To Raise Meat or Eggs?
By Greg Peterson
In pondering urban livestock, the difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs. The pig is committed and the chicken is involved.
So my question for you is: Are you interested in being involved or committed? For me it comes down to my ethic and has been a process that has spanned almost four decades. Do I raise animals and take the products that they offer (eggs, honey and milk) or raise animals for the meat that they have to offer? Hmmmm.
In the mid ‘70s I was a fisherman with a fishing permit and was raising tilapia to eat. In both cases the fish were caught and used for meat—a fairly easy process as there wasn’t anything warm and fuzzy about fish.
Then in 1999 I was gifted three laying hens from my friend Robert because he got tired of me talking about raising hens and not doing anything about it. Well, hens are easy: provide them with a nice place to roost at night and lay during the day, some food and water and my job became collecting the bounty eggs. Easy and not at all confronting.
Animals that make product are generally pretty easy to handle and include: poultry (chickens, ducks and quail for eggs), bees for honey and goats and cows for milk. All of these are about nurturing the animal so they produce an abundance.
One meal completely out of the yard of the Urban Farm:
two eggs, two kinds of squash, two kinds of greens and some edible flowers (Nasturtiums).
Fast forward to 2011 or so. I began pondering the fact that I am not a vegetarian—primarily I eat poultry, rarely fish and never red meat—and began the process of considering raising my own chickens…for meat. Up to this point I had always considered my flock of hens as pets and they got to live out their entire life in my backyard with no consideration of ending their life early…until now. What better way to learn the process and connect back to the source of my food than raising birds for meat? So, I collected my nerve and ordered 6 “Jumbo Cornish x Rocks” meat birds.
They arrived as pretty little day old peepers which had an expiration date on them of about 12 weeks out. Which meant that I would need to be harvesting them by then or…well they would become so heavy that they would literally become to big that they would not be able to walk any longer. And grow they did - they were non stop eaters and by the time they were 10 weeks old I would guess they were 3 to 4 pounds each.
The day arrived and I collected my nerve, invited Kenny over to show me and I proceeded to prep the birds for my plate. Up to this point in my life I had never had to take the life of anything warm and fuzzy and it was quite the challenge for me, but I prevailed and ended up eating the birds that I raised. This didn’t turn me off to raising meat birds, so I decided to do it two more times, adding four meat turkeys along the way. Really, the most challenging part of this process for me is taking the life of another and, since my last grow out and butchering process in 2013 I have decided that:
1. OK, now I know how to do this I don’t have to do it again,
2. I am much more of a vegetarian, and
3. I am willing to pay the higher prices for organic, naturally raised birds when I do decide to eat them.
This has been quite the learning process for me and it still continues. Do I hold ill will against anyone that chooses to harvest their own meat? Absolutely not—I actually highly respect them as it take as lot of commitment to go through the process. Plus, not wanting to be a hypocrite, being mostly a vegetarian still means I eat a bit of meat here and there.
A new piece of learning arrived recently when I was gifted a beautiful 500-gallon upright pond that I fully intended to turn into an aquaponics setup. Aquaponics is a hybrid of aquaculture and hydroponics where the fish water feeds the plants and the plants clean the fish water—pretty cool setup, actually.
So, I started the conversation with my sweetie Heidi, and she reminded me of the part where I have to harvest the meat. She asked me if I would be willing to and I answered in the way that I often answer my students: it depends. Would I if I had to? Absolutely. Would I just for the fun of it? Probably not. I am still sitting on the fence, but leaning toward “no.”
As you can see, I am all about experimenting, especially when it comes to raising food. Does your level of experimenting need to be harvesting your own meat? No, but I highly recommend experimenting in general as it adds to the richness of our knowledge and a further connection to our food.
Perhaps your experimenting is simply planting watermelons or broccoli for the first time, planting a fruit tree or getting a laying hen. Whatever it may be, just jump in and do it! I have found that that food that I raised myself always tastes better. The bottom line is for me to be able to grow healthy, nutrient-dense food that tastes good.