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.

Cheep! Cheep! Is that Spring I hear?

Top 5 Ways to Raise Awesome Chicks

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Veronica – Barnevelder

Nothing says springtime like an incubator buzzing.  It’s always hard for me to wait and time my hatching just right.  It gets so cold here that I don’t like hatching before it warms up, but I need to balance that with being a rather inpatient gal.  I’m a lucky girl however, with a VERY good husband for he has allowed me to designate an entire room in my house to chickens.  I have a “chick room” designed simply for incubating, hatching and brooding chicks.  It’s fantastic in the early months of spring when it’s just a little too chilly to let those babies outside.  Who doesn’t love having chicks in the house anyway?

My Top 5 Ways to Raise Awesome Chicks:

1. Handle Your Chicks Regularly. 12797998_254433651570763_393543114_n(1)

This makes your chicken life SO much easier.  The babies that I’ve hand raised are so much easier to deal with as adults, than adult chickens I have purchased.  If you ever need to handle or doctor your chickens, you’ll want them as calm as possible around you. (Make sure your hands are washed, so that you aren’t introducing germs, parasites or any potential diseases to your new babes.  This is especially the case if you have a flock of chickens, or are handling any other birds.)

 

2. Feed Age/Stage Appropriate Feed. 

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Using bribery to increase handling by children – Especially important with young roosters.

If you are raising chicks for the first time this is essential and you need to do some research.  The growth stages of chicks is fast and you don’t have a lot of time to remedy mistakes.  Protein, vitamin and trace mineral level needs very at every age stage and the results of using accurate levels will make a huge difference to your chicks.  They will be larger, stronger, healthier and produce less waste.  Read a couple of non-biased studies and you’ll see the difference.  Quality feed is well worth the small additional cost.

 

3. Invest in a Good Brooder.  

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Marbles in the water dish prevent drowning

You can buy awesome kits or complete brooders for raising your chicks, or you can make one and get the same results – your choice.  We built ours and the kids still love adding new things to keep the chicks happy and entertained.  You can see some great ideas for brooders and coop ideas here. Your chicks need a warm, safe place to grow.  They need ample fresh water, food and a clean space to move and grow.  The temperature should be around 90F for the first week, and should be reduced by around 5 degrees each following week, until the chicks have their all of their feathers.  If your chicks are huddled up to or under your heat source it’s not warm enough, however, if they are all as far away from your heat source as possible it’s too warm.

Note: The chicks have moved the shavings away from the paper they are standing on, and you DO NOT want your chicks standing on plain newspaper – Bullet 4 will cover this.

chicken splint4. Keep them on a textured surface. 

This is a factor that most new chick owners are unaware of.  Chicks need to be kept off of anything slippery: newspaper, vinyl, linoleum, hardwood etc… Although handy and generally easy to clean those little feet have nothing to grip onto and some pretty serious developmental issues can follow.  Splayed leg for instance, where one or both of their legs slides to the side (looking similar to a break), makes the chick unable to walk.  Typically this results in the chick getting culled or you playing chicken doctor like me and finding a way to make the worlds smallest splint.  Let me tell you this was one of the most time consuming and frustrating jobs of my life.

I tend to have multiple surfaces in my brooder, typically shavings on one side and a folded towel on the other.  My brooder is large with a lot of room to exercise and we add stimuli to keep them thinking and prevent boredom.  I elevate the water, to prevent getting shavings inside.

5. Introduce to the Flock Early 

When, where and how you introduce chicks to the rest of your flock depends on several factors.  What is the season and temperature outside, for you need to make sure your chicks are fully feathered and old enough to withstand and temperature changes without a hen to keep them warm.  How large is your flock and how sensitive your flocks pecking order is also plays a huge role, as your chicks safety is your number one concern.  Also, it’s never a good idea to just throw your babies in the coop.  When I am introducing chicks I set up a metal crate inside the coop and the chicks live in the crate for several days but separated for their safety.  I find this gives them a good opportunity to watch and learn.  They see how the older chickens interact with each other, and they get a feel for the pecking order without having to be apart of it.  It also gives my hens an opportunity to watch the chicks and get comfortable with them.  When i’m ready to release, I do it at night with the lights out.  Typically, when the chickens wake up no one is the wiser, however, I do leave the crate in the coop with a small barrier door (chicks fit under but chickens don’t), so that if needed the chicks have a safe place to run and hide.  My goal is to have my chicks out and learning from the masters early.

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Sprout (the worlds kindest rooster) leading some girls out for a morning stroll.