Farm Ethics and Children

We 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.

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.

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

“Or the donkeys?” asked my son.

“Or, the donkeys,” I replied.

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

“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.

  • Published on Mar 3, 2009
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