Processing Meat with Children

**Graphic images may be disturbing to some viewers.  Please be advised**

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.

 

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Some of our teenage chickens

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.

20190203_134139So 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.

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Homemade duck stew. Made with love by an 8 year old.

Take A Moment

Homeschooling from a mountain top is like any homestead, small town, isolated place.  It’s you, your kids and if you’re super lucky a parenting partner for back up.  Nevertheless, there is a fine line between savoring your time together and getting all together touched out, talked out, space invaded and fed up with family time.

As parents we often feel this way and there are piles of social media posts, blogs, and books to back it up.  Memes about needing mommy time, wine o’clock, date night or any excuse for a breather flash across a parents screen daily.  It’s natural and it’s reasonable.  There are days, weeks or even months when your little one is extra clingy, touchy, angry, or needy.  The truth is that although there’s nothing wrong with feeling that way, we rarely give our kids the opportunity to feel the same.

Today during a typical “Why can’t you just be kind to your brother?” conversation, my eldest started to walk away.  I called him back to finish our conversation.  His response was “Do I have to?”  So, true to form I told him that he did.  You know the whole obey your parents, it’s rude to walk away in the middle of a conversation, you need to talk things through, blah, blah, blah.  However when we were through, I thought to myself he’s just peopled out and I didn’t give him the opportunity to feel that.  We’ve had a long couple of weeks as I have been sick and practically useless.  The boys have been a fantastic help and taken excellent care of me, but now that I’m on the mend we’re all starting to show the signs of needing some alone time.   We’re edgy, and short fused and wanting to be somewhere else for a few minutes.

Parents own the need of occasional personal space and alone time.  We are so confident that it’s OK to feel that way that we write jokes and memes and we even get it printed on shirts and the bottoms of our socks.  Growing up my mother had a magnet on the fridge that said “Raising kids is like being pecked to death by a chicken.”  She would laugh and laugh, show all her friends and I always felt bad.  I didn’t feel bad for me or my brother, but I felt bad that that was the feeling she was taking away from being a parent.  Luckily, I don’t feel that way about parenting, but I do know that I need healthy breaks for my sanity.  These breaks don’t even need to be away from my family, they can be in the garden, or in a book, or in a hot bath, or with a quiet whiskey under the stars.  They are simply small moments alone with my thoughts.

Our children have the right to these breaks as well, and typically we snag that from them.  We have all this “rule and order” that’s been passed down generation after generation on how kids should behave, but we rarely give them the same space to compose themselves that we take ourselves.  They need a moment to walk away and regroup, a moment to think about what they’re feeling to prevent a meltdown, a moment to not get corrected, hounded and managed.  Maybe they just need a little peace and quiet or the ability to say “in a minute” and keep playing with their toys without getting scolded.  With all I have in my heart I love my children, but sometimes I need a moment and so do my boys.

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