Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Chicken - A vegetarian's perspective.

This is a warning to those of you who are sensitive to or dislike pictures of meat. While this post does not have any photos of blood or guts, it does have photos that are suggestive of a process and therefore might offend.

I am a vegetarian.

I have not eaten nor prepared or cooked meat for over 20 years.

It's easy for me to be a vegetarian. I do not like to eat meat, I do not crave meat, I find it impossible to take responsibility for the end of a life so that I can eat meat and I think I am healthier and eat better without.

On our organic farm we grow fruit, vegies and nuts and we have 1500 hens for eggs. Although we know that there is a great demand for organic meat in the market, raising a creature just to kill it in its prime for food is not something we have ever done nor are likely to do.

The oldest of our flocks of chickens are between three to five years old and waaaaaaaaaaaay beyond their laying peak and over the hill. Almost all commercial egg farms get rid of their chickens when they are 72 weeks old before their first moult. Being that a chicken only starts to lay her first eggs at around 16 weeks old, that's a bit like a teenager.

On our farm we pride ourselves on allowing our chickens to express their true nature. We let them do everything that is natural for chickens to do. They dust bathe, scratch for grubs, live with males/roosters, go to bed and wake up when the sun tells them to and we let them live long, long lives.

In return they lay eggs for us. And feed our soils with their manure. And scratch the earth and eat the grubs.

But recently we've been discussing the fact that some of us do eat meat and that we have a flock of certified organic free range chickens who we are feeding each day and who are well past their laying years.

And so we made a decision to harvest a few chickens to feed our three families.

So last Thursday our three farmer boys and Miss Pepper gathered quietly and prepared a few chickens for food.

At first I stayed away because I thought I'd be repulsed. But curiosity got the better of me and I slowly crept nearer and nearer.

And to be honest it moved me to proud, awe filled, emotional tears.

Those four farmers treated those chickens with such respect and kindness. As they collected each hen she was thanked for her eggs and her life and her body. It was all done very calmly and quietly.

I don't know if it was the fact that living on a farm with livestock, I have seen more than my fair share of dead stock and so I am desensitised. I don't know if having been witness to the aftermath of a fox raid a few years ago, this didn't seen anywhere near as graphic and horrific. Or maybe it was just the knowledge that these chickens have had the most wonderful lives. Right up until their last day.

It didn't disgust me as anticipated. Not at all.

So while I will continue to quickly skip past the blog posts and instagram photos of raw and cooked meat. And the discussions of how best to cook a meat meal will probably still turn my stomach. Our meat experience was pretty inspiring and I feel really proud to have been part of it (as the photographer).

And I feel pleased about the roast chook that was served and enjoyed by Farmer Bren and Miss Pepper on the weekend and I'm glad about the hot chicken soup that was eaten by the cold farmer boys for lunch here this afternoon. And it makes sense that the scraps will go into and feed the compost.

And the compost will break down and heat up and be turned and will create new life.

A life cycle.

I feel like it makes sense.


  1. A lovely and inspired post. The raising of animals for produce (not pets), is something that most farms take great responsibility for. They truely care for their animal, and appreciate their life. Well done for having the strength to witness the events.

    1. Hi Kate,

      Great post!

      I don't think it is desensitisation (although living on a farm I'm sure there is some of that); I think it is the respect with which we treat animals (if we are going to slaughter them for meat), that makes it less horrific.

      It is undoubtably a brutal act to take the life of and animal for the purpose of sustaining your own; but by treating animals with respect, using everything we can, acknowledging the blessing, is I think the best way honour the animals life.

      Thanks again for the post.

  2. I too am a vegetarian, and a country girl here in the UK. I live in a farming community that has existed much as it does now for 100s of years. I value its traditions, the look of it, everything it is. So I am glad not everyone is a vegetarian, the meat eaters complete the cycle and my world at least would be less without them.

    Great post Kate :D

  3. Hi Kate, I too am a long standing vegetarian with similar views to you. As I live an urban life I don't see the side you do but I do feel there's a world of difference between the process you outline and that of intensive farming where the animals are raised and killed very cruelly for cheap mass produced food. I could go on all day but what I'm trying to say is I hear you! If people are going to go on eating meat then surely this is the ideal way to do it.

  4. Knowing how most of the chicken in our supermarket lived and died, I am pleased to say that we only eat the chickens that we raise (also true for beef) and when people say that they find the idea of killing a chicken is awful, I ask them if they eat chicken and where they think it came from. Most people are blissfully unaware of the cruelty of industrial farming methods. If I couldn't raise my own, I would seriously consider being a vegetarian, because I couldn't support that system.

  5. This is SUCH a fabulous post Kate. We too have a coup full of laying hens and have raised ducks for the plate. It is indeed a somber affair to see your own animal killed, especially when it is for your own dinner (which it has been in our case). For us it has lead us to a much greater respect for our meat and the earth.

    I'm inspired. Thanks.



    p.s i'm also exploring ethical eating on my blog

    1. Hey what are YOU doing on here!? :-)

    2. ahahahah too excellent. You're supposed to be at work. This is why the stay at home parent works MUCH harder than the paid for work parent ;) ;)


  6. Such a great post Kate.
    I just hope that the free range chicken I eat lives and dies with such respect.

    I've noticed more posts recently by people getting involved in the killing and processing of animals that they eat, and I think its great. Its so important we recognise what we are eating and take responsibility for the entire process.

    They had a live cow on Master Chef last night and I think we all flinched looking into those brown eyes. x

  7. Thank you for your respectful account of this sacred process. Thanks for writing it in a way that doesn't make me (meat-eater) feel condescended, but rather inspired to dig a little deeper, find out a little more.

  8. Really great post Kate.
    I have a few friends who are vegetarian but serve meat to their families. Are you like that too or are your whole family vegetarian?
    I spent all my life calling myself a " meatatarian". My diet consisted of meat & carbs- NO VEGIES!!! Last year I had a bit of a health wake up call that forced me to address my eating habits. I now eat vegies, not all but lots of them & a strange thing is happening. Not only do I love & crave vegies but my body has decided it doesn't appreciate it when I eat red meat anymore. Ive cut back my meat intake to about once or twice a week & I do feel better for it. Now I just need to convince my house of meat loving males they don't need meat eat day......wish me luck! And if you have any good vegetarian cookbooks you' think I should read let me know :)

  9. Interesting.

    However, I choose not to eat dairy or eggs because of the dilemmas it presents. I am NOT happy at the disposal of an animal once it is seen as having no more use or purpose to use humans. Unlike you I loved to eat meat - until I thought about it and have been vegetarian for 27 years and vegan for 17. The dairy and egg industry are party to cruelty just as much as the meat industry and that is my whole reason for not eating meat. I have not found my diet hard or difficult to maintain at any time.

    Fundamentally I am against farming as it constricts an animal and goes against nature and tends to be cruel to some degree or another and in some cases extremely so. I actually have more respect for someone who shoots and eats a happy free wild rabbit than someone who buys from the supermarket (and probably not cute fluffy likkle bunnies for some reason; all animals are equal to me.) I do think in the natural scheme of things it is ok for us to look to animals for a helping hand - a drop of a cow’s milk or an egg or two. However, we totally exploited that and it has lead to horrific suffering. Even wool is farmed with very cruel methods which is totally unnecessary and renders most wool not something I will use, although in theory I would not object to the principle.

    All the above being said, I realise not everyone is going to stop eating meat or change the notion of farming. So I applaud efforts of anyone who tries to produce meat (if it has to be done at all) with more ethics and care towards animals. In an ideal world your chickens would not be eaten and I would not condone their demise for myself or anyone I knew (I would either keep them for their natural lives or not have them because of this sort of thing). But I do agree, better that they had happier still relatively short lives than the miserable brutish and short kind most poor creatures get.

    There is nothing inevitable about it though and I certainly don't believe it is part of nature or the circle of life. For humans have a choice, we could act as stewards and guardians of the animal world but instead we betray them; I am imperfect in an imperfect world but my own choices would never allow for the killing of an animal for food. They are NOT food for me and I know for sure that myself and my daughter would never eat an animal in any circumstances at all. One meal can equal one life and that is a huge price for the animal kingdom to pay – so much death! I have long felt especially sad for chickens as they are so popular with everyone. Yet they are only small so 50 hen lives (perhaps more or less), or 1 cow life? It's a huge amount of life or death to be responsible for. Seeing people gnawing on body parts is a very odd experience for me as there is such a disconnect with people and their food. Anyone who wants to eat dismembered limbs who has thought about it seems more than a little strange. I believe most people don't think about it and can get past their emotions that way. Children are processed to eat meat at such a young age and in so many case don't think about it at all.

    Ultimately there is nothing honourable in death and pride is misplaced. There are better ways than others that is all.

  10. Perhaps some Wendell Berry might be instructive, anonymous.

    "To live we must daily break the body and shed the blood of creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skilfully, reverently, it is a sacrament. When we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration. In such desecration we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want."

    I've got no idea what your personal circumstances are, but if you eat, the simple truth is that living entities die so that you can live. Of course there can be honour in death - it is inseperable from life. And are you seriously, fundamentally against farming? I've been growing my own food for 12 years, but I'm a long way from producing enough to feed my family of five all year round. Repsonsible, ethical, regenerative farming is essential, and hats off to Kate and her family for what they are doing on their little patch of soil.

    You're more than entitled to be vegan. Kate is absolutely entitled to be vegetarian. But frankly, the notion that veganism is the "better way" is nonsense. The best way is each of us doing our best, in our own neighbourhoods, with our own unique personalities and skills and circumstances, to live well on the earth.

    PS I too have raised, killed and eaten my own animals. And like Kate, I have shed a tear at their passing, not out of sadness, but respect.

    1. I love that; "The best way is each of us doing our best," I think that totally sums it up and you have nailed it.

  11. Great post - and that was one really big chook! cheers Wendy

  12. love your blog kate but what i find very interesting is often the conversation and comments that follow.

  13. Great post Kate - I have read a few Posts on this topic this week and coincidentally have one planned myself as we have embarked on eating meat that we raise ourselves and have just begun consuming our own lamb. It is quite confronting andt it has made us eat much less meat which is fine. I think the important thing is simply being mindful of where all our food comes from -meat And non meat products. As someone already said, the image of the beautiful bovine on Masterchef last night didn't turn me off meat but it made me feel grateful and connected to the source. Mel x

  14. It makes complete sense. Reading some of the comments has made me think that we shouldn't be trying to convince each other that veganism, vegetarianism or eating meat on a farm that embraces respectful and humane husbandry is the better option. The way I see it is we're on the same side: eating well, doing the best for our families and respecting animal life and our planet. The fight should be against farming practices that wouldn't know the first thing about the environment and animal husbandry.

  15. It makes sense to me too. I think it does come down to the cycle of life.
    Thanks for another thoughtful and (for me) educational post, Kate.
    I really like what Justin Russell had to say too. Kx

  16. Kate I read your blog but have never commented until now. This post is really moving. Feel very grateful for families like yours who respect the earth and all living things. What a beautiful example for your children.

  17. it makes total sense to me too Kate.
    THis is a truly wonderful and inspiring post. Like you I am vegetarian, i don't like the taste of meat miss it, or feel i could end the life of another being except ok a fly or a mozzie. I mean that as me Jess, couldn't do it, not that others shouldn't or should be the same as me.
    But that said I've never felt more inspired and moved. I
    it's really all about the treatment isn't it. i know and have seen your chooks have the best life, I've seen the way they are treated with the upmost respect by Farmer Bren and your family. And the way those chooks ended their life and were enjoyed is sort of how it's sort of how it's supposed to be, respected to the end.
    So this post makes total sense to me ( even if my comment is not) . I also agree with Justin.

  18. such a wonderful post.
    I live in a town with no possible means of having my own chickens (which by the way, I would love) so the best I can do, is buy the best available. A battery chicken is so cheap compared to free range or organic chicken and therefore in a recessionary environment, I think people will buy what they can afford. It may sound to some people as an excuse, but unfortunately to those who don't have a lot of expendable income, they can't choose.

  19. Thank you Kate, thank you Justin!

  20. beautiful and moving
    thank you for your sensitive pics
    I love the spectrum of humanity, grown men and a little girl...

  21. addition to my above comment, I would buy your chooks (to cook that is) if you ever get to that point

  22. You continue to amaze me. You're such a strong person to go to places that are a bit crap in life, and you reflect on situations with a philosophical bent that I most people that read will benefit in some way. Thanks for sharing Kate.

  23. I saw this on IG the other day and thought I had read it wrong.

    I am all for ethical meat eating and for animals to be treating humanely from birth to death. We are seriously considering growing our own pigs for meat. We know a couple of people who do it and the most important question was how will the pigs be killed? We have investigated this at length and feel we have found a solution. We know we will treat them ethically and are doubling the space for their pens recommended in ethical treatment guidelines, so they will have lots of space to roam and forage and do what piggies do best. We have looked at what to feed them and where to get it and have found an abundance of milk and bread that is thrown away a few times a week that we can access. We have also talked to the small one about it and what it will mean and why we are doing it and she understands it.

    this post makes me love you more. Not because you ate meat but because you took yourself to a new place and thought about it from a whole new perspective. Nice one Foxy. xx

    PS how come people that are judgemental are always anonymous??

    1. Not all anonymous are judgemental, see above

    2. Yes, as I said the judgemental ones are anon I didn't say the other way around.

  24. I eat meat. As a butcher's daughter, it was inevitable as a child and I have chosen to continue as an adult.

    But, as a veterinarian, I have seen intensive farming at its worst and my children are growing up with meat in their diet but also with an understanding of the processes involved and a respect for the life of that animal. If they continue to chose to eat meat, I hope that we have taught them to support that aspect of the industry that treats those animals well. As you and yours are doing.


  25. A great post Kate. What I respect is that although you clearly don't eat or like meat, but you have allowed your girls to make up their own mind. We eat meat here. I have been buying from a butcher in Lancefield and his stuff is high quality and mostly from organic sources.
    Thanks for being behind the lens on this sensitive (for you) issue and sharing with us all.

  26. I just wanted to thank you for this post. I'm a meat eater, not a veggie. but this is what eating meat should be about.

    as a farmer, you know what it is to see something blossom and grow,before it comes to the plate. You do not just see the end result, fresh from a grocery aisle, but you know the entire history behind it before you even take a mouthful.

    Too easily, animal produce has been turned into its by-product, mainly meat. We lose sight of what it was, what it came from, and what it achieved in order to get to us and serve its purpose. It deserves respect and recognition. Recognition for the life that has been given in order to nourish and sustain you, gratitude for the effort that being has put in. Too often, in this shrink wrapped age, or even when we buy slabs of fresh meat from the butchers, we lose sight of the fact that this too was a living being. Perhaps in doing so, we would not consume such prodigious and unnecessary amounts of meat, perhaps there would not be the awful demand that forces the mechanisation of animal welfare.

  27. I am veg (not sure if the name gives it away, haha!) but I still respect organic, caring practices like this. Still not gonna eat it though :) But I know people are going to eat meat and I don't care, what I do care about is if they do it as much in this way as at all possible.

  28. A lovely post Kate. I salute you for having your beliefs but not shoving them down other people's throats (in a manner of speaking). I am so sick of judgemental people who believe everyone should think their way. Good for them for finding the path that suits them but the holier than thou attitude and preaching that comes with their beliefs completely turns me off. Indeed it's the cycle of life as you so elequently say.

  29. what a beautiful post...thank you for your bravery in putting it out there, because i am sure you KNEW the reactions it would stir in folks. I was vegetarian for about 20 years, vegan for some of those. I do eat chicken and kai moana (seafood) now, sometimes i dabble with bacon, usually when pregnant. My dilemma i am making my peace with now is my partner and little boy are definitely meat guys. Eep. Not much and not often, organic and with full appreciation and knowledge of the issues but still. meat. eep. I didn't offer my boy meat his whole first year...it just didnt occur to me to..then when went to a function and it was catered by a carvery. I thought oh no, what will i feed the little dude...when he ran up shouting MEAT! and grabbing handfuls. Eep. Parenting, its quite the journey isn't it?!

  30. Thank you Kate for this wonderful post and to Justin Russell for his excellent comments.
    Anne xx

  31. Lovely thoughtful post Kate. I love you and your blog too. xx

    Please stay with us when you visit.


  32. Good on you for taking full responsibility for the animals you raise. Too many egg-producers just discard their broken, burned-out layers like yesterday's trash.

    I've got 4 roosters to process this weekend. I take unwanted males from people in town who raise chicks and then can't keep (or don't want) roosters. I grow them on, and then process them for our own consumption. Free, ethical food - yay!

    Keep up the great work!

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Thanks so much for stopping by...

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Kate XX

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