And then there were three

I started this week with six goats and now there are three.

Yesterday Moses came over with his friend and whole family and we sent Eyore/Pretty Boy “back home” as Moses put it. Moses is the owner of a liquor store a block from my house. He’s was a goat farmer in his country, Yemen, and so my goat’s death was swift and painless, facing east, and filled with prayer and respect. Still, it was really intense and sad, and I must admit that killing my little goat made me seriously question the wisdom of eating meat.

My friend who raises pigs and treats them like her children until slaughter time confessed to me that she’s going to get out of the pig business. It just breaks her heart. So all you vegetarians:  don’t think that just because I raise meat animals, I’m a remorseless meat eater. In fact, because I am so close to it, I almost begin to feel resentful of meat eaters who blithely eat lamb and never have to think of the fact that a little cuddle-butt had its throat slit so you can vaguely enjoy a gyro.


After Moses left, taking his share of the meat and all of the offall (!), I went out to the garden and processed the goat hide. It’s really beautiful and soft, black and white, and so I want to save it. I stretched it out between some boards and scrapped the fat and meat off it. In a few days, Tamara Wilder is coming to teach a class at my farm about animal processing, so I hope to get tips from her about how to braintan the hide so becomes soft and supple. She is a wise woman, and will be demonstrating in the class humane ways to kill animals, and respect them by using all of their parts.

That night I went to do a reading at Mrs. Dalloways Books. I found myself getting choked up while reading the section in my book, Farm City, about killing my Thanksgiving turkey. I actually had to go through my thought experiment again to re-teach myself how I came to justify eating meat. The biggest one is simply economic: farm animals reach an age when they become a strain on the budget of a farm–it’s either eat them or lose money feeding them. Since, as we’ve learned (ahem) that a farm is defined as producing food not feeding pets, I had to make the decision to harvest the male goat.

Then I remember that keeping animals is a way of life for me, and many other people. I like being around farm animals, I raise and breed my dairy goats, and they will occasionally have male offspring that I can’t keep. From these males, then, their meat will sustain my life. That is why I’m so glad Moses–fount of goat farmerly knowledge–comes over to help. And because I know the whole story of meat: joyous birth, happy goat playing, naps in the sun, I often choose not to eat very much of it.

The other two goats that left the farm–Orla and his daughter Milky Way–didn’t “go home”. They went over to 18th Street, at my new friend A’s house. I’m so excited to have a fellow goat farmer only ten blocks from my place. We have plans to share buck service and milking and going on feed runs. Orlie and MW seemed very relaxed about the journey over to their new digs. Before long they were eating and pooping and seemed to be settling in. I’m always amazed how adaptable goats can be.


I milked Bebe this morning, letting her know that I was sorry about her son’s departure. She stared forward, chewed her cud and let down six cups of creamy milk, more than usual, because this time I got her son’s share too. And for that, I was thankful.

Class Info________________________

For those of you who might be interested in taking the animal processing class: Tamara coming to GT farm this upcoming Sunday, Sept 13. The class will focus on how to humanely kill a chicken, a rabbit, and how to use all of the meat, bone, fur and feathers from these animals, as a way to truly respect and thank them. Each participant will get to process their own animals. It will be truly empowering. Class will start 10am and last the whole day, and costs $100 which includes all materials, and you will go home with the animals you processed.

Here’s the agenda:

10-11am: Introduction and check in, things to think about, etc….

11am -1pm: Rabbit killing and processing

1-2pm: LUNCH (cooking hearts & livers) cook pre-killed rabbit in some way

1pm: put fat on to render

2pm: pour off fat into containers

2-2:30 construct racks and string up rabbit skins to dry.  Demo of stages of tanning.

2:30-3:30 killing, plucking & processing chickens

3:30-4:00 finishing up and farewells

There are a few slots left: email me at novellacarpenter at gmail dot com if you’d like to sign up.

20 responses to “And then there were three

  1. My sympathies. We just slaughtered three rabbits (two roasters, two fryers) and it’s emotionally draining every time. It’s bloody, but a tangible reminder of the cycle of life and the realities of life as an omnivore.
    It’s always so exciting to get someone going with your own breeding stock. Congratulations on spreading your gene pool. It’s kind of like sharing seeds, but fuzzier.

  2. Goodbye Pretty Boy. And thank you, Novella, for making his a meaningful life and a mindful death.

  3. Novella-Thanks for sharing this story. We’re planning to slaughter the chickens when they stop laying – sigh. Thankfully, I don’t really think of them as pets, although I do love to watch them scratch around. Anyway, I’d be very interested to learn what happens to the chicken feathers at your class. What does Tamara do with them?

  4. Novella, I just wanted to give you kudos for doing something that not a lot of people have the guts to do. If anyone is interested in the latest “something for a year” blog or is looking for recipes to use up your latest garden goodies, check out my new blog sharing marvelous muffins with the world.

  5. I’m too much of a soft touch to raise an animal and then eat it. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not faulting you. I was raised on a farm, and I know the realities of raising animals. I eat meat myself, but I get so attached that I can’t do it. I keep goats now just for the milk, and I have a limit as to how many I can have. We have tons of goat cheese, if anybody wants some. 🙂

  6. Beautiful post, Novella. As always, thanks for putting meat eating in perspective. This is a lovely tribute to a life well-tended and honored. I’ll spread the word about the workshop to a few chicken folks I know.

  7. Brava! Slaughtering animals can and should be intensive, thought provoking, reflective. And then normal, grateful, delicious. There is always a shift on my neighbor’s farm when the animal ‘goes home’ and the meat remains. Then the farm gossip and stories begin adn we start to keep the food. It is more normal here in the french countryside but still moving.

  8. In theory, my belief is that if you can’t slaughter the animal yourself, you shouldn’t eat meat.

    However, I know that I can’t do it, and I continue to eat meat.

    This incongruity in turns eats at me, a kind of philosophical cannibalism that I am resolved to get past, either by “getting over it” or becoming vegetarian.

    My gut, a seemingly relevant part of my body in this discussion, tells me that “going veg” will probably be the easier choice, in the end.

  9. We moved out of the city (Seattle) over a year ago to our mini-farm. Our chickens are egg-layers and more or less pets, and our only other animals are horses. We considered raising a Thanksgiving turkey, but I worried about how my two boys (5 and 7) would react to the slaughter. I know in the “old days” that was par for the course, my mother has many stories about her rural girlhood, but… I’d like to hear from other parents of young kids who are urban farmers or recent city-to-farm transplants on the issue. Where we live now elk and deer hunting is popular and many kids participate from a fairly young age, but I can’t see that it makes them any more reflective or conscientious in their interactions with nature. As an adult, I appreciate and understand the sentiments expressed above, but I wonder if the lessons would be lost on kids? I can’t imagine it would be good for them to observe the process, but even just having a basic understanting of it and knowing that their animal that they named and talked to and interacted with had become a piece of meat to eat at dinner… I’d hate to end up just instilling fear or morbid curiousity, or guilt for that matter. My kids were city kids up until 4 and 6 – wonder if that means that they’d react differently than kids that had grown up on farms. I’d love to hear from others who’ve faced this issue.

  10. Amy: I would have been one of those kids affected very negatively by their pets being killed. To be honest, maybe it was the way my parents callously approached it that made the death of my pet chickens such a terrible event for me in my youth, so in that aspect perhaps my experience would not be the most appropriate response you’re looking for. I grew up in the city, though I lived out in the desert for 2 years when I was 10, and brought back to Los Angeles with the pet chickens we acquired. I loved them of course, and one of the chickens happened to be a rooster I raised from an egg one of my hens laid. He got in the neighbor’s yard one day and was in shock from being chased by their dog. I left him resting in our yard hoping he’d recover by the time I got home from school, only to come home to my mom announcing that he died, and with a grin was cooking him up in a pot. I skipped dinner that night, and refused to look in the fridge at the leftovers for a week. The way my parents took death so tactlessly, especially of a beloved animal companion (I was a particularly depressed kid growing up which made their loss even worse), is probably what really made it all so terrible. I’m sure you would be much more compassionate, and would define the line between pets and animals destined for the table.

  11. I’m interested in what you do with the feathers also. We raise chickens for meat (and we have layers). It IS hard on slaughter day, and that does inspire me to use every bit as best I can. If I can’t/won’t use it, I find someone who will. So far, we’ve been planting trees and using the feathers and the inedible innards in the bottom of the holes, but I’d be interested to know what others do with them. I’d also like to know if you can refer me to some good brain tanning resources. I find all sorts of info over the web, much of it conflicting. We just had a calf butchered and I asked for the hide. It was an impulsive act, fueled by my desire to use every bit of the animal, but now I’m wondering what I was thinking! The butcher salted it, and the hide is in my freezer so I’m hoping I can still tan it once I know what to do.

    In regard to animals on the farm and kids. Our kids are very involved in our farm, but they are allowed to express themselves and do not have to participate in the butchering or even watch it unless they ask to do so. Mostly, they prefer to feed and care for the animals, milk the goats and cow, that sort of thing, but some of them are also involved in our processing. We approached it with frequent discussions about treating an animal well for its life and then honoring that life by not wasting. We also have some animals that we don’t eat, and we make a distinction. Our meat animals are clearly identified as such from the beginning. It is still hard, but better than eating the factory farm stuff. And when the kids found out where the other meat came from (factory farms), it helped them understand why we do what we do.

  12. I was born and raised on a farm, have raised my son on one, and have been a 4-H leader in contact with lots of transplanted kids. If there’s one lesson every child needs to learn, it’s that raising food is not easy; physically, financially, or emotionally. Losing a crop can be just as traumatic as losing a beloved pig.

    In my house, our animals are special to us. We don’t kill animals we raise ourselves. Even the laying hens die of old age (or more often from raccoon predation). We have bought the extra meat birds other 4-H kids raised, however, and processed them ourselves. Kids can experience preparing meat without having to sever emotional ties, if their sensitivities are a consideration.

    In 4-H, kids keep track of expenses. Is it cost-effective to raise your own meat? What are the advantages and disadvantages? How about vegetables, fruit, and grains? There is value in learning to appreciate a well-grown nectarine as well as a lamb.

    We do eat meat a couple of times a week. We don’t prefer frozen meat, though. If you raise your own you will probably have a freezer full of it and feel obliged to eat it.

    Everyone will have a different experience with their agricultural endeavors; good or bad, they’re valuable. As a culture, we’re just too far removed from reality in this country.

  13. thank you for this post. i straddle the vegetarian/carnivore line all the time and sometimes lean one way or the other. our meat that we do eat does come from a local farm and we are glad that our farmers are as thoughtful as you are. i know it happens all the time in the natural world, the larger animal eats the smaller animal and i am sure that the loving kindness and respect we give our food means something. somehow i doubt most people unwrapping a Quarter Pounder giving blessings to the cow that gave it’s life.

  14. Hullo! Finally read your book – devoured it in about two days. Now ordering nearly every book you mention (looking at a copy of the Integral Urban House right now, hooboy that’s a tome).

    Thank you for doing what you do. Thank you for your guts & tenacity & writing. And thank you for writing about your particular type of crazy – I loved recognizing “my people” in your book.

    Thank you for existing!

  15. We raise chickens (for eggs and meat) and rabbits (for meat) on our quarter acre suburban “nanofarm.” The breeding pair of rabbits are my daughters’ (ages 12, 8 and 6) pets, and they know that when the rabbits are bred and produce babies, the babies will be food for us. They also know that the broiler chicks we hand raise from hatchlings will “go home” at ten weeks and will feed us for the winter, and that when their “pet” laying hens get too old to give us eggs, they will also be meat.

    We don’t butcher our own chickens, yet, but we do harvest the rabbits. Our girls are welcome to participate, if they wish, but they don’t have to, and we always set-up in a part of the yard that’s set off from the rest, so that they don’t have to feel like they’re avoiding us, if it’s not something they wish to witness.

    We’ve raised and harvested rabbits off and on for twelve years, and our girls have known from the beginning that we have animals for meat, which, as Novella points out, doesn’t necessarily make it any easier, but because they understand where their food comes from, I think they have a healthier attitude toward food – especially the decision on whether or not to eat meat. For them, meat isn’t something that comes wrapped in cellophane from the grocery store, which I think makes them more respectful of the gift they’ve been given.

  16. amy- I grew up on a farm in iowa and as a child raised 100+ chickens every year; it was my and my sisters jobs to take care of them. Many became pets, but we knew that they were there to be meat. I actually have very good memories of “butchering day”. The extended family would come to help, aunts and grandparents and cousins -so it was a day filled with fun, friends, good food- and hard work; but mostly a close family time. The meat was divided up among family members who paid a couple dollars for each chicken, which my sister and I got to keep, so we understood the process of what must happen on a farm. When I look back on those times I feel especially warm/good about them.

    that said, I now live in st louis and have had backyard chickens for 4+ years. Ms Easter and Meme have stopped laying and this weekend they will “go home”. Everyone I’ve talked to says there is no use for a chicken that old-and so I feel in the future I may raise new chickens each year so that I can benefit from eggs and meat. I hate to think that there is no use for their remains. If anyone knows of anything I can do with such old chickens, please let me know! Saturday will be a hard day, but I know the chickens had a good 4 years of roaming around the yard and the day will make me think of family members long gone and the times we spent together. It will be bitter sweet.

  17. Hi Novella,

    I finally looked up your blog and I’m so glad I did! I’ve been following Rhiana’s blog for a while now and heard about your book. I read it and absolutely loved it! Reading your blog is like finding an extra bonus chapter to the book!

    I love that you turned that lot into a farm. I run a very small therapy garden for people with disabilities in East Sacramento. I wish we could add some bees or chickens, but I don’t think my boss would go for it.

    Anyway, just wanted to let you know I loved your book and you inspire me!

  18. Novella, just finished your wonderful book… stopped by to get another “dose” of your wonderful, insightful perspective. Just had to say that this post is very touching. Goats are special little creatures and I respect the care and tenderness that you show them.

  19. Hi,

    I’m wondering why you eat meat? Is it for nutritional or medical need? Or some other reason. My understanding is that most people would do better health wise not eating meat.


  20. Thanks for your reasonable explanation for why eating meat makes sense sometimes. We couldn’t manage our olive orchard weeds without them, they provide for improved soil, and an improved ecology in the orchard. To keep the species viable and healthy, the sheep need to be culled yearly, and to me, the best use of that protein from the culls is to consume it. It’s about finding a proper balance as stewards of nature.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s