On sex and the barnyard

Let’s face it, people.  The male sex is not valued in the world of the farm.

It came as a shock to me.   A very parallel universe to the one I knew:  being of the female persuasion is actually highly valued if one is a farm animal.  All males are either quickly eaten or dispatched at birth/hatching.  This is NOT a hard and fast rule, of course:  being male won’t hurt your chances of growing to maturity if you’re a cloven-hooved creature, or a turkey.  You just most likely won’t get there with your scrotum intact (cattle, pigs, sheep, goats) or once you hit sexual maturity (turkeys).

I am not blind to the reason that female creatures are welcomed:  We desire the products of their reproductive organs (eggs, milk, more babies).  And even as a vegetarian I harbored no illusions that I wasn’t killing animals in my quest to have milk and eggs:  you need to get pregnant to have milk (duh!) and, the chicken DOES come before the egg…and the ratio of males to females in almost every animal grouping is 50/50, thus, for each egg-producing hen, one potential rooster chick was snuffed out.  The fact that you don’t even need male poultry to produce eggs further reduces their chances.

So it was with some sadness that I learned all three of our goats turned out to be boys.  Sigh.  And in my readings of goat-rearing handbooks, most dairy manuals were clear-eyed about this–a lot more clear-eyed than my usual gimlet-eyed self, too–that the most humane thing to do with newborn bucklings is to drown them in a water bucket.  “For every 500 males born, only 5 will find productive service as stud, and it most likely is not the one born in your barn,” is the way one manual put it.  Other suggestions were to skin them for their downy-furred pelts, or tan their hides for kid gloves.  (Eeps.  I am so not there yet, people.)

But in my usual take on the world, I knew the most responsible thing to do would be to do the responsible thing:  get them disbudded, castrated, and shot up with necessary injections, pronto.  Within their first week of life, then, they had their horns burned off, their immunizations, and their male parts disarmed.  They will all three find lives as either dinner or as cart-pulling bellwethers.  This is what is required if I want home-grown milk.

Likewise, one male turkey and one male chicken is all I require to have a self-sustaining (closed) poultry flock.  This is the first year we will not get chicks/poults from the store or in the mail, the first year then that we will have truly homegrown poultry (Thanksgiving Dinner and last year’s goslings excepted).

I harbor no illusions about what it is I am doing and what has been required of me to do it.  I am simply a lot closer to the reality of it than many meat-, dairy- and egg-eating people are; the choices pluck a touch harder on my heart-strings because I know and in most cases love these creatures.  But please don’t kid yourselves:  you’re subcontracting the killing if your hands aren’t physically wielding the knife.  And that is okay, as long as you know the animals have been well treated (for whatever their lifespan) in life and through death.  And if you don’t know, then you are, at the very least, being willfully blind.

Don’t be blind.  Support small ethically-committed farmers if you choose to eat meat, dairy and eggs.

22 responses to “On sex and the barnyard

  1. Hey, wow! Thank you! I know this is hardly the point of your post, but as a word geek I had to look up the term bellwether. I knew the modern usage and meaning, but I had NO CLUE where the term originated, and I probably would have come across few texts which would have prompted me to look for the origin of the word. I love learning more about words. Thanks!

    And as for the main point of your post, yeah, clean meat – ethically raised and killed. It’s the only way to go. Sorry to hear the gender roulette didn’t do too well by you this time around. Your luck is sure to change next time.

  2. That’s an excellent message.

  3. What a fantastic post. Thank you.

  4. Is there something in the air this week? This has been on my mind more than usual lately as well.

    All we can do is give them the best lives they can live until slaughter day, I suppose. Sometimes these unavoidable side effects of clean, self-sustaining weigh heavier on my heart than others though; that’s for sure.

    Though I’m really liking your cart-pulling intentions for your boys. I may just have to convince my husband that would be the perfect alternative to the utility ATV he’s certain we “need”.

  5. This is where I went with my chickens. And it was a direct result of again eating meat, after years of vegetarianism. If I were alone, I think I’d go back to vege-life, and just keep the hens until they were old and decrepit.
    I wish we had a totally clean (including slaughter options) meat source here. Even the grass-fed stuff gets sent to a general abbatoir.
    Have you read Temple Grandin’s work?

    • Yup, Stef, I have. My brother’s autistic so I have been curious about her for a while. I also studied the cattle run she advocates at slaughterhouses: one of the studios I had in graduate school for architecture was The Architecture of Death. So indeed, there’s something to be said for a clean, quick, death with as little stress as possible.

  6. yet another thoughtful and beautifully written post, thank you El..

  7. Alas so far o have four bucklings to two does. One of the bucks is so spectacularly pretty that I won’t have trouble selling him for stud or as a pet. The others will end up in our own freezer. The girls may be sold live as milk goats or as meat. It’s terrible to contemplate eating them when they this adorable, but I know they will have a excellent quality of life, if not an excellent quantity.

  8. I think that we have been really blessed this year with does…or maybe you just got our bucks?! Well, we’ve had 1 buck and 7 doelings so far…of course with one more preggo momma, maybe she’s carrying the bucks???

    We’ve never killed any bucklings – once they’re weaned and casturated, we sell them as pets/wethers/meat goats/cart goats at Family Farm and Home!! The one buck that we had this year, had BEAUTIFUL conformation…he was just stunning, so I sold him as a herd sire:)

    I’m glad that you’re not going the route that’s suggested in the books…there’s better ways to go around it.

    A fellow farmgirl,

  9. As newcomers to rural life and the business of growing as much of our own food as we can, my partner and I are wrestling with this issue for the first time as we await our shipment of 18 chicks, some of which will, of course, turn out to be male. We have a great small, local poultry processor we’ll take the males to when they’re big enough, but that’s as much hands-off privilege as we’ll allow ourselves. If we can eat the meat and feel good about it we’ve decided we’ll learn how to slaughter chickens ourselves, for the following year. A fact of life for veterans of self-sufficiency, but it feels like a big (necessary) step for us newbies. Thank you for articulating the dilemma so honestly and eloquently.

  10. Sorry about your 0 for 3 score. Bummer.

    I agree with you on ethical meat raising, butchering and eating, and am working my way toward the better way. It’s just going to take a while to get it all together, but I definitely believe that meat eaters need to be aware of how their dinners lived and died.

  11. I have been wondering why you decided to get the goat in the first place. I thought it was probably milk and you confirmed it today! At least your little girl is getting a good look at the cycle of life even if your goat babies are boys! 🙂

  12. Yeah . . .I worry about this too. i would love to have goats one day (or sheep if my husband gets his way). But the thing is, you have to kill some even if you just want the milk.

    At least you know what’s involved in this cycle. I mean, lots of people eat dairy and meat all the time and never give it a moment’s thought.

  13. A great, great post.

  14. I’m with you sister. Its a deep inquiry and stark truth you face in raising animals for food. Thank you for the thoughtful post.

  15. I havent got any animals unfortunately so found this very interesting and thought provoking.

    Strangely my mind wandered to thoughts about the males of the human species. Having raised (almost) a couple of them myself I’ve often wondered if many aspects of modern life make it harder for them to find and maintain a useful satisfying existence.

    I’m not saying that I think feminism has gone to far but rather that I believe it doesn’t hurt to sing the praises of our males a bit more often.

    A bit random maybe? Hey ho.

  16. The first time I butchered my birds I went to bed later aching in every muscle. It was pretty stressful. But I’d decided either I do this (and be able to eat the bird later) or go meatless. I’ve been thinking about the male question too this week; thanks for a thoughtful post.

  17. Kate, especially considering how it was used in every second news story of the last presidential election, indeed, using the term correctly might actually be, uh, useful. So hey, glad to help.

    Pamela, I am sure you get it…and if it were still just me, I’d still be lacto/ovo veg.

    Hi Mom, thanks!

    Diana, indeed: you’re just as steeped into it as me. I hiked with goats in Wyoming about 20 years ago: they carried our water and (it’s true) wine! But the home to which one lucky guy is going is a homeschooling family who harvest wood from their land and it’s the boys’ least-favorite chore, so…they came up with the scheme of building a cart and getting a wether to help haul the wood.

    Stefani, the other thing I meant to mention is that *some* smaller farmers DIY, especially with pork. I would bet if you beat the bushes out there a few of those types would pop up. What I have gotten into lately is pre-ordering: convincing farmers they need an extra pig or beeve to sell, and if I won’t take all of it then I will find the other folks who will. But yeah, they go to the local USDA abattoir. Which isn’t an awful one as it’s actually really small. Or else one can take one’s critter to a guy who does it in his garage, like the neighbor where I take my poultry.

    Randi! wishing you spring!

    Aimee, exactamundo. Good luck with your decisions, though…and at least your peeps will eat goat meat!

    Jenna, lucky you! And lucky you for finding a home for your one stellar buckling. Indeed, though, you won the X-chromosome lottery this year with all your doelings. But yeah, I’m not in this for money or really for breeding so there are some tough decisions that factor into it. You all are pretty lucky to have moved out to your farm! Can you imagine any other life?

    Miriam, I did the same thing: I waited a year until I was “up” for it. Then it was hard doing it: physically, and time-wise. Considering I bill out at something like $100/hour and it takes me 5 hours to do 6 chickens, the math told me “principles mean little at $2.50 a bird,” so I checked out the local guy.

    Paula, it takes years to get there, it’s true. And there are alternatives, certainly: we could raise pigs but don’t, but know kind folks who do. It’s a choice, one we’re all fortunate enough to make. The thing is, it’s a conscious choice, and I hope it’s just a touch easier on the planet AND the critters themselves.

    Kelli, yep! Milk goat. Need babies for milk. Drew short straw this year; hopefully next year will be better!

    Mme Slif, sheep are fun too…and there are milk ewes. Killing them IS tough if you’re close enough to learn their personalities and peculiarities, but, well, there it is.

    Thanks, Mr Compostings.

    Esperanza, and you teach what you preach, so, more power to you.

    Jennifer, maybe not so random. I still think men have it a lot better than women in this world. Maybe teenaged boys don’t! In many ways, though, “just” gardening doesn’t have these fraught political decisions as part of the deal, and as such is fairly benign. Until I kill the rodents in my greenhouses though 😉

    MAC, I remember that: and the small factoid that you can’t feel your fingers after Bird #3. Yeah, these are tough thoughts, but you’re standing on the right side of the issue I think.

    • Hi Again:)
      No, I can’t imagine life any other way, most especially the city…we are *very blessed* to live on our small 3 1/2 acres (of course I would love more acreage to get bigger, but! I’m learning to be content!).

      Enjoy all the delicious milk!

  18. Thank you. Both for this beautiful, touching post and for taking on the “dirty work” to keep bellies full and hearts untroubled.

  19. Pingback: Dark Days 09/10 :: Week #18 Recap (Midwest, West) « (not so) Urban Hennery

  20. And if you are not a vegetarian, as early farmers weren’t, that male animal IS valued. As pot stock. So in true tradition, nothing ever goes to waste.

    Mmmm… coc a vin…

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