not require any of my children to be as involved as they want to be in the process. Their situation is a little different in that my children have been exposed from birth to the reality of the food chain. I've allowed them to help hunt and butcher deer elk turkey etc. since they were old enough to carry binos and push the button on the vacuum sealer. That aside I think the best thing to do is to not make it into something sad. I believe many adults inadvertently train their children to be upset by the process in an effort to be sensitive. I always stress the importance of showing great respect for this animal that has made such a sacrifice for us but I don't act sad or upset by it. I actually try to keep an upbeat and informative tone the whole time. I turn it into a little biology lesson encouraging the children to handle and identify organs muscles etc. (only on animals slaughtered for our use ) I also stress what a wonderful life the animal had and what our role is in providing that. Every child is different and will react differently, reading your child's reaction is very important but I'm sure you will do great. - The Sheppard Ranch"

I bring this up here because I want to know what the permies community think about this.  If your children haven't been raised on the farm/homestead and aren't used to dealing with slaughter, what do you do to prepare them for that?  What are the consequences, if any, for exposing a child to it before they are "ready"? 
 
Travis Johnson
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I am slightly different in that I have a commercial sheep farm, however I have 4 daughters and age 5 is a wonderful time to explain life. Inevitably the child will sooner (more likely than later) have someone die in the family and so what happens then? In my experience with my daughters, they simply have learned the cycle of life at an early age, and death is a part of it.

If you are now brushing off my statements because I am a commercial sheep farm, please don't. It is a common assumption to think that commercial sheep farms are complacent on death, heck the industry standard for lamb mortality is around 40%. HOWEVER, ever commercial sheep farm that I know of, tries to keep the lambs alive, even the ones that struggle. A common phrase at lambing time is "I already got four in the house." My house is no different, because of the immense time requirements required to keep these lambs alive, we bring them into the house and do whatever we can to try and keep them alive.

That means my daughters grow very attached to them
Because most of these lambs are in poor health, they inevitably die

So my daughters, from a very early age have learned about life and death.

I do warn their elementary teachers at the start of school year that my daughters are well versed with death and dying so that they don't freak out when it is inevitably brought up, because 99-1/2 percent of kids out there just have no interaction with death.
 
Travis Johnson
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As for me personally, I watched a lot of slaughter at an early age growing up on a farm and I think I turned out just fine. Lambs, chickens, ducks, cows...

When I was 5 I watched my prized Black Angus cow be accepted as Kosher and so it was to be slaughtered in a special way. Wanting to see it, my father and I stayed to watch this special method of slaughter and it was quite the sight for a 5 year old. One big sword. A fork truck with a pillow to catch the dead animal and then the animal nearly decapitated. That was pretty brutal to see, but as a next-generational farmer it prepared me well for what I deal with now, and that is dispatching animals that have turned mean, dispatching animals for food, and normal mortality.

I can and have put down my own pets; something that is allowed here by law. It is not something I like doing, and dread it as I do with all animals I have to put down, but I firmly believe that as a responsible pet-owner/farmer, the animals I have will not out-live me, and rather than pass a mean animal onto someone else, or pay $80 for a vet to put down the animal, I do it myself. Dead is dead after all no matter how its is done. However I recognize that its not something everyone can do, and fully understand that.

But it all depends on the child. I grew up on a farm and can tolerate kill of animals well. My wife, she grew up in town and handles it just as well as me. I would have never thought that; girly in every way, never hunted, nothing, but handles it really well.

Either way I am proud of my daughters; at ages (3), (9), (10), and (11), when asked where milk comes from, they say a cow, And when eating a hamburger they say the same thing. Most kids today say "a store".

 
Dan Ohmann
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Travis Johnson wrote:\
If you are now brushing off my statements because I am a commercial sheep farm, please don't.


I don't brush them off at all.  I really appreciate your perspective on this.  The witnessing of the slaughter is more of the concept I was getting at with this thread - such as the slaughtering of your prized angus cow at 5.  In my context... my son watching his pet (basically, that's what they feel like now) lamb have his throat cut open. 

After a lot of discussion and Q&A, my son gets it as well as can be expected for a 5 year old.  A couple of months ago we went to pick up our pastured broilers from a small farm.  My son was with me.  The farmer was still processing gate birds when we arrived.  I didn't plan it but it worked out well that my son got to see it.  It helped illustrate the discussion without it being mammals to which we had an emotional connection.  I captured that chicken processing event on video.  I also took the opportunity to ask the farmer about his childrens' exposure to the slaughtering process (not just chickens but lambs and cattle as well).  They were involved in the processing since they were old enough to walk, he told me.  The children were helping stuff the chicken carcasses with hearts and livers while we were there.

That's what I want for my son.  I want him to be able to take part of the process.  To really grasp the food cycle etc.  But again, he hasn't been around this since he was in diapers so gaging his readiness is key. 

 
Dan Ohmann
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Here's the video I was referencing in the last post:

 
Galadriel Freden
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We have always discussed where meat comes from with our six year old.  I think the first way I said it was that (insert animal here) dies and we eat them after they're dead. 

When we got new chicks this spring, we immediately began talking about how we would eat the roosters.  We didn't know who was a rooster to begin with, and all our cute fluffy chicks were easy to get attached to, in a box in our dining room.  At about six weeks or so we could tell who was male, and we would say things like, "Winnie's going to be so tasty when he grows up!"  Our six year old had known from the very beginning we were going to kill and eat them.

It kind of helped that as the two roosters got older, they also got more aggressive towards our child.  He had no tender feelings left for them at the end, and even told me several times that he wished we could eat them now, rather than wait until the designated day;  he was really looking forward to it

He also helped me with the plucking, and we discussed internal chicken parts during butchering;  then afterward he helped me bury the head and intestines.  He saved a couple big tail feathers too, to make feather pens.  I think it was an altogether positive experience, and a good learning experience.

This is the second year we've butchered our own cockerels.
 
Susan Wakeman
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When my dad used to slaughter our rabbits, he wouldn't let us watch the killing bit. Once the head was off, the biology lesson started... Didn't stop us from begging him for feet, ears and tail to play with.
 
Dan Ohmann
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Galadriel Freden wrote:We have always discussed where meat comes from with our six year old.  I think the first way I said it was that (insert animal here) dies and we eat them after they're dead. 
  Our six year old had known from the very beginning we were going to kill and eat them.


Yes, communication on that is critical.  I waited too long to discuss that with my son.  He gets it now but I should have told him before hand. 
 
Dan Ohmann
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Some folks recommended we take the sheep off-site to a processing facility for slaughter vs doing it at home since we were so attached to the sheep. (


I really felt compelled to do it on-site though.  It is a less traumatic experience for the animal and also results in a better meat product.  I feel we have to take responsibility for this process.  If we're going to live this lifestyle, we need to accept the ugly part of it. 

As for my son, I felt he had a good enough understanding to where I could give him the choice: stay during the slaughter or go to grandma's home.  He picked going to visit grandma.

Part of me was relieved - I didn't have to be concerned with any consequences of him witnessing the slaughter.  But part of me was a little disappointed.  I wanted us to go through it as a family.  We had done all the other parts of this journey together, it just seemed like an appropriate conclusion.  

Slaughter day was a few days ago now.  It was a lot harder to go through than I thought.  In hindsight, I'm really glad my son chose to go to grandma's.  Just because it was difficult for me doesn't necessarily mean it would have been as hard on him, but I think his decision is a good indicator he wasn't ready.  He is real interested in science and biology in particular.  When he is ready, I think he'll find the post-slaughter/pre-butchery phase really interesting.

Here is the video about slaughter day:

 
R Ranson
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Dan Ohmann wrote:

I really felt compelled to do it on-site though.  It is a less traumatic experience for the animal and also results in a better meat product.  I feel we have to take responsibility for this process.  If we're going to live this lifestyle, we need to accept the ugly part of it. 


Good for you. 
Thank you for sharing your experiences. 

I feel that a calm death at home is so much more respectful and there is so much less waste (up to 60% less) when you process at home rather than sending the animal to a facility. 

No kids myself, so I don't know what it's like.  One thing I was wondering is if your little one is picking up on your feelings.  My friends with kids, sometimes it seems like the kid is a magnifying glass with a mirror on it - they reflect and amplify the inner emotions of the adult.  This may not actually be the case, it's just how it looks from the outside. 

Perhaps, as you become more comfortable with raising your own meat, so too will your little one. 

Another thing is - it's okay to be sad on slaughter day.  I think it's more than okay.  To me, it's a sign that you care about the life that feeds you and that you will respect that life and use the materials it gives you to the fullest. 
 
elle sagenev
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We got our first chickens when I was pregnant with my son and we've been killing food his entire life. He's 5 now, almost 6. This spring when we took a cow that we didn't even raise to slaughter our son cried about it. I admit to crying when I kill animals even still. So, I'd say it's fine to get attached. I was so attached to our two pigs they were most certainly pets. We still killed them. Their life feeds ours. That's what I tell our kids.
 
Dan Ohmann
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R Ranson - Thank you for the feedback.  I'm not sure that my son was picking up on my feelings because I was being real careful about that.  After the slaughtering, I got myself together and went to get him at grandma's home. 

He asked on the way home if the "man who slaughtered the sheep" had left yet.  I said "yes".  He asked, "are they killed?"  I said "yes".  He only said "I didn't get to say goodbye".  Ugh... I forgot to have him say goodbye before he left.  There wasn't any conversation about it beyond that and I was careful not to express any sadness in front of him.  But I think you're absolutely correct in that it would be very easy for him to pick up on my feelings I was projecting. 

I really think he will be fine with it.  The adults thinking he won't be fine is more of the problem, I'm coming to realize.  But this time around, I think it was best he wasn't there since they were pet-like. 

As for the calm death, it didn't quite happen.  Things didn't turn out like I had hoped.  My plan was to lead the lambs with alfalfa pellets (they were "bucket trained") to the kill zone and they would just be snacking on some pellets and then the lights would go out.  The butcher had a different plan.  It wasn't horrible but it wasn't the low-stress occasion I was hoping for.  It was a disappointing way for all my extra care I had given them to come to end. 
 
Dan Ohmann
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elle sagenev wrote:We got our first chickens when I was pregnant with my son and we've been killing food his entire life. He's 5 now, almost 6. This spring when we took a cow that we didn't even raise to slaughter our son cried about it. I admit to crying when I kill animals even still. So, I'd say it's fine to get attached. I was so attached to our two pigs they were most certainly pets. We still killed them. Their life feeds ours. That's what I tell our kids.


Thanks for sharing that elle.  What was it about the cow that was impactful to your son?  How long was he upset about it and has it impacted the way he associates with the animals now?
 
elle sagenev
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Dan Ohmann wrote:
elle sagenev wrote:We got our first chickens when I was pregnant with my son and we've been killing food his entire life. He's 5 now, almost 6. This spring when we took a cow that we didn't even raise to slaughter our son cried about it. I admit to crying when I kill animals even still. So, I'd say it's fine to get attached. I was so attached to our two pigs they were most certainly pets. We still killed them. Their life feeds ours. That's what I tell our kids.


Thanks for sharing that elle.  What was it about the cow that was impactful to your son?  How long was he upset about it and has it impacted the way he associates with the animals now?


Think it's a size association thing. Cows being more like a dog than a chicken. He didn't cry about the pigs but then he was gone when we took them so...

I don't think it's changed how he sees animals. They understand I think.
 
Curtis Mullin
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Dan Ohmann, that was pretty funny actually! I can tell you that I have friends who did their pigs, after becoming very close to them, and they (the farmers) nearly had a nervous breakdown doing it. The more we identify with our animals, name them, cuttle with them etc., the more traumatic an experience it is for us to cull them, hence the demand for the local butcher. Having said that, it is also nearly impossible not to befriend them on account of their cuteness. But as far as kids go, (I don't have any but if I did...) I would find a way to make it interesting for the little guy... if possible, having some kind of spiritual ritual or prayer is always good. But your little guy looks pretty young so I am not sure how much he will retain either way, not to mention even be curious about all that blood death and gore. If anything, I would try to include some reference to the old ways, like Viking animal sacrifices for example where blood and death are not understood as merely 'blood' or 'death', but that these things can take on greater symbolic meaning; blood being the sacred liquid of life, death being a passage to Valhalla where lies our true citizenship. Or you could go the Maya way...

Remember, they are no longer animals once they are dead!

Good luck!
 
Anne Miller
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My children were a little bit older, maybe 2nd or 3rd grade, but we told them right up front that these animal would be eaten so give them a food name.  I remember the pig was "Porkchop" but I can't remember the names of all the calves, maybe "Hamburger".  After the first one goes to the butcher then they could name them what they wanted.  Of course, they already knew what happened to chickens.

 
Xisca Nicolas
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This is an important topic, because the distance 99,9% of people have with slaughter makes the ground for vegetarianism and veganism.
And this puts us appart from nature and its processes.
So we have to deal with the suffering of many people, because the sacredness of the gift of life for others to live has not been cultivated.

I had my own ideas very son as a child, about respnsibility for my food.
And it came as a shock when I, myself, thought that it meant I will have to "do this".
The first hen I killed was half dead from a dog, and I just looked for a stick to make her die faster.

I see this topic as "how can we diminish the suffering from killing our food"
I reckon my best help was to read books about tribes and the ways to kill buffalos and pray for them offering their life.
There is respect.
I do not try to not suffer, I try to offer my  suffering and hold it without being overwhelmed.
 
Anne Miller
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This link is to a thread which has the best description on how to kill an animal in a calm setting.  I hope R Ranson does not mind that I post it here.

https://permies.com/t/46907/critters/kill-butcher-goat

If I had children this is what I would want to teach them.
 
Roy Long
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We have raised and hunted animals and slaughtered them all our childrens lives, but our children have still always had a problem with us killing animals.... well not with the big mean black rooster that attacked them daily but pretty much everything else.  lol....

The way that I approached it was to explain that we have finite resources, money, feed, pen space, grazing water etc...  If they want to have animals and see the young born and grow up and be a part of that, then we have to slaughter and or sell some livestock each year.  Once they understand that with finite resources one can only have so many animals before animals die of hunger or neglect then it is easier to get them to accept the fact that reduction is numbers is not a choice, it will happen either by choice or by nature.  Now we had reasonabbly good sized herds of animals so it was easy to show how that would quickly be a problem, with a handfull of animals that might be a tougher sell.

Our oldest kids are grown and we are left with four at home now, three teenage boys and our 11 yr old daughter.  The oldest two willingly help with the slaughter of the hogs, goats rabbits, chickens, geese, turkeys, deer, elk and whatever else we might be slaughtering.  The younger two though have determined that is not for them and they intend to never have anything to do with it when they are grown and really have a problem when I have them help me with slaughtering in any way.

I was always pretty sensitive to animal slaughter when I was a kid as well, I went so far as to go around kicking men in the shins at the age of five for killing an animal, I think it is a good sign when kids have an aversion to taking the life of a creature.  I was unable to kill an animal until I had children, and realized that was the only way I was going to be able to afford to feed  and raise them properly.
 
michelle salois
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as a family therapist I want to emphasize that the most important part is your own emotions.  prepare them with matter of fact information as early in life as possible.  give young ones a pass and not as young ones an option.  but just like dogs develop phobias of what their 'mothers' fear, children absorb the emotions and the beliefs about a situation which they see and feel, more than what they hear said or explained.  I think it was good for you to face your way through it once without them.  next time you will be more matter of fact and will more easily accept how awful it feels to do it.  The children will then feel your confidence and your ability to absorb the emotions along with the emotions themselves. 
 
michelle salois
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Dan Ohmann wrote:R Ranson - Thank you for the feedback.  I'm not sure that my son was picking up on my feelings because I was being real careful about that.  After the slaughtering, I got myself together and went to get him at grandma's home. 

He asked on the way home if the "man who slaughtered the sheep" had left yet.  I said "yes".  He asked, "are they killed?"  I said "yes".  He only said "I didn't get to say goodbye".  Ugh... I forgot to have him say goodbye before he left.  There wasn't any conversation about it beyond that and I was careful not to express any sadness in front of him.  But I think you're absolutely correct in that it would be very easy for him to pick up on my feelings I was projecting. 

I really think he will be fine with it.  The adults thinking he won't be fine is more of the problem, I'm coming to realize.  But this time around, I think it was best he wasn't there since they were pet-like. 

As for the calm death, it didn't quite happen.  Things didn't turn out like I had hoped.  My plan was to lead the lambs with alfalfa pellets (they were "bucket trained") to the kill zone and they would just be snacking on some pellets and then the lights would go out.  The butcher had a different plan.  It wasn't horrible but it wasn't the low-stress occasion I was hoping for.  It was a disappointing way for all my extra care I had given them to come to end. 


Unfortunately it is NOT POSSIBLE to hide emotions from children. And it is also not even desirable.  what they need to see is healthy acceptance of emotions in you so they can learn to do the same in themselves. so hiding emotion teaches them to hide their emotion or to consider it shameful... Goodbye would have been helpful of course, but it's ok.  Don't worry, one instance of anything is not going to set them on a problematic path.  you are there and you love them very well, so even your mistakes will be a good part of their learning!

I totally get the distress when the quick easy death doesn't happen.  when I've had to kill my laying hens who are sick or injured, I had to try several times due to my own lack of practice and my own 'wincing' which make me less than coordinated. 
 
michelle salois
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a line of thought I share often is... EVERYTHING DIES... the only question is when, how and for what purpose. 
In the wild an animal would die at any time of predation, disease or starvation-  none of which take very long when there is no shelter nor veterinarian. 
In domestication the animal eats better, has more shelter, isn't (hopefully) predated for at least a set period of time.  then. if we do our job right, they have a quick and low-suffering death.  they even have a purpose of feeding us or others.  and in permaculture they also have had a purpose while living of tilling, fertilizing etc. 
 
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Kids look to their parents to interpret how they should feel about events.  If your upset, they'll be upset.  If your matter of fact or happy, talking about the good meat you'll eat, they will generally follow suit.

I didn't grow up on a farm, but my dad was a GI with a big family.  When I was little, he would bring home rabbits, etc. he had shot or hit with the car that weren't too damaged (he would swerve if a rabbit ran into the road, trying to not hit it with the tires, then we would stop and see how messed up it was, often it would just be whacked on the head and we would eat it).  The biology lesson would be taught while we were gutting them.  I generally had a lucky rabbits foot in my pocket (I used to wonder, it obviously wasn't lucky for the rabbit).  It seems to me I ended up cleaning most of the birds or rabbits. 

Shift the focus from death to something else.  When my kids were little we went camping and there was a shooting range nearby.  We were shooting off every gun we owned when a spruce hen (type of grouse and good eating) flew out of the woods and landed about 10 feet away.  It was an obvious suicide attempt.  Not noticing the enchanted look on my kids faces as this big, beatiful bird flew out of the woods to be with them, I shot it's head off, thinking "cool, Lunch!".  The weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth began immediately.  My wife was pissed off that I was so stupid as to not realize the effect on the kids.  My 5 year old wailed "It was a NICE bird, Dad!  You didn't need to kill it!"  I told them that I was sorry they were upset and if I could bring it back to life I would, but I couldn't, so we were going to eat it.  The wailing rose, if possible, to even higher levels.  Not knowing what else to do I asked "anyone want a foot?"  Wailing stopped almost immediately as 5 kids began politicking for the (obviously) highly desirable foot to be awarded to them.  In a few minutes they were happily running around with wings, feet (pulling the tendon to make the foot close), or tail.  The 5 year old came up and happily announced "It was a bad bird, Dad, good thing you shot it!" 

Your situation is obviously much more serious.  A lamb has real personality and your child has had time to become attached.  It might be better if he weren't there at the killing of his lamb.  I would NOT force a kid to be part of a slaughtering or butchering.  If the rest of the family is there though and treats it as just part of life, maybe talking about what a happy life you were able give your lambs, but now it's time for the rest of the cycle, your child will accept this.  My wife doesn't like to go fishing, let alone hunting, because she feels sorry for the fish.  I'm fine with this.  My feeling is that her role as a mother is about bringing life into the world and conserving life (yeah, I know, I'm a sexist pig, I'm ok with that), so I'm fine doing the killing.  Some kids are more sensitive and are more bothered by death. 

For my own upbringing, my family and myself have a very deep confidence in life after death.  I personally feel that if it's true for us, it's true for animals.  Because of my beliefs, death is just another step in an eternal existence.  If you believe that, share it with your kids.  If you don't, don't fake it.  Be truthful.

I heard a story about one minister who when asked about animals in heaven said, "I've spoke at many a funeral and spoke about a man who I knew to be a horses ass was now in heaven.  If a horses ass can get there, why not the whole horse?  (my family has a joke that kitty heaven and mousy hell are the same place). 
 
Lindsey Jane
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We just processed our latest run of meat birds yesterday with my 6 year old daughter and her 5 year old bestie helping us out.

My daughter has been watching me butcher since she was 3 years old. We have always approached it in much the same way that person said - we have always invited them to join us in whatever capacity they feel comfortable with. I don't push my agenda about this - I'm in the way of thinking that my daughter knows herself better than anyone and she will be able to set her emotional limits if given the chance to do so. I have a tremendous amount of respect for children and their abilities to be reflective, insightful, self-regulating and honest. I have never worried about my daughter. She's a cool cat. I am honest, matter of fact, kind and sensitive to the responsibility of raising meat and processing it on site - it's a big deal. We use the act of processing as a launching pad for great conversation about life, death and dying, pain and suffering, fear, love, etc. Whatever her stellar brain wants to work out in the moment.

The hard part is the attachment, right? It's why I won't raise pigs - I just LIKE them too darn much and my boundaries get all kerfluffled.

Yet the first time I butchered rabbits when she was 3 I did pause and consider the precedent that I was setting for her and had a very deliberate conversation with myself about how I wanted to present when I was doing. I wanted to make sure I represented our choices as a family well - I didn't want to be callous or flippant.

Overall I think we have done okay - yesterday, before running off to build their outdoor fort out of scotchbroom branches, they both told the chicken hanging in the tree that they loved it and thanked it for providing us meat. I looked at my friend (my daughter's besties mama) and we both smiled. Mission Accomplished.
 
Xisca Nicolas
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In no way you can or should hide your emotions, but you can HOLD them better.
You can contain them,
in the sense of giving them a bigger container.

Let's say emotions are like milk boiling in a pan....
You just need to grow a larger pan yourself, so that the milk does not go off board.

This is a process, not something you do overnight...
 
michelle salois
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Xisca Nicolas wrote:In no way you can or should hide your emotions, but you can HOLD them better.
You can contain them,
in the sense of giving them a bigger container.

Let's say emotions are like milk boiling in a pan....
You just need to grow a larger pan yourself, so that the milk does not go off board.

This is a process, not something you do overnight...


Beautiful way to say it
 
R Ranson
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From what I've seen, Dan, you're doing a great job. 

I especially like that you are giving your little one a choice "I could give him the choice: stay during the slaughter or go to grandma's home."  I think this is a wonderful thing to do for young people. 

So, like I said, I don't have children.  I don't plan to have children.  But I love watching my friends raise their children and doing so has given me some opinions. 
Giving children the choice at as young an age as possible seems to be very good for them.  Even if it's just the illusion of choice.  Do you want carrots or broccoli for supper?  Either way, they are going to eat a veggie but this way they get to choose. 
Giving a young one a bigger choice, helps them to feel they have a measure of control in their life.  I liked that when I was a kid.  I think my friends kids like that too.

I don't know if controlling emotions around young ones is necessary.  You are going to feel things.  It's okay to be upset about processing animals into food.  You are going to feel what your feel, and that's okay.  You kid may pick up on how you feel.  That's okay too.  Thinking that it's not okay seems to lead to worse things... at least in the people I've observed.  But being okay with the process, and just letting things take their course, this seems to make the best kids and my favourite kind of adult. 

but like I said, I'm no parent.  I haven't a clue on the 'right' way to do things with kids. 
 
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Years ago my grandpa raised rabbits.  One day one of my cousins kids (about 3 or 4) was over while he was slaughtering them.  She objected, saying they were too cute and cuddly to kill.  He explained these rabbits were for eating, then proceeded with his work, letting her stay and watch or go in with Grandma.  the little girl watched for a little while and then volunteered to help with "Grandpa, if you give me a stick, I'll whack one for you." 

Kids work things out in their own heads.   They are not as fragile as everyone thinks, or at least most of them aren't.  I think they are in someways tougher than many adults because they deal with whats in front of them rather than spend their energy fighting old ghosts.  Our job is to help them do so in a way that reflects reality and allows them to respond in a positive manner. 

We are, by our biology, omnivores.  That means we sometimes eat meat.  That means something has to die.  In cold country, especially areas with lots of suboptimal ground for farming, the browse, grass, etc has been stored and harvested in the form of meat.  Not real efficient if I'm feeding the animal grain, but very efficient if I'm using ground that otherwise wouldn't be producing something I could use.

While I'm positive that the animals I've eaten would rather have avoided becoming part of the circle of life at that particular moment, in the end, everything (even me, although I keep hoping for an exception to be made in my case (joke)) dies.  It's how life is.  Nothing in particular to fear, not something to run towards either.  Eternity will be there in the end when we're done here.

I've always thought Walt Disney did our society a profound disservice with some of his anthropomorphic propoganda.

I read somewhere that a societies view of death (and life after death or the lack thereof) has huge reprocussions throughout the entire society.   Our modern society seems to have a huge fear of death judging by our efforts to remove all traces of it from our day to day society. 
 
Dan Ohmann
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Roy Long wrote:We have raised and hunted animals and slaughtered them all our childrens lives, but our children have still always had a problem with us killing animals.... well not with the big mean black rooster that attacked them daily but pretty much everything else.  lol....

The way that I approached it was to explain that we have finite resources, money, feed, pen space, grazing water etc...  If they want to have animals and see the young born and grow up and be a part of that, then we have to slaughter and or sell some livestock each year.  Once they understand that with finite resources one can only have so many animals before animals die of hunger or neglect then it is easier to get them to accept the fact that reduction is numbers is not a choice, it will happen either by choice or by nature.  Now we had reasonabbly good sized herds of animals so it was easy to show how that would quickly be a problem, with a handfull of animals that might be a tougher sell.


Really interesting, logical approach Roy.  It makes me think of the original 3rd ethic.  Thanks for sharing
 
Dan Ohmann
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Mick Fisch wrote:Kids look to their parents to interpret how they should feel about events.  If your upset, they'll be upset.  If your matter of fact or happy, talking about the good meat you'll eat, they will generally follow suit.

Shift the focus from death to something else.  When my kids were little we went camping and there was a shooting range nearby.  We were shooting off every gun we owned when a spruce hen (type of grouse and good eating) flew out of the woods and landed about 10 feet away.  It was an obvious suicide attempt.  Not noticing the enchanted look on my kids faces as this big, beatiful bird flew out of the woods to be with them, I shot it's head off, thinking "cool, Lunch!".  The weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth began immediately.  My wife was pissed off that I was so stupid as to not realize the effect on the kids.  My 5 year old wailed "It was a NICE bird, Dad!  You didn't need to kill it!"  I told them that I was sorry they were upset and if I could bring it back to life I would, but I couldn't, so we were going to eat it.  The wailing rose, if possible, to even higher levels.  Not knowing what else to do I asked "anyone want a foot?"  Wailing stopped almost immediately as 5 kids began politicking for the (obviously) highly desirable foot to be awarded to them.  In a few minutes they were happily running around with wings, feet (pulling the tendon to make the foot close), or tail.  The 5 year old came up and happily announced "It was a bad bird, Dad, good thing you shot it!" 

Your situation is obviously much more serious.  A lamb has real personality and your child has had time to become attached.  It might be better if he weren't there at the killing of his lamb.  I would NOT force a kid to be part of a slaughtering or butchering.  If the rest of the family is there though and treats it as just part of life, maybe talking about what a happy life you were able give your lambs, but now it's time for the rest of the cycle, your child will accept this.  My wife doesn't like to go fishing, let alone hunting, because she feels sorry for the fish.  I'm fine with this.  My feeling is that her role as a mother is about bringing life into the world and conserving life (yeah, I know, I'm a sexist pig, I'm ok with that), so I'm fine doing the killing.  Some kids are more sensitive and are more bothered by death. 


Great story about shifting focus Mick!  That is an interesting turn-around in behavior demonstrated by your children.  In regards to our slaughter situation, I gave our son the option to be there or not.  He chose to not be there and like michelle salois wrote above, it was best he wasn't there this time since it was my first slaughter like this as well.  It gave me the room to work through it with a little space. 
 
Dan Ohmann
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Update - It's been about a week and a half since we had our lambs slaughtered.  My son did not seemed bothered at all by their absence.  Every day, as part of our routine, he and I would go feed the sheep some hay and pet them while they ate.  My son jokingly asked a few times, "Daddy, do you want to go feed the sheep?"

I got the hanging weights from the butcher.  60, 58, 58, and 38 (my runt) lbs.  I was really happy with the results.  Getting the meat back from the butcher helped too.  Having something back for our efforts completed the cycle. 

I really appreciate all the feedback and stories shared in this thread.  It's neat to read the experiences and insights of others who have dealt with this in some way. 
 
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R Ranson wrote:
Dan Ohmann wrote:

I really felt compelled to do it on-site though.  It is a less traumatic experience for the animal and also results in a better meat product.  I feel we have to take responsibility for this process.  If we're going to live this lifestyle, we need to accept the ugly part of it. 


Good for you. 
Thank you for sharing your experiences. 

I feel that a calm death at home is so much more respectful and there is so much less waste (up to 60% less) when you process at home rather than sending the animal to a facility. 

No kids myself, so I don't know what it's like.  One thing I was wondering is if your little one is picking up on your feelings.  My friends with kids, sometimes it seems like the kid is a magnifying glass with a mirror on it - they reflect and amplify the inner emotions of the adult. This may not actually be the case, it's just how it looks from the outside. 

Perhaps, as you become more comfortable with raising your own meat, so too will your little one. 

Another thing is - it's okay to be sad on slaughter day.  I think it's more than okay.  To me, it's a sign that you care about the life that feeds you and that you will respect that life and use the materials it gives you to the fullest. 


No they do this.  I have three kids.  The ten year old is really doing this; I have to be careful what I say and how, and deadpan and explain a LOT of caveats.  Otherwise, things come out of her mouth that are so NOT a reflection of what I think or feel. 
 
Dan Ohmann
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I went to visit a fellow homesteader recently and he just happened to have a lamb carcass hanging in his garage.  My son saw it and said "What is THAT?!"  I explained to him that it was a lamb after processing.  He was absolutely fascinated and like the other posters have commented above, the anatomy lesson began.  "Where are the bones?" and "where does the poop come out" were among the questions he asked.  It was a good experience for him to be exposed to that without the emotional attachment in the equation. 

I caught this on video (of course).  Also in the video is some discussion of alum tanning and haggis preparation

 
Bill Erickson
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Dan, since our "meeting" in the cattle panel greenhouse topic I subscribed to your Utubulous channel and been watching your progress. I am glad you gave "Little Buddy" a choice to go hang with Grandma and he did. Your distress over the way the lambs were processed for the kill would have, due to my experience with my now adult girls and some of my own early experiences, would have been pretty rough on him. Having been exposed at an early age to the matter of fact way that animals are processed on the farm helped a lot. The most traumatizing time for me was when I was 4 or 5 and my mom freaked out once during my Grandma slaughtering some hens for dinner at out place. Needless to say, mom distracting grandma as the hatchet was coming down, losing control of that big old Rhode Island red after had my mom running around screaming as it came in her direction. Seeing my grandma get a grip on things and tell mom she wasn't helping with the theatrics actually helped me deal with what had happened. My own process since has been to keep as much control of the slaughtering process as I can.

Large animals can be a task during all of that. Keeping yourself calm and staying that way, regardless of the way things happen, has been the key for taking care of the business at hand.

We always give thanks for the animal giving its life to us, whether one of our own we have raised or the ones we harvest from hunting. That also helps to keep me centered on the task and giving an optimal outcome.

What has really been apparent to me, is that you do a fantastic job with "Little Buddy" to answer his questions and keep him as far into the process as you can. That is best thing a parent can do in my opinion. Everyone who has offered their experiences with their kids have been awesome as well, being honest and open with your kids about the process helps a lot. Lindsey's point about pigs is interesting to me, because I am the same about the pigs. But my thing has been to take them to a highly experienced business that takes care of the slaughtering and packaging for me off site. I like pork too much to forgo the work needed. Having food names does help as well.

All in all, you've done a fine job and keep it going!
 
Dan Ohmann
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Thank you for the kind remarks Bill. 

Your distress over the way the lambs were processed for the kill would have, due to my experience with my now adult girls and some of my own early experiences, would have been pretty rough on him


I certainly did not anticipate the distress.  Like the Mike Tyson quote, "everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face" - I had a plan and then I got punched in the face.  It was best Little Buddy wasn't there.  With all the hindsight and reflecting since the event, I'm confident next time will be an experience for which we will be better prepared.  I don't know that Little Buddy will want to be at the next one, but he will have the option again.  When he is ready to be involved, he'll let me know.

Again Bill, I really appreciate the feedback.

 
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