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On our little growing homestead we raise our own meat, we hunt and we fish. It’s both a lifestyle and a teaching technique for our children. Being an animal lover and a complete sentimentalist I used to leave the “ending of life” job to my husband, he was the action and I was the support. Over time and certainly when we moved up into the quiet mountains it became essential that I was comfortable and confident enough to the slaughter. My husband goes away for much of the winter and I am left to care for and manage the livestock. With that responsibility comes the inevitable hardship of having to put things down, luckily with time it has become easier.
The first time I ever had to put something down was horrific. I had raised a batch of chicks that had just turned into teens. I free range my chickens all over the property and rarely has there ever been an issue. Come to think of it the only time that having them loose was a problem was that particular day. My boys had a pony and for some reason he got a bee in his bonnet and started running around haphazardly, chickens at foot. He ended up stepping on one of my chickens and it was dying a horrible death, but not quick enough. I can’t handle suffering at ALL. I am a huge supporter of assisted death and the first one to run and grab a gun if something is down and out – I don’t have it in me to prolong any of that shit. So here I was staring at this poor chicken and I had two choices, I could kill it or I could walk away and pretend it wasn’t happening and let it die on it’s own. Living in town at the time I had limited tools at my disposal. So I quickly looked around and found a big cinder block only a few meters away. I knew that it would do the trick in an instant and I could turn away and not look. Truly, I felt it was the cowards way out. I got into position, got ready, took a huge breath, turned my head and dropped it. Done. Instant. I walked off and cried.
Now the funniest part, albeit the only funny part of this story was the reaction I got when I told my husband. The man is a hunter through and through, and although he occasionally has difficult moments putting things down – they’re rare. I was expecting a “Awe honey, that must have been hard. Good for you.” But what I got was “WHAT?!? A cinder block? Are you in the mafia?” Then he told his friends and they ALL responded the same way, I was “up close and personal, brutal, savage and a little scary.” Despite the shock, what I came away with from that was that ending suffering was worth just about anything to me. It was in that moment that I knew, despite breaking my heart a little, I would be just fine on my own when shit went sideways – which no matter how well you plan it always, always does.
So jump forward almost a decade and things are a little different. If a rooster turns nasty he’s in the stew pot within a couple of hours, if something is sick and not getting any better – done. Last week for instance I needed to slaughter our ducks. I wasn’t looking forward to it, but I knew it needed to be done and I couldn’t wait until my husband came home from work. So bundled up and out I went in -20 degrees to catch my ducks and turn them into supper. Once they were slaughtered both my boys said they wanted to come out and help me process the meat. Now we hunt a lot, so having them help cut, grind, wrap, is nothing new but they really liked these ducks so I didn’t know how it was going to turn out. I knew that they wanted to help so that I didn’t have to do it, “Don’t worry mom, we’ve got this.” Astonishingly they nailed it! They chopped off heads, legs, helped me pluck a few, skin others, de-bone them and then my eldest made us duck stew for dinner. They were simply amazing and both enjoyed it a lot.
I know that as my boys grow up they aren’t going to need me to provide in a way that many kids do. They won’t ever worry about food, where it comes from or how to get it. They have a strong grasp on the animals that make the most meat the fast and economically. Both of them help plan which animals will come onto the farm every year, how we can make the most money off of them and what the turnover should look like. They haven’t even been on the ground for a decade and they have this stuff down pat. A decade ago I was still in tears dropping cinder blocks on chickens. It’s in these moments that I am both proud of my boys and that I know we’re on the right track as parents, at least in that regard.