While eating the first meat I had raised and harvested as a result of breeding heritage ducks, I read this amazing book called “The Compassionate Carnivore,” by Catherine Friend. This book confirmed my feelings about raising livestock ethically, but it also changed my perspective and potential product ideas as a new farmer and former vegan. I decided to embrace making a change in world of horrible animal production, by doing it right. If I could change just some of the meat production, even for a few animals, I wanted to do that. I wanted to be an ethical meat farmer.
I studied turkeys as my next endeavor, but I knew before I tried something new, first I was going to have to face the animal I had been avoiding. He was cute and came about as a result of my wanting goat milk, he was ….the boy goat. The year before I’d avoided the boy goat issue by giving my first born buckling to a friend, who’d harvested him at my place. I’d left that day so I wouldn’t have to witness it.
This year, however, I had had a big group of boys goats born in the spring. I knew it was time to embrace the destiny of nearly all the boy goats ever born- they would become meat. For my first time, I watched a customer, who was a skilled deer hunter, as he respectfully harvested a beautiful ruby colored brother of a set of triplets. As with the chickens and ducks, it was an instant death, but this time a bullet was involved. Goats being mammals made it a bit more emotionally intense, a bit more personal somehow. But that was that, and again I felt just fine with what had happened.
Next up was a giant leap on my part. I needed to harvest all the boy goats before winter, so I hosted a Goat Butchery class on my tiny farm. It was taught by a skilled goat butcher named Don. I had posted the class on craigslist, in my favorite “farm and garden” section, and to my surprise, we had all the goats spoken for in no time. They all came out on a freezing Halloween morning, and together we all learned how, with kindness and respect, to humanely slaughter and then butcher a goat. It was a really intense day, but once again, I felt strangely invigorated, electrified. It was as if the animals’ life energy flowed into us. Sadly, I found out later that allowing people to slaughter animals on your property was technically illegal. Honestly though, it was not the wisest thing to have a bunch of people, some friends, some total strangers, handling knives with a gun nearby on your land.
In my mind, the problem with meat is what people will pay. For what it IS, a life taken, I think it’s virtually priceless. The average person has a cap on the price they are willing to pay for meat though, no matter how well raised it is. This limits the ability for the farmer to make any profit, and limits the incentive for anyone with a heart to enter the field, unless they grow their farm big, which can then compromise the integrity of the ethical meat raising. As I did the numbers for raising cabrito as a fulltime farmer, the only way to make the venture profitable was to raise and sell WAY more than 10 goats at a time. If I could make a net profit of $35-50 per goat (which appeared to be my potential profit after paying all expenses involved with breeding, raising, butchering and packaging) , I’d need to raise more than several hundred male goats for slaughter. 200 goats x $50 is still only $10,000 and I couldn’t even pay my bills with that for the year. I also didn’t have enough land to even consider it, let alone emotionally entertain that notion. I was still kind of uncomfortable with killing for meat, let along killing for profit.
Maybe raising ethical meat wasn’t my calling as a farmer after all.