Grit Blogs > Homesteading Tales from Rowangarth Farm

Farm Ethics and Children

By Fiona Wagner


Tags: goat, meat, ethics,

A photo of Fiona WagnerWe are now a two-ruminant family. Yep, we took the goat to the butcher a week after my last GRIT post (the first day the government meat inspector was in) and had the meat processed into 46 pounds of assorted goat cuts.

I felt some disappointment that things didn’t work out better with Oscar, but I must admit, I was relieved and satisfied we’d made the right choice. (Thanks to all you readers for your suggestions and comments – you were a great help!)

We told the kids right away that Oscar was no longer on the farm and they took it fairly well, considering the botched job I did of explaining it.

I’d decided that I was going to be upfront and straight about it. No “Oscar has gone on holiday” nonsense. They were going to learn about life and death on the farm, and I was going to be the one to explain it.

I told them that we’d decided to get rid of Oscar (hereinafter referred to as, “the goat” – you’re right Amanda, it’s much easier when you don’t name the animal!) as it was no longer safe to keep him. We’d done the best we could but some animals are just mean.

They seemed to agree with that assessment. (I think the head-butting and the fact that I had to use a broom to fend him off whenever I entered his pen gave them a good understanding.)

Then they asked where he went.

I explained that we’d taken him to a local butcher to be processed or killed.

My four-year-old daughter Ella asked, “Why?” with tear-filled, big blue eyes that never fail to melt my heart. I should tell you that this is the same girl who cried when she ate the first egg from our new hens.

Ella eats her first egg

I gently explained that instead of selling him to someone else who might not be as accepting of his goat-like nonsense and ill-temper, we decided that it was more responsible for us to have him processed into meat.

My son Jack replied, “It’s sad the goat went mean and now we’re eating him.”

I paused, then explained that while it’s OK to feel sad about the goat, we can feel good about the life we gave him. I reminded them that the animals in the barn aren’t pets and eating them, mean or not, will become part of farm life.

“But we’re not going to eat the horse, right mum?” asked my son.

The horse Gall

“No, we won’t eat the horse,” I replied.

“Or the donkeys?” asked my son.

Cinder the donkey

“Or, the donkeys,” I replied.

“Or the Ellas?” asked my daughter. Ella is the name she gave to all 10 of our hens.

Ella and the chickens

“Well,” I said. “Eventually, we’ll eat the chickens once they are no longer producing eggs for us.”

So then my son said, in his infinite seven-year-old wisdom, “So you do your job, or you get eaten. Right, mum?”

“Yes, sort of,” I replied, rubbing my temples and thinking that maybe the “Oscar’s gone on holiday” explanation might have been better after all.

I told them that one of the benefits of raising our own animals to eat is that it puts good quality, tasty food on the table.

“Are you going to eat the goat, mum?” my son asked.

“Well, I’m not sure,” I replied, explaining that I first became a vegetarian because I was against animals being raised on factory farms.

“We’re not a factory farm, right mum?” my son asked.

“No,” I replied, explaining that factory farms are places where animals are raised in very poor conditions. While we offer a much different life for our animals, one where they’re happy and well cared for, it’s been so long since I’ve eaten meat I’m not sure if I want to.

“But mummy, you’ve got to try it,” said my daughter in earnest. “That’s the rule.”

By now, I was starting to get something of a headache, so I redirected the conversation towards the new chickens we’d be getting in the spring.

I asked the kids if they could help me raise some day-old chicks as well as a few ducks and maybe even a turkey.

“Babies,” squealed my daughter. “We can name them Rosie!”

“And when they don’t do their job, we’ll eat them,” said my son.

Yes, son, we will. But in the meantime, I’ve got to find some recipes for goat meat. Then I’ll decide whether I’ll be eating it too.

Read more about our early adventures in homesteading at Rowangarth Farm.

karin yates
3/31/2012 8:16:19 PM

I've told my children right from the start that if they are mean, I will kill them. If they don't do their chores I will kill them too. I believe in honesty when raising kids. If we raise our dog kindly and decide he is tasty, we can kill him and eat him. In reality, I became vegetarian at age 10 when it suddenly dawned on me that someone was killed to become "meat". I have 2 children of my own, ages 11 and 15. Both have been vegan since birth. I couldn't imagine subjecting them to the trauma and sadness that the author has bestowed upon her kids. Why not eat the horse? It's OK to kill someone as long as they weren't tortured beforehand? Compassionate murder??? Why is it OK to eat some animals and not others? We have had "mean" animals, but the lesson my kids learned from it is that we show all living beings compassion. We raise tasty fruit and vegetables, and all our animal friends get to keep their lives.


char padworny
3/31/2012 7:44:01 PM

http://thevegantruth.blogspot.co.nz/search/label/A%20young%20vega


char padworny
3/31/2012 5:34:38 PM

http://humanemyth.org/


char padworny
3/31/2012 5:32:53 PM

http://pcrm.org/media/commentary/mrs-obama-stop-usda-from-sliming-children


char padworny
3/31/2012 5:24:00 PM

OH my! so sad!! this is why if I have children they will be raised compassionately on a vegan diet! I have so much for respect for my friends who raise their chrildren in this cruelty-free, healthy lifestyle. children have natural instincts to want to be kind to animals and then parents feed them murdered parts and animal secretions making them go against their inner feelings of compassion. we do not need animals or their products to live a healthy, fulfilled life..there are SO many delicious plant-based foods out there...an alternative for ANY kind of animal-based food out there. veganism leads to positives for all that share the planet...if more people went vegan there would be no world hunger...there's a much higher yeild in eating water/crops directly then to feed them to the animals first. animals raised on farms also cause much pollution and contamination to the water/food supply....spread diseases (bird flu, swine flu, mad cow disease...which is thought to cause alzheimers), and animal consumption is linked to the major american diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. Please if you are going to teach your sweet children the truth, teach the WHOLE truth or at least let them know that there is an alternative to killing animals...it's living vegan. : )


leokins_1
3/6/2009 2:17:40 PM

I know what you mean about not being sure whether you want to eat meat again or not. I became a vegetarian/flexitarian for the same sort of reasons; not wanting to support poor treatment of animals, wanting to eat less meat and thereby use less planetary resources. After a while of living away from home with no meat at all I moved back home when I changed schools. My mum wanted to make meals for everyone though, so for thanksgiving she bought a local, organic, free-range turkey. I really appreciated the gesture, and I knew that one of the reasons I chose to be a vegetarian was to make others think and make choices just like hers, all the same though, it was weird, and made for a slightly awkward meal. It took some getting use to but now I'm back in the habit of eating meat in family meals a few times a month. Whether you do or you don't, I guess just know that one or two meals won't degrade your reasons and motivation for being a vegetarian, and that it doesn't mean you'll have to suddenly change to a regular meat-filled diet. In your case I would think it would just be making good use of available local resources, I mean there is lots to use, a whole 46 pounds worth!


fiona_2
3/4/2009 9:31:25 AM

Wow, Nebraska Dave... thank you! Thank you for sharing your memories and your own perspective. My son sounds very much like yours... I love to watch him processing information and learning about the nuances of language. I do try to remember to cherish these moments... it can be tough when we get caught up in the busy-ness of life but I can already appreciate just how quickly the years pass. I mean my son just turned seven and he already seems so grown-up sometimes. And my daughter -- my "baby" -- wow... she's not a baby anymore! I often feel like we're bumbling around as we try and figure out this life but one thing is for certain -- we're doing it as a family and we'll have lots of memories to look back on. Besides, we always make sure to tell our kids fifty times a day how much we love them! Thanks also for that great perspective on Oscar. Much appreciated. ~ cheers, Fiona


nebraska dave
3/4/2009 9:14:57 AM

Fiona, this is a great story about raising kids. My kids are now 39, 38, and 24. As I look back on the child rearing days I shudder to think about some of the mistakes I made. What I’ve learned through it all is that if they know that they are loved, they will turn out just fine. Kids are totally honest and direct. Too bad we adults loose that as we get older. Kids have a way of remembering conversations and things we say and it comes back at most awkward times. Kids just have a way of keeping us humble. I really like Jack’s comment about if you don’t work, you get eaten. It’s a good thing that wasn’t the rule for the Pilgrams. You ever wonder about what goes through a small child’s head when we adults say things with double meanings. Things like, “Oh, he can be so pig headed.” Many times I would have fun with my kids and use phrases and double meanings in conversations. My son was the funniest to watch. You could see the wheels turning in his mind as he was trying to figure out the meaning of what was said. After a few minutes and all had moved on to other conversations, he would burst out in laughter and say, “Oh, I get it, I get it.” It was always funnier than what was said. Fiona, you are at the beginning of a wonderful journey of memory building experiences with your kids. Someday you will be able to look back just as I can and smile at the memories that are coming to mind. Grandkids are the best because those you can spoil them rotten and then send home. I am now seven Grandkids strong with the oldest being 17. I shudder to think about how close I could be to Great Grand Father. Enjoy every moment you can with those kids because years slip by with incredible speed. Sorry to hear about Oscar but it’s better for a farm animal to live a good life and die young than to grow old and have a bad life.


fiona_2
3/4/2009 8:23:35 AM

Thanks, Cindy! Kids certainly keep you on your toes, don't they? The wonderful thing about discussions like this is that children are so matter-of-fact about things. Good for perspective, I think! ~ cheers, Fiona


cindy murphy
3/3/2009 10:19:57 PM

Wonderful post, Fiona - from a mother's perspective, I can sympathise with you for having to have an emotionally difficult disussion with your children. At that same time, your children's comments made me smile. And imagining having the same type of conversation with my own daughters, I almost feel the need now to start rubbing my temples.