Raising Animals for Meat
on an Urban Homestead
By Anne-Marie Miller
Editor’s Note: The Urban Farm U community is made up of conscious eaters, including vegans, omnivores, and everything in between. At Urban Farm U, we have not taken sides on the ethics of raising animals for meat, but hope to provide balanced information from both perspectives so that urban farmers can make that decision for themselves. That being said, we’d like to note that the humane treatment of animals IS very important to us. We hope that, if you do consume animals and animal products, you consider how that animal might have been treated before it reached your plate.
Several weeks ago, I wrote an article about the sad death on the homestead of our baby meat rabbits.
In the preceding sentence, I stated the situation quite plainly when I said “meat rabbits.” However, in the aforementioned article, I skirted the issue of raising these animals for meat for my family. In fact, I didn’t mention it at all!
Greg Peterson and The Urban Farm Team, who are always helping me grow, questioned, “Why did you feel the need to skirt the issue of raising animals for meat?”
Greg pointed out that, although it is everyone’s personal choice what they choose to eat, it is good to educate people coming from a perspective that they just can’t see from. In this article, I thought I would share with you my perspective on raising animals for meat.
First, I have to explain where I am coming from. Here in Dallas, Texas, with the exception of my immigrant friends, most people find it shocking and even horrifying that I raise, butcher and process rabbits and chickens to feed my family. One lady even said to me, “Oh no, I could never do that. I will just keep buying my meat from the grocery store. That way nothing has to get hurt.” I have to admit, out of all the responses I have gotten on the issue, this one still makes me pause.
Remember that comedian that would tell people, “Here’s your sign.” Well, I think that lady would have provided him with chuckle-inducing material for ages. However, the comment she made perfectly exemplifies a disconnect between the modern world and the meat we eat.
“It is an interesting time when ordinary acts [butchering animals for meat] become extraordinary.” –Elizabeth Crecelius
It is a view that starts out as children, and continues into adulthood. If you had asked my kids before we started on our urban farming adventure where the meat on their plate comes from? They would have immediately replied, “From the store, of course.” If you would have questioned further, where did their meat come from before it got to the store? They would have looked puzzled and said, “From the back of the store?” This disconnect from our food might be one of the reasons Americans eat so much meat. According to market research (MarketWatch), the average American eats a little more than 3.7 pounds of meat per week!
Today, my kids know exactly where that chicken nugget comes from, the effort that went into it and the life that was sacrificed so that they could eat it. That, my friends, is the number one reason I raise rabbits and chickens for meat on my urban farm. As Greg has mentioned in the past, and I wholeheartedly agree: When you raise your own meat, you eat a lot less of it.
The initial reason I started raising animals on my homestead was for their poop! If you have never gardened with manure-rich compost, then you are missing out! Adding manure to the garden really makes those plants shoot up to the sky, strong and healthy. My garden production before, compared to after the addition of animal manure, is like night and day.
The fertility of my garden soil is not the only thing that has changed dramatically from the first days of beginning my urban farm adventure. When I first started, not only did I not have a clue as to how I would go about killing and butchering an animal, but I could not conceive of harming a living thing. What changed my mind? Crowing roosters… eleven of them! If you would like to hear my eleven-rooster story then tune into the podcast interview that I did for Urban Farm U. It is a humorous story to be sure.
Another reason I raise animals for meat is: If I am going to eat meat (which I am), it is important to me for that animal to live a good life. I want my animals to have plenty of fresh air, sunshine and to eat food that they were designed to eat. I want them to be able to scratch, peck, jump and dig the way that they were meant to. Unfortunately, animals raised in a factory farm situation just do not have this kind of life.
To me, the way most livestock are raised in America today is cruel. I couldn’t stomach raising animals that way (literally). If you are not aware of the factory farming situation, check out some documentaries on the subject. It might make you look differently about the food on your plate.
The last reason I raise animals for meat is one that people don’t really like to talk about, including me. Although our homestead is doing a lot better now, when we first started raising our own food and meat, we could have easily qualified for government food assistance. I was blessed that my friends came beside me at the community garden and The Urban Farm and taught me how to grow my own food.
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you have fed him for a lifetime.”
This phrase rings so true in my life. We couldn’t afford to buy fresh organic veggies for our family, so we grew it. Neither could we afford to buy meat, so we learned to raise that, too. We are not able to raise all the meat that our family consumes, but a large portion of it. The more experience we get the more we are able to close that gap.
When I look back, I am thankful that we went through that lean time. Don’t get me wrong–it was hard. To wake up in the morning and know you cannot feed your kids that day is one of the worst feelings a parent can have. However, without this incentive, I would never have turned my front yard into a veggie garden. I certainly never would have raised animals with the intention of eating them.
Today, when I want to feed my kids, I walk out in the front yard and gather a meal. I take meat out of the freezer to go with it. We have learned so much about how to grow things and about ourselves. I still keep a plot at the community garden so that I can teach someone else how to fish!
I hope I have broadened some perspectives about raising meat on an urban farm. Either way, I am glad I live in a country where I have the freedom to choose the right thing for my family. In upcoming articles, I will share with you the ins and outs of raising animals for meat in a hot climate and some exciting updates on my underground rabbit den experiment!
Anne-Marie or Dash (for the hyphen in her name) is an urban farmer in Dallas, Texas. She raises chickens and rabbits on less than ¼ of an acre. Plus, she has turned her front yard into a large stand-out-in-the neighborhood vegetable garden. In addition to the farming she does on her homestead, she helped create a community garden literally from grassy field to thriving garden. What stands out about her little urban homestead is her determined out of the box approach to overcoming obstacles. You can follow her adventures on her little urban homestead by visiting her blog, BloomWhereYourPlanted.com.