I arrived at the farm, pulling up to the barn in a driving rain. By the time I traveled the 40 feet or so of ground that lay between my car and the door to the barn, the rain had coated my vest, and plastered my bangs to my forehead, running in rivulets into my eyes. On top of the rain, the wind was gusty, making the cool morning seem that much colder. Although the mud puddles looked intimidating, I was glad to see the precipitation; we'd gone for many weeks with little or no rain, along with very warm temperatures.
I loaded the Gator with chicken and pig food. As I made my way to the chicken coop, I felt lighthearted; my only concern was whether or not to let the birds out into their yard, or keep them in their house. This quickly vanished as my chief worry when I opened the door to 3 dead chickens.
I'm something of a newbie farmer, but 3 dead birds in one night was a pretty tough hit. We started out with 50 chicks, one died within a week, so the total number as of today was down to 46. If these were laying hens, I wouldn't be as troubled. But they aren't; they're meat birds, destined for our wintertime family table. Last year, we lost one of our pigs, resulting in an early exhaustion of our pork supply- necessitating a resupply with small meat markets and other farm suppliers. Not bad options, but not what we were trying to do. We want to grow all of our own food, ensuring that its raised ethically, and as cleanly as possible with constant access to pasture, sunlight and air. With the death of each livestock animal, not only does my meal planning gets tougher, its a blow to my pride and confidence as a steward to these animals.
When we first started raising our own meat, people were agog that we would name the larger animals. Frankly, I never even questioned the idea of naming or not naming. Its just not an issue one way or another. What is important is that we keep our consuming dollars out of the hands of commodity farmers. We aren't vegetarians; therefore, we try to be honest about how our food gets on our plates. Personally, its my feeling that if you can look a meat animal in the eye, get to know it, and provide the best care for it, then you are less of a hypocrite than many. The value of not only the market price of a meat animal, but of its life is exponentially improved by getting to know the animal and its living conditions. To become a vegetarian is an option for some, but according to recent statistics, only 3% of Americans are living this lifestyle. That's an awful lot of livestock animals left to factory farming.
If anything, the loss of an animal makes the appreciation of the meal it provides that much more. If there is less to get us through the winter and spring, then it will be that much more valuable; we can do as most of our Grandmothers did: take a Sunday roast and stretch it to Thursday hash.
When death comes to the farm- and it does- grief isn't the only emotion that comes along. Dismay, indignation, and disappointment partner up with feelings of failure and defeat. Its hard to get used to! In days gone by, I would simply hop into my luxury car, zip down to the Fresh Market, and hit up my butcher for whatever meat I needed to produce whatever snazzy Food Network recipe currently on the hit parade.
I can't do that anymore. And won't.
I've gotten to know my food. I can look it in the eye, give it a name, play with it, toss treats to it, worry about its comfort, and stand in the rain to make sure it gets its share of the food. I hope that future generations will re-learn this concept that we've lost in the dimly lit mire of sanitary meat packing facilities and glossy, well-lit grocery stores that make it FUN and EASY to do all your family's shopping in a clean and convenient way.
Anything else is unsustainable.