Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘meat rabbits’ Category

I’ve spent the past month wondering how to write about slaughtering my pigs. I’ve not only been wondering, but I’ve actually been afraid to write. Rabbit meat/slaughter has been getting a lot of press lately and the reaction to it has been, to me, mostly horrifying. (The New York Times article is titled “Don’t Tell The Kids”). Much of the response to the rabbit-slaughter seminar has been one of outrage: “what’s next, eating dogs?” I guess I shouldn’t be surprised because most of the people that find my blog via search engine are entering ‘woman slaughter rabbit,’ and the only negative comments I’ve received have been about my rabbits. But, this post today is actually about the slaughter of my pigs, and while pigs aren’t as sentimental an animal for most people, they are smarter and much bigger than rabbits.

There’s a reason why animals raised for meat are kept in inhumane conditions. A pig in a cramped pen with a concrete floor isn’t going to get a chance to develop a personality, or at least express it. And it’s much easier to kill a pig with no personality than the one that chews on the cuff of your jeans and rolls over to be scratched with a rake. It’s also much easier to send an animal to the butcher than to organize a humane slaughter in your backyard, with guns, gambrel hooks, stainless steel tables and a small army of people early in the morning willing to help with some very dirty work.

For the whole week leading up to Easter Sunday, I had nightmares. I woke up several times in the middle of the night, sweating, my ears ringing with the imagined sound of screaming pigs and blood. Had I given my pigs enough of a life? Were they ever afraid, or uncomfortable? As far as I can tell, they enjoyed food more than anything else in the world and I gave them way more than they actually needed. They also had a good time rooting and flopping in the mud, and I made those activities available to them almost every evening. I gave them the ability to just be pigs, which is, I think what every animal wants: the freedom to express the traits of their species and their personalities. And, in the end, these pigs never even would have existed if there wasn’t a demand for their meat. So, you have to eat them to save them. Again.

Everyone I talked to told me that I wouldn’t be able to slaughter a pig without it screaming, or that a .22 wouldn’t be able to do the job, and there would definitely be a lot of blood. But, after weeks of planning and worry and interrupted sleep, I couldn’t put off the inevitable any longer–everything was in order.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

It’s 7:30 in the morning, and everyone’s nerves are on edge. Our next door neighbor, Mr. George, appears at the chain link fence on the street in front of our house and yells, “They still alive?!” So much for discretion.

Luckily, the neighborhood is still ‘up-and-coming’ (still partially vacant since Katrina) so no one is really suspicious about what we’re doing, just why we’re here in the first place. Once the stainless steel tables were cleaned, the knives laid out, and the chainsaw running (to cover up the noise of the gunshot), there were no more distractions to keep us from the task at hand. Albert revved the chainsaw, Andy loaded the gun, and I grabbed some grain.

Butcher knives

As soon as we approached, the first pig raised his head at the sound of the grain shaking in the can and that was the last thing he saw. The bullet from the .22 hit him point blank between the eyes. The pig convulsed for about fifteen seconds, then was still. The chickens (dirty birds) ran straight to the blood that dripped on the ground and started drinking it. Then we dragged the carcass to a cleaner spot and Andy stuck a knife between the collarbone and the neck and cut the aorta, sending a final gush of blood out onto the grass.

Pig about to bleed out

The cloud of worry that had been weighing me down all week had been lifted, but now it was time to get to work, before the day got hot enough to spoil the meat. We laid the carcass on a stainless steel table, and cut through the tendons on the hocks to hang the hog carcass on the gambrel hook. Once the carcass was hooked, three strong men grabbed the other end of the rope and pulled the carcass upward through the pulley system rigged up. They dipped the pig into a large vat of nearly boiling water, let it sit for several minutes, then hoisted it out onto the table. The rest of us got to work scraping the bristly hair. It was hot, smelly work, and the skin never quite got as clean as I hoped, but we had to move on and get this pig gutted, then packed on ice so we could move on to the next pig.

Scraping the hair off the hog carcass

Half a pig, getting broken down for the freezer

The next pig was the bigger pig and he was harder to slaughter. But, by 11 o’clock, we had two pigs scraped, gutted and cut in half, sitting on ice, and I had a leg of meat in the oven for dinner. There was still a lot of work to do, cutting up the meat in manageable-sized pieces for the freezer. In fact, it took weeks to continue to render the fat, make sausage, and break the larger cuts down. But, for now, it was time to celebrate, because the hardest part, psychologically at least, was over. I broke out the mimosas.

Ham and leg ready for the oven - so much fat!

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

I think of this time of year, once Mardi Gras is over and Lent begins, as New Orleans’ New Year – the time to start anew, repent for the sins of revelry from the holidays, work hard, and make resolutions for the coming year. In my case, I make gardening resolutions for the coming season, and I have to get started quickly. By the end of February, I have to have all my garden beds prepared and corn and potatoes in the ground if I hope to get a harvest before the bugs descend in April and May. So, for the next few weeks, I’m planning a giant garden in my mind, sorting out where the corn goes, so that is doesn’t shade the tomatoes, and getting the soil tested and deciding how to save money on organic soil amendments.

At my new house, I’m lucky to have the use of a vacant lot next door. The owner has given me permission to use it as long as we maintain it, so to me that means feeding myself and hopefully many neighbors. The land itself isn’t much, (30′ by 150′) and only the back half gets good, full sunlight, because my very tall house looms over it to the East. So, I won’t be gardening the entire thing, just maintaining it, and maybe someday I can start a pasture for a goat or a sheep. But, I’m getting ahead of myself – first I need to go back to the land.

Since this area was flooded during Katrina, I’m carefully testing the soil for toxicity and heavy metals. But, while digging around in the dirt, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to discover a rich, dark brown soil that has a fairly crumbly texture and even several earthworms (in addition to bits of plastic and debris from someone’s old life). I’m eagerly awaiting the results of the soil test because I’m hoping that the jungle weeds that thrived on this lot for the last five years actually helped extract the toxins from the soil and contributed significant amounts of organic matter in the form of dead leaves and vines.

Here’s a picture of the lot and my backyard in October 2009:

And my backyard now:

And the bare lot now:

Over the course of the last four months, we have attacked the lot with lawnmower, chainsaw, machete and mulch, and now it is beginning to look more civilized. As you can see, it has come a long way, but now it’s a blank slate that still contains trash, compacted soil that has been driven over, or had a giant dumpster sitting on top of it, and many, many roots crisscrossing underground competing for nutrients.

This season, my garden resolutions are: to produce more food than I ever have before, and to focus mostly on the things I’m good at growing, with a few glamor fruits and vegetables thrown in for experimentation. I’m not going to start any tomatoes from seed because that has been a colossal failure the last two years, and I’m not going to try to coerce the plants that don’t do well. More laissez farming so that I have time to enjoy the garden and its rewards. All the animals around here are steadfastly holding up their end of that bargain – the pigs are turning waste food into valuable meat, the rabbits are doing the same, but they’re also turning my weeds into valuable garden fertilizer, and the chickens are laying eggs daily. So now it’s my turn to get to work and be as productive as possible.

Read Full Post »

IMG_5853

Rabbits are nauseatingly cute. I’m not attached to them – really, I swear I’m not. Actually, they’re a bit of a pain in the arse. Every time I woke up to pounding rain in the middle of the night over the past two weeks, I’d fret about the baby rabbits’ well-being until I forced myself to leap out of bed and disappear into the wet storm at odd hours, searching for rags or other bedding material to keep them warm. And still, three of them died, due to I don’t know what. (The capriciousness of the worst October weather ever? Hot, wet and windy.) So, in all honesty, it would be much easier to get rid of them than to keep them. But, I can understand why Americans in general don’t eat rabbit – we have an obsession with cute, and rabbits are ridiculously so.

Cute Overload

What is not cute is a chicken who screeches as soon as the sun comes up (about 6:30 right now). In the interest of maintaining domestic civility and keeping my neighbors from killing the chickens in the night, I got rid of one hen. So, there were three hens and now there are two. I gave the noisiest one to a woman who keeps a rooster – I don’t think she’ll be bothered by the noisy hen. I simply lost my sense of humor, especially since, it seemed to me, that the hens were withholding eggs. The remaining two chickens continued to make broody noises during the day, but it is less bothersome. Due to their broody noises, I became convinced that they might be hiding eggs, rather than witholding them. So, I had to go egg-hunting, which meant laying down some cardboard and crawling under the dark, damp, deck where the chickens spend time.

And, I found nothing, even after I interrogated the chickens as to the whereabouts of their eggs (all they wanted to do was peck at the cardboard). So, I tried a different tactic: lavishing them with old cheese and giving each one her own nest box.

Each hen gets her own nest box
And it worked! I may have the most spoiled city chickens ever, but they are now laying lovely brown eggs with rich orange yolks almost daily. Which leaves me free to enjoy the best part of urban livestock-rearing: eating the long-awaited results.

They refuse to lay eggs unless they get to read Sunset magazine very month!

Read Full Post »

On of the many benefits of being an urban farmer, as opposed to a rural farmer, is that I am constantly supported by a network of people interested in the animals and vegetables I’m caring for. These supporters are my neighbors and they generously offer to care for my animals and keep an eye on things when I go away. This summer, I’ll be gone for a total of two and a half months, escaping the heat. While I’m galavanting around the country on a road trip, visiting my family on the west coast, and traveling to Brazil, there’s a small army of people ensuring that the rabbits get fed and slaughtered, the bees have enough room to keep making honey, and the sweet potatoes get enough water to continue their takeover of the backyard. It’s like my community of substitute farmers.

One of my neighbors has been feeding the rabbits, and another neighbor is lined up to do the slaughter. In exchange, they get meat and rabbit skins. The chickens went to spend the summer in my friend’s large and grassy backyard, paying for their stay with fresh eggs. The bees are being checked on by Jeff Armstrong, the swarm catcher. And perhaps, most importantly, Miss Betty is there, quietly overseeing everyone from her kitchen window, making sure that the sweet potatoes don’t wilt and that only approved people are prowling around the backyard.

Which leaves me free to explore other front yard farming practices everywhere I go. And I’ve been surprised by the lack of urban farming in Brazil. I thought that in poor areas and developing countries, I would find small garden plots in average yards, at the very least a tomato plant tucked into a sunny courtyard – but no. Brazilians seem to be content with fruit trees, and I do admit that the variety of fruit trees is pretty amazing. But the only real urban farming I saw was the occasional city horse grazing beneath a billboard, or a donkey tethered on the median between very busy lanes of traffic.

Donkey in Feira Santana

Donkey in Feira Santana


Horses by a busy road in Bahia, Brazil.

Horses by a busy road in Bahia, Brazil.


So, now that I’m back in the US, visiting my California family, I’m stunned by all the other front yard farmers there are in this state. People here for the most part aren’t afraid of a little broccoli in the front-yard pansy bed, a few tomatoes and basil next to the lawn near the front door. And in this ridiculously temperate and un-challenging growing environment, tomatoes can reach unprecendented heights, with delicious results.

Gigantic tomato plant loaded with fruit - picture almost doesn't do it justice!

Gigantic tomato plant loaded with fruit - picture almost doesn't do it justice!

Read Full Post »

Today I cursed Barbara Kingsolver. And Novella Carpenter. And whoever else has written in a book (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Farm City, respectively) about how they can pluck a duck, chicken, whatever in under 30 minutes!

I roasted the last one of my ducks today. The duck was hastily thrown in the freezer last November, before the skin was cleaned fully. Most of the body was peppered with short, dark black feathers that looked like heavy five o’clock shadow on a very hairy man.

So I set to work with the kitchen tweezers – and the skin ripped, and the tweezers slipped. After about thirty minutes of swearing and starting to feel cross-eyed, I instead concentrated on the skin on the breast, deciding that if there was one part of the skin I was going to eat, it would be this choice part.

Duck plucking - and cursing.

Duck plucking - and cursing.


And it turned out fine. Most of the fine hairs burned off in the oven, leaving strange, ingrown stubble under the duck skin. So I ate it anyway, and, for the most part, it tasted really good – it just wasn’t pretty.

Taste is the part that matters the most to me, but it also has to look decent. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I probably couldn’t pay some of my friends and family to even try to eat that duck with me – there were too many reminders that it had once been a living animal.

Duck dinner

Duck dinner


I picked the carcass clean, rendered the fat, and then was left to stare at the bones. I knew in my urban farmer frame of mind that I should make stock ( ah! what would Barbara Kingsolver and Novella Carpenter think if I didn’t?), but I couldn’t. The heat in New Orleans is approaching 90 degrees now and I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to be sweating over a boiling pot. So, instead, Albert laid the duck bones to rest in a hole in the backyard, next to whatever remains of its brothers and sisters who were killed by the dog, and near a cantaloupe vine.
Leftovers

Leftovers


Eating the last duck has gotten me thinking about the last nine months in the life of my yard. New successes happen all the time, like the arrival of baby rabbits and the first harvest of blueberries from my plants this year.
First blueberries

First blueberries

And I keep thinking of ways to improve upon, or move beyond the failures (why can’t I still grow tomatoes in New Orleans? Nearly all my plants have succumbed to to verticillium wilt this year – something I never would have even had to look up on the West Coast). Now there’s a fence underneath the house, I can think about more ducks next fall, maybe light-colored ducks that wouldn’t leave such obvious stubble. Or turkeys? Or quail? I’ve been bitten by the urban livestock bug and now I have to find a way to one-up myself for next time around. I’ll mull it over until September.
One-week old rabbit

One-week old rabbit

Read Full Post »

My first adventures in rabbit breeding were unsuccessful. Apparently, sometimes when females are kept together, they won’t get pregnant, even when bred. So, thirty days later, in correspondence with the full moon again, the randy rabbits got taken to visit the buck for a second time. And, thirty one days later, in line with the full moon again, I came outside this morning to find a wiggling mass of fur in the nest box.

Baby rabbits!

Baby rabbits!

The doe seemed okay with my curiosity, so I poked around until I found seven kits in the nest. Seven! Nora the doe seemed fine – alert and very hungry – so I turned to inspect the other doe, Nelly. She looked miserable. Panting and sprawled on her side, she had a mouth full of fur. As I watched, she mustered some enthusiasm with a slightly crazed look in her eye, and hopped down into the nest box with the fur. Then she proceeded to dig, burrow, and push all the bedding around, then mix it with fur until the nest met her specifications. At one point, as I leaned into her cage to check on her water, she nudged me in the face, then grabbed a mouthful of my hair and proceeded to tug. My long, soft hair must have looked like an incredible bedding material to her in her slightly deranged state.

Doe preparing for kits!

Doe preparing for kits!


Daddy buck - I think he's freaked out.

Daddy buck - I think he's freaked out.

I carefully extricated my hair from the rabbit’s mouth and myself from the cage, then proceeded to go about my day. At about 4 o’clock, I wandered over to the rabbit cages again and noticed the same wiggle amidst the white fluff in both nest boxes. Another eight baby rabbits born right under the dining room window!

And so, another highly productive day in urban farming, and I didn’t even have to do anything but watch.

In other events, the chickens and the rabbits have been almost interacting lately. When I let the chickens out in the evenings, they now wander over to the compost under the rabbit cages to scratch and look for bugs. The other day, I put the youngest buck, Nick, out in the chicken tractor on the lawn so that he could eat some grass and dig around a bit. The newest chicken, Bunny, (yes, I have a chicken named Bunny because the other hen is named Bea) seemed irked and perplexed that such a strange creature with disgustingly large ears was running around in her house. But Nick was just happy as can be.

Nick the rabbit and Bunny the hen - a meeting of modest minds.

Nick the rabbit and Bunny the hen - a meeting of modest minds.

Read Full Post »

img_4223
Every morning, as soon as I’ve let the chickens out of the condo and into their daytime run, I walk across the street to the empty lot that is, at this time of year, covered in white clover. This empty lot is currently owned by the Road Home and they diligently mow it every 3 weeks or so. But, during the growing time between mowings, I do my best to take advantage of the free rabbit food that rebounds like hay, more healthy after each cutting, by picking enough clover to fill my arms, and then carrying it back to the eager rabbits.

I don’t really know some of my neighbors surrounding this lot, and every morning I wonder if they peer out their windows and wonder what I’m picking grass for, as they sip their coffee and get ready for work.

One of the reasons that rabbits are a difficult livestock animal to raise (when I say difficult what I really mean is hard to kill – they are actually very easy to raise and care for) is not only because of their cute and fuzzy appearance, but also because of their similarities to an excited puppy when you bring them food. The rabbits know that the first time they see me every morning, it means that they are going to be fed some delicious greens – one of the highlights of their day. Sometimes they race back and forth in a crazy, excited zig zag when they know food is coming, stand on their hind legs, or simply try to climb the wire of their cages while they stick their noses through the squares, trying to get a nibble or at least a scent of what I’ve brought them. Rabbits are, unfortunately, quite personable.

Nick the rabbit enjoying his morning greens.

Nick the rabbit enjoying his morning greens.

Chickens are endearing in their own way, but mostly because of their unerring routine. One of my hens died quite abruptly in the night about a week ago, of what I can only guess was a heart attack – I have no idea what else would kill a young hen so suddenly and not afflict the other one. I also had the odd experience of watching the whole thing happen: it was dark, the hens were roosting, and suddenly one hen flapped up, ran to the corner of the cage and convulsed, wings flapping and neck stretched out. The other hen ran off the roost to see what the commotion was about, and noticing her friend writhing on the ground, gave her a few stern pecks, as if to say, “snap out of it!” Then she went back to the roost, making more scolding noises.

I expected the solitary hen to look for her lost companion, or at least change her routine in some small way, but she still went about her business of egg-laying, mulch-scratching and dirt-bathing the next day without so much as a cross cluck to me about the whole affair. In fact, when I got up in the morning, the live hen was standing next to the dead hen, preening her feathers after the night’s rainstorm, waiting for me to let her out so she could get on with her day.

Bea, the Buff Orpington hen, foraging.

One hen foraging.


Even if my remaining hen wasn’t perturbed by the whole affair, I couldn’t stand the sight of one hen. So I ran an ad on craigslist for “One Chicken Wanted for My Lonely Hen,” explaining the situation. And craigslist came through, as it always does, so now I have a new hen. But the new hen seems to have her own routine that she won’t break. She is a brown leghorn, a breed developed to be efficient egg-layers because of their intake of food to output of eggs ratio, and she is about half the size of a Buff Orpington, even when full grown.
Replacement hen

Replacement hen


She refuses to stay in the condo with the other hen – she prefers to roost under the deck on a water pipe, going to bed as soon as dusk falls, making worried quail-like chirping noises.
Bunny, the chicken, roosting on a water pipe.

Bunny, the chicken, roosting on a water pipe.

Animals don’t feel safe when their routine is altered; the chickens in particular pace and fret – humans just seem to get irritated. When I went to pick clover from the lot across the street this morning, I saw that the Road Home had come sometime the afternoon before, and shorn my hay field to stubs, forcing me to go scout for weeds on the medians and other nooks around my block, thoroughly altering my routine and making me very cross indeed.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »