Breaking down my first pastured pig

“Husbandry is the name of all practices that sustain life by connecting us conservingly to our places and our world; it is the art of keeping tied all the strands in the living network that sustains us.

And so it appears that most and perhaps all of industrial agriculture’s manifest failures are the result of an attempt to make the land produce without husbandry.”

-Wendell Berry

Farmers should be able to slaughter and process their livestock on their farms, and sell that meat anywhere in the United States, including farmers markets and grocery stores. This is the most ethical way to end the life of a farm animal.

I believe all livestock should be able to live the majority of their lives out on pasture, with their daily needs and wants met by a conscientious and skillful farmer. I also believe that the best way to slaughter livestock is on the farm, swiftly dispatched by a professional.

Why does this matter?

No matter if the animal is a pig, cow, goat, or turkey, skillfully slaughtering them directly on the farm reduces their fear, anxiety, and stress down to effectively nill. When an animal is transported to a processing plant, no matter how small and independent that plant may be, the animal will be more likely to feel fear, anxiety, and stress than if they were allowed to stay on the farm for their final moment. This affects their overall quality of life, and it affects their meat.

Right now, it is illegal for any farmer in the USA to slaughter their carefully raised animals on their own farms and then to sell that meat to a customer.

The one exception is poultry and rabbits: A farmer can raise up to a certain amount, usually 1,000 to 10,000, and then, if they process them in a sanitary manner, the chilled and cleaned carcasses of poultry and rabbits can be sold directly to consumers who come to the farm, with a label that clearly states that the chickens or rabbits were processed on the premises.

But even then farmers are not allowed to sell that meat at a farmers market or grocery store. In order to be able to do that, all meat animals have to be processed at a USDA inspected processing plant. That process can be very expensive, including the time to transport, the money for fuel, the surcharges for processing, and so on. After that process is followed, the farmer can then market and sell the meat they have produced to wholesale and retail customers.

In part, that is why the meat you buy directly from farmers can be similar in price to grocery store products. Some farmers put more of a value on their efforts, and buy organic feed, and raise their livestock in small batches. Their prices reflect those choices. Other farmers raise to scale, buy cheaper feed, and don’t value their time. Their prices will reflect those choices.

All in all, every small farmer has to jump through the same hoops as a big processing plant, only on a very small scale. They have to set up the same infrastructure to be able to raise, process, refrigerate, transport, and sell their meat products, just like any large meat packer, only at a fraction of the size.

And every farmer recreates all of those systems over and over again when they set up their own individual farming operations. It is a lot of hard work to do all of this, and many small farmers barely scrape by every year, even though their products might cost a bit more then a conventionally raised one at the market.

In fact, the costs of farming on a small scale are double that of most industries. Whatever profit a farmer can make after all expenses are paid typically go right back into the farm. Families are taken care of only after all the livestock feed and bedding is bought, machinery is repaired, and loan payments are made. Then, and only then, do farmers put some money into fixing the roofs on their barns and investing in a 30 year old tractor to replace the 50 year old one that takes 10 hours a week to repair. After the farm is taken care, the family gets their groceries and perhaps rents a movie.

Various states have various differing laws, but the basic USDA licensing process requires that farm animals being slaughtered and processed for meat need to be inspected by a USDA inspector in order for any meat products to be sold on the US market. What applies to a mega-corporation that sells beef patties at Walmart, applies to a super-small organic farmer, with the exact same fees and licensing.

I believe that this unbalanced equation places undo hardship on small-scale livestock farmers or ranchers that are simply trying to make a living raising livestock on pasture.

There are valid issues that are addressed in the system as it is. The central idea is to have a safe and traceable food system in our country, and to avoid contamination of potentially hazardous foods, which is the legal term for meat, dairy, and eggs, or any foods that contain those products.

Safety is paramount in any food system. Traceability is key to pinpoint the source of a contamination vector. I applaud the USDA’s efforts to improve all of these systems.

On the other hand, huge corporations that have consistently released contaminated product into the food system lobby Congress every single day to create more laissez faire rules for their own industry, in order to increase their profit margins. Even when a large corporation is forced to recall a contaminated product, they can still generally stay in business, because of their sheer size and financial ability to withstand economic hardships. They can do the math and raise their prices slightly in order to make up their losses.

Their Meat Machine will not stop.

This is not at all true for the small independent farm.

One of my hardy pastured sows litters

After you taste the real thing, the products of the Meat Machine will not interest you or excite your taste buds. The Meat Machine will try to entice you back with low, low prices. It’s a tough call, until you remember that ultimately your dollars are going into the pocket of a CEO instead of a farmer’s small bank account if you buy those cheap chicken wings.

What is ideal, and more ethical than any other alternative, is to allow animals to be slaughtered on the farm, swiftly and without the stress, anxiety, and fear that taking them to a processing plant may cause.

After the initial slaughter on the farm by the skilled farmer or a licensed butcher, mobile processing plants can process animals exactly like they would be processed in a USDA inspected processing plant. A USDA inspector could be there to make sure everything goes smoothly, and the animal is free of disease, just like in the plant. The only difference on the processing end of the equation is that the animal doesn’t see it coming whatsoever, and thus they end their lives in total ignorance, with minimal stress.

Chefs know that this process creates a better product in the end, but they can not buy this type of meat from the farmer legally.

At the moment, it is legal for a farmer to have his animals slaughtered on farm, and then hauled to the processing plant to be processed for personal consumption, but the farmer is not allowed to sell any of that meat to any costumers.

If the regulatory agencies have concluded this is safe enough for the farmer and his family’s own personal consumption, than why is it not safe enough to be sold to anybody who is willing to buy this type of meat?

I imagine one answer to that question is that the USDA wants all meat that is sold to a consumer to be traceable to its ultimate source. A simple solution to that valid issue would be to require labeling on the package that clearly states all the pertinent info of the farm, which is already a requirement for any USDA inspected meat sold in the country.

A pastured loin roast from one of my pastured pigs

I have raised and processed a lot of animals, and when they are slaughtered on the farm they live a happier life, primarily because I don’t have to load them up into a trailer, and they have a clean and quick end. One moment they will be munching on some tasty morsels and the next moment they will be gone.

In order to respect life, I believe we need to reform the regulations that don’t allow this type of slaughter, so that small-scale independent farmers can lower costs while increasing the compassionate nature of their farming or ranching practices.

Many years ago, when I began to sell my pasture raised pork to customers, I was visited by the USDA who informed me that I needed to bring all of my animals into a USDA inspected processing plant in order to be able to sell my meat to customers. It didn’t matter if I was selling directly to those who knew me and visited my farm and knew how I raised my animals, I needed to follow the regulatory guidelines like everyone else.

And I have no problem with doing so. My intent now with this piece is simply to highlight the way that I think the future of farming livestock should be, for those who perhaps haven’t thought about this issue or known about some of the nuances.

A regenerative agriculture is one in which we respect the animal as much as we possibly can. Farmers should have the legal option to slaughter their animals on the farm and still be able to sell their meat in any venue, as long as certain guidelines are followed.

What this means in practical terms for a small farmer who wants to raise pastured animals for meat, is that to build a legitimate business selling that ethical product, occasionally they will have to load up their animals and take them to an unfamiliar place filled with strange and perhaps frightening smells, sounds, and sights.

Animals live their lives in the bubble of their senses, with a far more acute sense of small, auditory awareness, and visual acuity than humans. They don’t use language or theories. If you tell them something is okay, they won’t listen to you if everything around them is screaming the opposite message.

Luckily for me and farmer friends in the area, I have a great small family-owned USDA inspected processing plant just down the road from my farm. My butcher and his family are great, I have been working with them for 8 years now. Luckily, it seems like his business is thriving.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the country, most of the small processing plants like his are going out of business as big meatpacking plants swallow up all of the little guys dollar. The new young generation growing up in a family-owned butchery may not think of the family business as the serious craft and respectable profession that it really is, and so their folks may be the last of their kind in the area.

Small-family owned processing plants are the last link keeping small livestock farmers and ranchers in business. In order for our country to avoid becoming 100% dependent on giant meat-processing operations, we need to support them as much as possible.

When the only option left to buy meat is from the Meat Machine, all other meat will be illegal.

Even some vegans or vegetarian understand that small farms like mine and small processing plants like my butchers are far superior to large abattoirs that process hundreds or thousand of animals a day. We are the last of the independent meat producers, and the entire independent meat food-chain, from feed producers to farmers to butchers to markets, all depend on our legal ability to sell meat and other “potentially hazardous products”, just like humans have been doing for over 10,000 years.

A lot of people understand that the Meat Machine demeans the lives of animals by creating fear, stress, and anxiety with terrible living conditions and terrifying ends to their lives. Not only that, the whole industry is toxic to the environment, as demonstrated most drastically by hurricanes causing hundreds of thousands of pounds of animals waste and corpses to be released into the waterways of our country.

Meanwhile, small farmers are not allowed to do what they know is ideal and have their animals processed quickly and efficiently on pasture.

If small farmers were allowed this option, they could differentiate themselves even more so from the Meat Machine by marketing their products as the highest ethically produced meat possible.

But they do not have this option, and so the factory-farmed meat producers use skillful packaging and manipulative marketing to make it appear that the meats in your grocery store package come from small-time, pasture-based farmers, just like in the olden days. But those packages are lying to you, while farmers who actually are pasture-based are cash-scrapped and fighting each day to simply survive in this uneven playing field.

If you care about the food you eat, the farmers who grow that food, and the treatment of livestock animals, the only real way you can support all of the above is to go out and buy their products right now INSTEAD of waiting to nonchalantly throw some cheaper Meat Machine products in your cart at the grocery store.

Imagine a world in which the ONLY meat we were allowed to purchase was meat produced by the Meat Machine, and all meat raised by small-farmers was illegal! We don’t want to live in that world, ever.

The more successful farmers we have that are producing more ethical meat, the more butchers and feed companies can stay in business AND the more farming will look like a viable and attractive business model to young people.

Ultimately, with your support as a conscientious consumer, pasture-raised meat will become higher quality and cheaper for you to buy. Not only that, each animal raised will live great lives AND have an ethical end.

Words are Code - "Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself." - Rumi

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