Homesteading: Confronting Death

About month ago, we killed and ate our rooster. (I’ve  been behind on my blogging, there has been a lot of work to do) This was the first time we have actually slaughtered an animal. Of course, this is a part of homesteading, but it was a monumental step for my brother and I.

The death was quick and clean, which I was glad for. If we had botched the death, I don’t know if I’d have the heart to try again. Cleaning it was harder. We’ve never done this before, and it is a learning process. We’ve watched a lot of videos on YouTube about how to slaughter and butcher a chicken, and it looks easy. But that’s people who have been doing it for years. I’m not ashamed to say that we ended up wasting some of the meat. We’ll have to keep trying.

It was a strange experience. I wasn’t prepared for how the meat was still warm while we were cleaning it. Of course I knew intellectually that it would be; that you have to get the guts and blood out while its still warm, right away. Somehow, I didn’t think about what the sensation would be like. I’m used to meat being cold, because it’s always come out of a freezer or a refrigerator. Feeling still-warm meat from a creature that was alive 10 minutes ago was beyond eerie. I almost couldn’t stand to touch the meat meat for more than a few seconds and feel the heat it was giving off. It wasn’t just warm; it was hot. Placing your hand on the hot skin of a headless chicken that still has feathers is … strange. It’s hard to explain all the emotions and thoughts it brings up. It was visceral (literally!) in a way nothing else I have experienced so far has been.

But once the head, feet, and skin are gone, a fascinating transformation takes place. It’s not a dead animal anymore. Now it’s food.

This is something that modern people don’t usually deal with, especially if they have never been hunting or did not grow up on a farm. My brother and I were raised in the city and chose this life; this is something we are having to teach ourselves. We decided to kill the rooster for several reasons. On one level, we had not had meat in a few weeks and we were hungry, and that’s what he was there for. But on another, we also wanted to confront death. We NEEDED to confront it. We wanted to make sure that we were emotionally capable of dispatching our livestock, before we ended up getting a lot more. There is a vast chasm of difference between the idea and act, between being okay with the thought of slaughtering animals for food and getting your hands bloody doing so.

One day this will happen to all of us. Death is unavoidable. And all of us are food for something else, even humans. We will be eaten by worms and fungus and germs if we are no devoured by lions and bears. That uncomfortable truth may be part of why most folks now prefer their meat to be gotten in a supermarket, cleanly wrapped in clear plastic and arranged neatly on perfect Styrofoam trays under artificial lighting.

But death is inevitable. And our modern society has such a phobia around it. And it’s not just about food. We also cart our old and sick people off to die alone in hospitals and old folk’s homes, because most people don’t want to look at them and be reminded of their own mortality. Our Pagan ancestors had no such luxury (and would likely be horrified by the cruelty of leaving our elders abandoned for the sin of growing old). Death was omnipresent for them.

Killing and eating my rooster bought me into contact with my ancestors who lived a more natural life than we do today. He had a good life. He had a good death. I had didn’t do the best job of using every part of the meat, but I will get better at cleaning and butchering. This is what it means to be human. This is what it means to be alive. This is the eternal dance of predator and prey. This is is Life. This is Death. This is the Deep Magic of the world.

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3 Responses to Homesteading: Confronting Death

  1. My husband and son-in-law is much better at this process than I would be. I don’t have an adversion to eating meat, and I’m fully aware of where food comes from, so it’s not so much a head in the sand kind of thing as it is an adversion to actually being the one to take the life, I suppose. Kudos to you and your brother for being able to do it!

  2. Allie says:

    This is such an amazing post. Really opened my eyes.

  3. Rich says:

    I have also watched numerous videos on how to harvest various small animals such as chickens, rabbits, squirrels, etc. I’ve never done it before, I grew up in the suburbs where our meat always came from the grocery store (a few hunters in the family have given us meat, but it was already process and wrapped up just like the meat from the grocery store). Anyway, long story short, I’ll be hunting for the first time in my 40 years this year. Getting over the idea of all the blood and guts and hot meat (never thought of that before), you really pointed out something I’ve never thought of before, “But once the head, feet, and skin are gone, a fascinating transformation takes place. It’s not a dead animal anymore. Now it’s food.”

    Now it’s FOOD!

    Thanks for the post… Now I have a closer milestone to processing the harvest.

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