If you told me two years ago that I’d be slaughtering rabbits on a lazy Saturday morning, I probably would have laughed right in your face. I’m talking about the rude laugh where you have to cover your mouth with your hand so you don’t spit on a person.
I’ve always been kind of sqeamish with blood and guts and all, but I guess on some level I’ve known since we started this whole farm thing that I was going to have to find a way to get over some of that. Our daydreams about farm life have typically included some chickens, goats, maybe a few pigs, and a dog if the kids have anything to say about it. The truth is that if we’re keeping animals around the place, some gross stuff is going to happen. Hooves will have to be trimmed and abscesses, worms, growths and Lord knows what else is inevitable. I had quietly accepted that part of our reality, but in my mind, all of the conversion of animals to food would be outsourced. However, as I read numerous books on the subject it started becoming clear to me that paying someone else to do my dirty work would probably produce lower quality meat and would likely erase any potential savings from growing our own food.
That’s how I found myself standing in a friend’s driveway with blood on my shoes and a fresh, un-lucky rabbit’s foot in my hand.
We discovered recently the some new friends of ours were raising rabbits on a small scale for food. By this point I had read a ton of books on a wide range of livestock, so I already knew rabbits were an ideal choice for meat. They’re small, quiet, and they provide the best feed-to-meat conversion ratio of any domestic animal. We had some rabbits growing up, so I knew they were easy to breed and care for, but the idea still seemed a little strange to me. When we learned that our new friends had a crop growing behind their house I was intrigued. Reading a book is one thing, but the experience of someone you know is invaluable.
I started asking questions, and the more I learned, the more it sounded like we should be considering some long-ears for The Ant Farm. There was just one problem with this whole endeavor…rabbits are so stinking cute. I mean, the idea of killing a chicken with my bare hands was bad enough, but shooting the Easter bunny in the back of the head with a pellet gun just seemed wrong somehow.
Some of this aversion to getting my hands dirty was tempered back in June when we visited Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm in Virginia. My wife told the story on her blog here. Salatin has written numerous books on sustainable farming and pastured poultry, but he is probably best known for his appearance in the documentary Food, Inc. which exposes the world of industrialized food production.
We happened to be there on processing day, so I got a close-up view of the killing and processing of about 100 pastured chickens. It was an education on many levels. My main take-away was that the process was very clinical and not very gross at all. While there was a little blood and a lot of guts, the process was very humane and sanitary. However, I was still a little disturbed by the actual killing. I had never really watched a creature die outside of the normal course of life. I spent the next few days considering the realities of life and death, and I really came to grips with the idea that something has to die in order for me to live. The theological implications are quite profound when you think about it.
Anyway, when our new friends mentioned that they had a batch of rabbits that needed processing, I jumped at the chance and invited myself along for the fun.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous about the whole thing. I wanted to be all macho like it was no big deal, but the truth was that I was completely unsure of how I would respond to the sights, sounds and smells of full-blown lupine evisceration. Chickens are one thing, but fuzzy bunnies are a whole other ball game. As I walked up the driveway Saturday morning with butterflies in my stomach, I thought about why I was there.
“I want to be an Ant. I want my kids to be Ants. We’ve set out on a massive journey to learn how to provide for ourselves and stop taking the basics for granted. I eat meat everyday, and there is something seriously wrong if I can’t stomach the process of how it is made.”
I was in that driveway for a reason. It wasn’t for profit. It wasn’t to impress anybody. It wasn’t for the prospect of entertainment, which drives our modern world. It was to learn something so basic that every generation from the beginning of time up to my grandparents has known intrinsically. Food is necessary, and killing is part of the process of acquiring food. We’ve become so far removed from reality that the majority of us can’t even handle the idea of where our food comes from. Our culture is so twisted up on itself that we often can’t even recognize food when we see it.
My daughter asked me why we had to kill the bunnies when there was food at the supermarket. It seemed like a valid question, and in the moment I’m not sure I did a very good job of answering it. The truth is that it is so much easier to outsource the dirty work and deny that something has to die for us to live. Walk down the meat aisle of a grocery store, and you’ll see that boneless meat is in high demand. For most of us, the bones remind us that what we’re eating is an animal, and we don’t really want to think about that fact. We just don’t want to be reminded of the sacrificial nature of our world.
For me, that immaturity of thought was mortally wounded on a farm in Virginia and died a quiet death in a friend’s driveway on a random summer morning. I watched the process from beginning to end, taking notes and asking questions. All in all, the process of eviscerating the rabbits really wasn’t that bad. There was very little blood or gore, and I actually gained a much deeper understanding of basic anatomy in the process. I decided not to get my hands dirty on this adventure, but in a few months when the next batch is ready for processing, I’ll be ready to execute the process from beginning to end. I don’t think I’ll ever be totally OK with the actual killing part. I’m not sure we’re not supposed to, but I am sure that I will be taking one more step in my quest for self-reliance.