I grew up in Northern Indiana, the same town I find myself raising our family in now. I fondly remember the excitement I felt each autumn when I would pull on my camo gear and let Dad spray me with deer urine before heading out to hunt with him behind Grandma’s and Gramps’ house. I think that stopped about the time I became a teenager and had other things on my mind.
The only negative feeling I can ever remember about hunting is from a time when my dad’s shot didn’t kill the doe and we had to hurry down to follow the trail of blood and find her. My dad is colorblind, so it was up to me to find the tiny red spots on the forest floor of leaves. I honestly can’t remember if we found her or not, but I do remember feeling pressure (that I was putting on myself) to find that doe and keep her from suffering, wondering how much confusion and pain she must be feeling as we stumbled through her home.
Years later, I am grown with a family of my own. We got our first KuneKune pigs here at our farm in 2017 and although we have had two litters born since them, we kept pushing off eating any of them until the next event: “Oh, maybe for our harvest gathering they would be a good size to eat” “We have so much going on, why don’t we just wait until the winter solstice?”
Deciding to Slaughter Pigs at Home
Meanwhile, their bellies were getting bigger — right alongside the growing bills for feeding our fuzzy friends. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, our future became less clear, money got even tighter, and we both realized it was time to do with the hogs what we got them for-sustenance for our family.
Now, as I had mentioned, I am no stranger to hunting wild animals with a bow, and I definitely got lots of practice on our BB-gun as a kid, but putting down an animal we had raised ourselves was different. We had given many a belly scratches to these sweet hogs. We had sat next to their momma and watched eagerly as she pushed each one out, and our children had literally cuddled up with them over straw beds while winter storms raged on down in the warm basement of the barn.
Sharing homestead responsibility. When we decided we would be putting down three of our eight hogs, John went into planning mode and starting talking to me about the gun he would use and without even thinking before speaking, I let him know that I would be putting one of them down with him. I was almost surprised to hear myself say it and part of me wondered immediately if I would regret it. There was absolutely no part of me that was looking for excitement or joy in this — there were two factors that made my mind up instantly.
Considering emotions. I just don’t feel that it’s quite fair making John do all the killing around here. So far, we have only eaten ducks and chickens we have raised, but I knew that putting down our piggies would be different. The KuneKune breed has the personality of a sweet, noisy dog that just wants plenty of snacks with a belly rub afterwards. John and I do everything together, and so last thing I wanted was for him to take the life of our sweet animals alone, with no one to process it with.
Considering where meat comes from. I also wondered if it would change how I feel about eating meat. We probably don’t eat as much meat as the average American diet, but we are definitely meat-eaters. The way I look at it, we are either going to buy our meat off a shelf at a big box store, from the hard-working hands of a neighbor down the road, or at our own gentle, grateful, and dutiful hands, with a cost that’s measured quite differently than the American dollar.
Processing Pigs at Home
John set out a target for me, talked me through how the 20-gauge shotgun worked, explained what a slug was, and prepared me for the kick-back. After I fired that practice shot, my mind was blank and my ears were ringing. I felt focused on the task at hand: ending this pigs life quickly.
The kids climbed up in the tree house to watch us but from a distance. After each pig, when they knew the shooting was over, they would climb down and ask if it was done, wondering about the movements and wanting to know that the animal was not suffering. We would then cover the pig to make sure the next incoming pig did not know what was going on. Their last memories were just enjoying their leftover soup and lettuce John gave them.
When that first part was all done, John got to work skinning the first boar. I watched for a minute and then asked, “Where’s my knife?” I don’t think he had planned on that, but I’m not really the kind of girl who just sits and watches when there is work to be done, no matter the work. So I ran inside to get a knife, pulled my boar over next to his and he talked me along as I followed his lead.
That night, after gutting the pigs, we hung them in the workshop and the next morning he got to work on the two pigs that he had put down and I on my boar that I had put down. Lilly, our oldest daughter, asked to help for a bit while the others asked questions here and there, in between hanging up ropes, making swings, and nailing together projects alongside us.
Processing the Experience
That afternoon, the kids had lunch in their chairs instead of at the table, because we were in the thick of separating out all the parts, processing, and vacuum-sealing the meat to get it in the freezer as fast as we could.
We talked about memories we had of our now gone piggies, of the two boars who spent their first year as free-range hogs, because they could get through a spot in the fence, stayed away from the road, and kept the grass trimmed (so why not?). The kids at our Wild School loved when they would turn on the hose to play in the mud, just to find the pigs rolling around with them! Or the time we finished up playing in the slip and slide to come back out and find them laying on it.
We talked for a bit about what kind of life a large-scale farm could provide for animals and remembered the good life all our animals have but mentioned that our ducks probably didn’t love it when they chased them around the yard all that much.
Appreciation Under a Honey Moon
That same weekend, we took our first box of honey from our Warre hive. John had built the hive by hand and that I had painted by hand, with accurately sized worker, drone, and queen bees on the front for educational purposes. We couldn’t believe the almost 20 pounds of honey we ended up with! Our family follows the moon’s cycles and this cycle was named the Honey Moon for us — a chance to celebrate, acknowledge, and appreciate all the sweet gifts Mother Nature shares with us.
Wow, has it been such a full time for our family. Full of emotions across the wide spectrum and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Life has been hard lately, after losing our pup Magill, who we just got at the beginning of quarantine, to the road. Celebrating the sweet things in life seemed impossible after losing her just after the New Moon. And just before that, our farm and children (who were outside at the time) were subjected to Roundup when the neighboring field was sprayed during very windy conditions.
But just as time can soften the roughest of rocks around, we are trying to allow that softening of our sad hearts to happen as well by leaning into our future through the tears and living our humble human experience with presence and gratitude.
Now, when I climb the fence every once in a while to check the sows eyes and pull away Sadie’s and Eleanor’s eye goobers and spray down their dry backs and protect them against the hot summer sun with coconut oil, I feel joy in knowing I am helping make their lives here better.
When I hear John rise before work and catch him carrying bucket after bucket of fresh water to the animals, I am filled with a new sense of pride in the way we are choosing to obtain and produce our meat.
And now, when our kids see Momma and Daddy moving around the pigs to greener pastures, they know it’s not just for shorter grass, it’s not just for better meat, it’s for a better life — for them and us. They know why it matters. And I’m waiting to see if just maybe, the next time they think about chasing the ducks to see their funny waddle, or I find them making plans to create traps to catch a chicken for fun, just maybe they might think of the meals and energy they give to our family at the end of their life and chose not to. But kids will be kids, so we’ll see about that!
And finally, when I head down to the basement to pull out a pound of sausage made from our old friends’ meat, to make a nourishing breakfast for our family, I pick up that pork with a certain heaviness that you just can’t get when you pull a pound off the shelf at a store, and I am grateful.
Amanda Jo Boener teaches wildcrafting, foraging and more at The Luna Hill Wild School. With her degree in digital photography, Amanda is a Certified National Geographic Educator and Purdue Master Gardener. Connect with her on Facebook and Instagram, and read all of Amanda’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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