Teaching Young People Ethical Animal Slaughter

Animal slaughter demonstrations, like Joel Salatin’s poultry processing, teach children that to ethically eat meat they must respect sentient animals, reject the slaughterhouses and factory farms, and embrace the cycle of life.

  • Joel Salatin at FAIR
    Salatin and his contemplative young crowd pull heads and cut feet at the 2015 MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in Topeka, Kansas.
    Joel Salatin at FAIR
  • Jeffrey Ward
    Jeffrey Ward teaches his 3-year-old daughter, Abigail, how to butcher an ethically raised lamb.
    Photo courtesy Jeffrey Ward
  • Micah Carter
    Micah Carter, age 10, processes a squirrel as his sisters and father look on near Asheville, North Carolina.
    Photo by Michelle Carter

  • Joel Salatin at FAIR
  • Jeffrey Ward
  • Micah Carter

Since 2012, David Schaefer, with Featherman Equipment, and I have demonstrated poultry processing at MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRS. In our poultry demonstrations, David and I go to great lengths to teach humane techniques for slaughter, which David calls “squawkless dispatch.” At each Fair, David and I kill, scald, pluck, eviscerate and chill eight pastured chickens, and leave little to the imagination. (If you haven’t been to a MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR, go — it’s the experience of a lifetime.)

Even with three years under our belts, a 9-year-old attendee surprised David and me during the 2015 Oregon Fair by innocently asking to come up on stage with us during the demonstration. Naturally, we agreed, and before I knew it, this young person had pulled off a dead chicken’s head and raised it triumphantly. The crowd hooted and clapped.

Before David and I could collect ourselves, other children approached. Some peered into the scald water. Others grabbed a souvenir foot. A few even pulled off heads. David and I looked at each other and realized we had definitely added a new dimension of theatrics to our no-nonsense session. At the following Fair, in Asheville, North Carolina, we asked parents to allow their children to come forward — and nearly a dozen did!

While the response to this story has been overwhelmingly positive, some folks strongly object to letting children actively participate in animal processing. I’d like to tackle this thorny issue a bit because I believe that many of the negative reactions to exposing children to animal slaughter are built on two major misconceptions.

Meat Myths

The first misconception at play states that because eating meat is unnecessary and immoral, killing sentient beings is uncivilized and uncharitable. Refusing to kill animals does not indicate a new state of evolutionary cosmic awareness; rather, it reveals profound disconnection from the life-death-decomposition-regeneration choreography that underpins all life on Earth. Everything is eating and being eaten; if you don’t believe me, go lie naked in your garden bed for three days and see what eats and what gets eaten between you, the bugs and the veggies.

Let me be clear: Animals are not the only reservoir of sentience on our planet. All of nature is pulsing with observation, language and adaptation. When sunflowers turn with the sun’s path across the sky, that’s sentience. When leaves change their chemical compositions to become less enticing to munching herbivores and bugs, that’s sentience. Custodial bacteria communicate as they guard every human cell; that’s sentience. Further, cyclicity is just as widespread in the world as sentience. A compost pile, perhaps better than anything, illustrates how biological cycles require death in order to produce life. After we recognize death as a part of life, we can understand that animal slaughter epitomizes what occurs every day in the soil and in our bodies.

9/27/2019 6:17:20 AM

We have chickens (for eggs) but have butchered a couple. It's definitely not a fun thing, but sometimes necessary. My husband has talked about raising a pig after he retires next year but I've been hesitant because of having to slaughter it. You've made me think of it in a new light. Thank you for that.

3/14/2016 8:09:47 PM

Didn't mean to post it twice - new to this technology.. Sorry..

3/14/2016 8:08:28 PM

Wow - so beautifully written.. We live by these concepts every day and never shrink away from saying kill or slaughter regarding our animals.. I was pleased to chat with Joel at one of the conferences several years ago and have made this concept our North Star ever since. We cherish the life, take it in gratitude and share that sense of wonder and privilege with a society that consumes a disproportionate percentage of the world's natural resources with little thought about the balance and justice of that exchange. We have always felt that "harvest" and "processing" were euphemistic efforts to intended to diminish the magnitude of the gift we require from the animals in our care.. And remember that care is at the core of this story - too many Americans are simply consumers without concern for the animals or people or environmental impacts along the way to the supermarket shelves.. I invited some JWU culinary students from the sustainability group to our home where we raise heritage breed meat rabbits to kill their own for a special Tasting Table menu. They were psyched to embrace the cycle of life, filmed it and put it up on RI Farm Bureau website where most people were happy to see meat locally, humanely and naturally produced. A few loud complainers called it savage, outrageous, barbaric. I wonder how many of them purchase commodity meat at the supermarket for 1/3 of the price of our respectfully raised protein.... jest sayin'....

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