Sunday, November 2, 2014

Life And Death On The Old Homestead

A while back, I wrote a little piece about landless homesteading and it's transient joys and sorrows. This being the day of the dead for some folks, the dying time, a season when nature retreats into itself, I keep thinking about the cyclical nature of raising animals and growing plants. 

Last week we said our farewells to Calypso, the little boy goat who's birth we got to witness last spring.   When I say goodbyes, I mean it. The sunday before slaughter day, which I knew I couldn't be at because I had to work, I went over to the goat pen, scratched his ears and thanked him for the good company he's been these past months, for being gentle with the little ones we've brought to visit him, for being sweet and funny and a good goat all around. Of course I told him I loved him. I always tell him that. He's my pal. 
A week later we had him for dinner. 

I know it sounds macabre when you put it like that, but that's the truth of it. It's never done lightly, or carelessly, but some of the animals folks keep, are destined to be eaten. It's the reality of homesteading. I know there are some vegetarians out there who would argue that there's no need to such a destiny and perhaps I will someday take on that conversation, but in the meantime, I think that if one is to be an omnivore, the kindest, most humane thing, is to raise an animal from a kid to slaughter and to do the deed yourself. Something I've personally been too chicken shit to do so far, though raising chickens for meat is in our "plan" for next year.
No matter which way you shake it, animal husbandry and even pet "ownership" means signing up for often  considerable heartache. Animals get injured. Animals die. I realized the other day, as I buried yet another chicken in the garden, that in the five years that I've been keeping chickens for eggs, more than a dozen of them have died from various causes; predators and mystery diseases.
I remember last winter, trying to dig a big enough hole in the frozen earth for five chickens, I doubted the whole point of that endeavor, the wasted resources of food and shelter, only to come home and find that the tiniest hole-gone-unnoticed could undo all of it. This was in February, the hungry month, when predators are the most likely to strike and there's little to eat in the woods, for them, for us, or for the chickens.
Of course, as soon as spring arrived, I came to my senses, patched up the coop with more wire and got thirteen new chicks. Why? 

Because, I suppose, it's worth it. Having eggs from chickens I know are happy scratching in the woods is, to me, worth any potential sadness, or loss of resources, in the event that they die from in spite of all of our precautions. 
It's worth it the same way every other homesteading venture is. Sure you can buy bread and chutney from the store, just as you can buy dried apples and sauerkraut, or smoked salmon, but learning to make things on our own, with ingredients grown at home, or from known sources, somehow seems to make the food more nourishing than its caloric value.
Growing a plant from seed, a chicken from a chick (or egg, if you're lucky!), watching a goat be born, ties you to your food in ways that shopping at the grooviest, most organic market never will. 
You do the dirty work: you knead the dough, you muck up the chicken coop and clean the eggs, carry the buckets of manure and clean the pumpkin seeds for toasting. There is reward in this. Deep, human feelings, slightly beyond words, hovering on the edge of your consciousness. You know they're there, but you don't quite know how to express the satisfaction of them.
The point of animal husbandry, beyond the mere food aspect, seems to be that it too is intrinsic to our nature. Humans have gone to great pains to meet other species in the middle, to alter their behavior to better suit companionship with us.

It's always curious for me to watch the cats, chickens and deer in my yard react to each other. They have their own dynamics and we have our own with each of them. 
Interacting with animals, whether wild, domesticated, or somewhere in between, seems to make us better people. There's acknowledgement there, that other beings exist and have their own mysterious and puzzling ways and though we can never really, truly understand them, we totally exist in the same space with them.  

And though I don't have any large mammals of my own, I feel very lucky to be able to get to know them. There's something humbling about being reminded that docile and domesticated creatures always have personalities of their own, their specific wild and unpredictable natures. 
Being able to milk a cow, or a goat, to rest your head against the flank of a warmblooded mammal who's more than happy with their part of the exchange, feeds that deep sense of belonging that makes homesteading such a joy. 
When I think about it, packing away meat in the freezer, canning vegetables for the winter, starting sourdough, cooking bone broth, or making a new batch of fermented cabbage that stinks up the whole house, I'm always reminded that I want this life, with all it's grievances and slight inconveniences. That it is those very things that remind me of my luck. That sometimes bathing in a basin is so much more satisfying than a long hot shower. That eating plain beets you grew yourself is at once a privilege, but also a universal human right that everyone should have, because the act of growing them should belong to everyone.
And I'm also always reminded of the glorious concept of energy exchange: that if the things that nourish this body of mine while I'm on this earth, the plants, the animal-people, agree to do so, then it is my part of the bargain to feed a whole horde of beings when it's my turn to go. That all this energy I'm consuming never disappears, is never wasted, but simply dispersed in different forms into the world universe. 
Now there's your hippie-dippie thought of the day…


  1. Love this! I had goats, and loved every one of them. And we ate them all. And the eggs and chickens, the pig that I nursed from runthood, bottle feeding her on my lap every 4 hours like an infant. She came to try to climb on my lap the last time I sat on a stump in her pen, wanting to say goodbye. But she was too big for a lap, and I scratched her ears instead. Then we butchered her.

    I sometimes think, these days, buying pork in the grocery store, that we're all missing out. Were any of those pigs loved? Were there ears scratched? Did someone save choice goodies to bring them? I doubt it.

  2. Lovely post! I'm one of those vegetarians that could just never imagine killing an animal needlessly, and by needlessly I mean a situation where sufficient alternative sources of protein are available: basically always in first world countries. To me, a life is a life -- I just don't understand how someone could choose to kill a being, especially one that they've cared for, loved, and consider a friend, instead of having some beans, nuts, and legumes. Why destroy a life if there is an alternative?

    On the flip side, if people are going to eat animals I think that this is the best choice. Small homesteads and hunting in the wild provide these "food animals" with a much better life than what they would experience in the industrial farm system. I also appreciate the skills that people who engage in these activities develop. My husband is a fisherman, and while I cringe and leave the kitchen as he filets his catches, I also admire the skill and knowledge that this activity has brought him: an infinate knowledge of knots and baits, an encyclopedia of fish species immediately recognized and named on the tip of his tongue, a map of lakes, rivers and tributaries spanning far and wide, a mere picture in his mind. When we go canoeing and he brings in a fish I'm horrified at the wound the hook causes this poor creature but also facinated -- the glimpse of an underwater world I'll never experience, the beauty of the colors of the scales. It's a mixed bag of feelings but I think that killing animals has been such a core part of our survival and culture for such a long time that it is hard to for most people to abandon. I try to stick to my mantra of compassion, but it can become a slipery slope.

    I completely agree with you that there is so much reward in choosing the dirty life! Doing and making things yourself truly is rewarding beyond words.

    PS. lovely lobster mushrooms! How do you prepare yours?

  3. Thank you for this beautiful post, Milla ... I think it is my favourite. You so eloquently wrote my thoughts for me :-) XX

  4. I savored every word of this post. It was so beautiful. Please continue to share more posts about homesteading. I cook and do everything in my kitchen from scratch, but when I read this, I realize that I haven't even dented the surface! I have so much to learn! (your photos are gorgeous, by the way :)

  5. I have had to kill dying chickens out of mercy but never for food (yet). When I have land, that's the plan. But mammals... I can't, for myself, imagine it. Ooooh, the sights of your kitchen make me wanna sit down for a cup of tea, slice of bread! those apples look good, I have baskets full, I should dry some. Hope you are both keeping cozy, it's freezing in our drafty little house already! xo m

  6. I can't think of much else to say, other than it's good to have your company in my own homesteading ventures. It's good to be in company with other humans who understand, who appreciate, who care. Thank you for your efforts, and for your support of a lifestyle that is challenging, rewarding, heartbreaking, heart-filling and all things in between.
    p.s. Have you read Goat Song? Wonderful book.

  7. You are right that animals have their own personalities. Each chicken has a different personality. I once had to feed and nurse one of my brain damaged chickens, Baby Girl, for eleven weeks. A run in with dogs caused her injury. After all that work and care, she wondered out to the pen during a freezing downpour and died. I suppose I should have just put her down, but saw her improvements and just kept on. The older I get, the harder I've become and would not do it again. Though I've never eaten one of my animals, I can see the reasoning behind it.

  8. Kaupunkielämä on näiden asioiden suhteen jatkuvaa ristiriidassa elämistä. Hirvestyskausi on meneillään, enkä panisi pahakseni jos pakastimeeni ilmaantuisi hirvenlihaa tuomisina pohjanmaalta... 400km välissä on kyllä viime aikoina varmistanut, ettei isäpuoleni metsältä saamat hirvet ole päätyneet minun pöytääni. Lapsena totuin Libya-vuosien aikana siattomaan elämään, enkä ole sen koommin kyennyt possun syömiseen. Haisee ja maistuu väärälle. Ja myös tuntuu väärälle - olen käynyt luomusikatilalla. Siitä oli "luomufiilis" kaukana. (Millaisia ne tavalliset tilat sitten ovat..?). 18-vuotiaan suursyömärin äitinä olen pakotettu ostamaan lihaa myös kaupasta, vaikken sitä itse juurikaan syö. Broileria en ole syönyt nyt yli 20 vuoteen. Se ei ole enää edes eläin, jos minulta kysytään. Etelä-Suomessa on muutama luomulammastila; sellainen olisi minulle paras vaihtoehto, sellaiselta suoraan ostaminen.. Useimmiten kärvistelen ruuanlaittojen ja kaupassakäyntien kanssa ihan liikaa, siihen nähden että Helsingin kaltaisessa kaupungissa on runsaasti vaihtoehtoja (Hakaniemen halli, palstaviljelyä, ruokapiirejä, osakuntia...). Aikaa on kuitenkin rajallisesti, ja siksi se kasvisvoittoinen kaupparuoka usein vie voiton.. Tuo miten teillä elellään edustaa omasta mielestä optimaalista luonto/ihmis/eläinsuhdetta - kaikessa on kyse suuresta kunnioituksesta elämää kohtaan, ja elämään kuuluu myös kuolema.
    ps. En kestä tuota kissaa nukkumassa paperipussin päällä...<3!

  9. Beautiful post, breathtaking. A little hard to swallow for this teary-eyed bleeding heart; I feel exactly like Alisha F, above. I cannot even imagine the moment of slaughter with an animal that I've considered a friend. I think it would be too heart wrenching to bear. I think I would have to turn away. I very much appreciate your ability and desire to unflinchingly examine this relationship. And I also fully understand the cycle that you speak of, the fact that human beings survive on destruction, darkness and death. I love what Joseph Campbell writes about that cycle, but for now: as Tom Waits growls, "Mankind is kept alive by bestial acts." !!! I love the thought upon which you conclude. I like to imagine the ways our little selves, our bundles of energies, will feed the universe.

  10. Olipa ihanasti kirjoitettu postaus. :) Herätti paljon ajatuksia, varsinkin kun täällä meillä päin kuulee ja näkee niin kaikenlaista liittyen eläinten pitoon ja hyödyntämiseen. On broilerifarmeja ja luomuna elävää ylämaankarjaa, on kettutarhoja ja lammastilallisia, on hirvenmetsästystä ja ammattikalastajia. Niin paljon eläimiä, joiden elämää säädellään niin monelta eri taholta: tilallisen, EU:n, kuluttajan, kauppaketjujen taholta... Menee välillä pää pyörälle. Usein pohdin, mikä on se eläimen rooli tässä kaikessa. Elämän kunnioitus on jotenkin täysin... etäistetty.

    En tiedä, onko tämä vähän tyhmä kysymys, mutta millaista byrokratiaa maatilaeläinten pitäminen vaatii siellä teillä päin? Mietitään aina silloin tällöjen kanojen ottamista, mutta paperihommat ja säätely vähän hirvittävät...

    1. Hei T. Ei ole yhtään tyhmä kysymys, nimittäis veikkaanpa että Suomessa on noi paperityöt vähän eri luokkaa. Tavallaan onneksi, koska eläinräkkääjiä säännellään ja eläimet pidetään rekisterissä. Toisaalta siinä sitten menee ehkä monimutkaiseksi just tämmönen pienelikoiden pitäminen. Nimittäis: täällä ei pienen, keskisuuren, tai isonkaan elikön pitämiseen tarvita mitään lupia, paitsi jos niille alkaa pusaamaan jotain tuotantolaitosta. Mäkin voisin tältä istumalta ostaa vaikka lehmän ja pistää sen tohon pihalle möllöttämään. Kanat siis me ollaan ostettu paikallisesta rautakaupasta (niitä voi myös tilata postista), rakennettu tommonen kreisipömpeli mitä on tilkitty ja tiivistetty ja värkätty ja siellä ne sitten asuu. Maalla elikoilla on vähän niin kuin etuajooikeus eikä esimerkiksi naapuri voi niiden pitämästä äänestä valittaa jos ne pysyvät omalla pihalla. Monissa kaupungeissa on myös kanojen pitäminen laillista, tietyin rajoituksin. Kiinnoistaisi kuulla mitä saat selville Suomalaisista meiningeistä. Voihan se olla että muutaman kanan pito on helpompaa kuin voisi kuvitella.

  11. Yes, Milla! Yes, to it all. I am always learning so much from you and the way you choose to live. I think there are not enough people left who are as connected to and grateful for their food and where it comes from. I hope to teach this to my children on an even deeper level.

  12. wonderful post….going to the market takes away the truth and sadness when it's wrapped in plastic and butcher paper

  13. Great post! Something I have been pondering a long time actually. Killing your own animals is courageous if you eat meat. I personally have not been able to do it, although D. has slaughtered a few chickens. Despite being a vegetarian for 10 years, reading M. Pollan and farming really began to change my mind about many things on this front-- or at least see things in more complex light. And also... I can't wait to try your kraut recommendations. We just direct seeded our cabbage, and I have some red starters. Really excited!!!

  14. Wonderful post! I hope to one day live somewhere where I can have animals. It's an experience that I think I'd enjoy. I can plant veggies though and plan on setting up a garden on my patio very soon.

  15. This post makes me sad as did your last one about hunting, especially seeing the picture of the now deceased goat.

    Unlike the others, I wont pretend that I think hunting and raising animals for food and killing them yourself is "courageous" or a "humane" alternative to factory farming. For me, what is courageous and humane is going against our violent societal norms and choosing a plant based diet. None of us need to eat animals to live, in fact vegetarians and vegans live healthier, longer lives than omnivores...but I don't want to preach on your blog. I'm sure you are aware of all of this anyway.

    For me, when I see homesteading blogs that embrace raising animals for food, I think it's a rather desperate attempt to claim you're a legitimate homesteader. Many bloggers in the community feel it is a necessary component to this lifestyle, when it absolutely is not.

    It's violence and as a feminist I will never support the use of another's body without their permission. I believe in bodily autonomy and the right to self determination for all beings.

    1. I really appreciate the way you've expressed your differing opinion. Thank you for that. As you may have inferred from this post and previous ones on this topic, I also carry a fair amount of ambivalence about keeping livestock and eating animals and as I state here, for a lot of people that ambivalence is a continuous examination, even as they lead omnivorous lifestyles.

      I agree with you that a lot of the current homesteading/ farming movement places a lot of its credibility in livestock and I too consider this to be somewhat misguided. I think that a deep examination of the necessity of raising livestock and the ethicalness of raising livestock is a bit missing from the discourse, or at least trumped by the ooh-ing and ash-ing over home cured, artisan-slaughtered bacon.

      But let me try to explain the reason why I'm not going to condemn raising animals whole hog quite yet.

      Since you discuss objecting to raising animals for food meaning slaughter and vegetarianism, and not veganism exclusively, I presume that you personally consider the idea of keeping chickens for eggs, goats and cows for milk, sheep for wool, etc. passable? Yet the animals we keep for these purposes, are completely human-generated, profoundly altered by our need for the goods we derive from them. How is this different from simply deciding when to terminate their lives? How is breeding animals in a way where as a species they can't exist without us, would die without us, or making their bodies factories that produce what we want in a quantity unnatural to them, different? There does not seem to be a clear line there.

      So then if we consider the concept of veganism, if we get rid of these ambiguous chickens and cows, and should this happen enmasse, consign their species to extinction, save for the origin species, is it okay for us not to eat honey, but to eat almond-derived products when we know that pollinating the almonds requires terrifying loss and sacrifice on the part of most of America's bee population? Is it okay for any of us to eat vegetables or fruit if growing them requires disturbing the natural habitats of native animals? Is it okay for me to kill slugs to grow my vegetables? I'm not being flippant here, I just wonder, as someone who loves bees for instance, do we only have to consider the large mammals? Most garden slugs where I live are an invasive species, so really the question is hypothetical, but you don't hear it a lot. Insects are included in all beings and yet, we often have little or no sympathy to them, because they do not have big water-y eyes and plaintive cries. Farming, particularly large scale, and even organic can be extremely detrimental to native insect and amphibian life.Where is the line? In the scale of all beings, who's life is expandable and who's isn't? Because frankly, for there to be an energy exchange, some energy most often has to be consumed and therefor expire.

      To a certain degree I consider that the same argument that goes against keeping chickens, cows and sheep for the products of their altered bodies, also goes for pets. How is it okay for us to keep these animals for companionship? Is it okay for us to bring them into to bioregions they don't belong in, when they may carry decease and decrease native populations and destroy habitat?

      I DON'T KNOW. That's why I haven't ever written about it in a definitive "this is my opinion"-manner. Because I'm not sure how I feel about it. Because I don't know if there's a satisfactory answer to these questions, for me personally, or even in a general philosophical/ ethical sense.

    2. I do not, as I keep iterating that raising your own meat is better if you eat meat. That raising your own eggs is key if you eat eggs. It's not perfect. I'm not sure if it's right or wrong, but I am saying, I don't think it's quite as simple as everyone should go vegan. In an ideal world perhaps, although I personally am very careful to not declare that everyone can eat what I can eat. Speaking of which, I've been a ova-lacto-vegetarian for most of my life and if I'm healthy do not require meat to function, yet have had experiences where I needed to eat a high protein diet and needed meat and broth. I would be hesitant to declare that all people and all bodies can function on a particular diet. Certainly most people could eat a lot less meat.

      I'm also curious when people discuss how no one needs to eat meat. In a world with ample wildlife, would one consider killing an animal for food acceptable? I think about this because humanity has been intimately tied to the animal kingdom that way for most of it's existence. I ask this because when we speak of these things in a spiritual sense, we have to remember that there are atavistic roles at play here, that we have history other than this current one that some people, though certainly not the pleasure hunters of my woods, still live that history.

      Please understand that I am not trying to take you to task here, or challenge your very kindly expressed differing opinion, but that these are the actual questions that keep me personally up at night sometimes, in addition to whether it's okay for us to eat animals, or keep animals for slaughter. That this shit is complicated as all get-out-for-me and I'm still trying to sort it out for myself.

    3. Thanks for your thoughtful response, Milla.

      I do want to clarify that I do not think that keeping chickens for eggs, goats and cows for milk, sheep for wool, etc. is passable. I only brought up vegetarianism (as opposed to solely brining up veganism) to point out that most of us do not need animal products to survive and thrive and the research shows that both vegans and vegetarians live longer, healthier lives (not just vegans)- I wanted to state what the research shows us as of right now for factual accuracy, since the health differences between vegans and vegetarians has yet to be studied and disentangled.

      You mention drawing lines and where that line should end- for me being vegan means doing everything I can, where practical and possible (key words here!) to decrease harm. This is the vegans society's definition of the word

      Many vegans shy away from nuanced discussions of this philosophy and that is largely because where to explicitly draw the line is individual and circumstantial. I personally think that honey can be used ethically (provided the bees are not given corn syrup and are allowed to use what they create and that the hive is not destroyed when production wanes- this is obviously only possible for small scale producers). Being vegan isn't about purity. Yes, bees and other insects are required for the pollination of some plants like almonds and how they are used and treated to create those products in the US today is, I think, sad. I think we have to begin reducing our reliance on corporate agriculture because then greed and a desire for efficiency and increased profits causes a lot of harm to other beings (non-human animal and human- migrant workers anyone?)

    4. I encourage anyone who is able to grow some or all of their food to do so, to not waste, to become as much removed from corporate interests as possible. People also have to have compassion for themselves and others (which includes feeding yourself and your family and because you HAVE to eat I would think picking a slug off your spinach crop would be a better alternative to killing and eating a goat that trusts you. We can even talk about pain, sentience, and the capacity to suffer, theory of mind, etc etc and how many insects (research suggests thus far) probably don't have those things- so when I say beings I suppose I should be more clear to say beings that have a sense of self and the capacity for pain (suffering) since veganism is about reducing suffering and if you cannot suffer, there is less moral urgencyand concern.

      As for pets, there are people out there who consider that oppressive but again lines are blurry here. I personally think that we have domesticated them and they are here- they are a live and with us and we owe it to them to take care of them. We put them in this mess...But I also do not think that because having pets may or not be oppressive, that then gives us license to raise animals to kill them for food when abundant plant options are available. I am not a fan of "run away" argument theory like this (a similar train of thought follows that if we "let" same-sex couples marry, then we have to then allow people and animals to marry and on and no, we do not).

      You also mention how many breeds of domesticated animals may go extinct and for me that is preferable to bringing them into this world just to use their bodies and kill them...others find that a distressing thought- but I think it's more compassionate and better than having them here because it comforts me.

      I do not think you are at all being flippant or trying to take me to task. There are lots of questions and grey areas when it comes to compassion, ethics, and food and these are important discussion to have. But I am a firm believer than we should not let the grey interfere with the areas of our lives that are more clear, less ambiguous, the things that we can practically and reasonably do to not harm others and cause suffering.

      I also wonder how you do feel about feminist philosophy, intersectional theory (including eradicating speciesism and how various forms of -isms reinforce and strengthen the oppression of all beings), anti-rape politics, bodily autonomy and integrity and how this fits in with your views of non-human animals and our various uses of them. I think its fascinating, although it's a little academic for most but I know that my feminism, LGTBQ politics, and social justice work and beliefs have greatly transformed and evolved how I approach non-human animals.


    5. Thank you for your thoughtful response N. Much food for thought. I'll try and get back to it when I get a moment to really delve into it. Might be a little while, but I promise you I will get back to it. I love having this blog for these kinds of exchanges.

    6. Thanks for waiting patiently for my response. Like I said there's a reason why I've never written a post about this, which is that I continue to learn, evaluate and organize my thoughts around it and have not reached a definitive point yet.

      I think the key here is also to acknowledge we all of us operate from a broken system, as you point out with farming practices, dealing in both crimes against animals and humans. In fact, sometimes, we are building our own systems for eating and acquiring food from the ground up, starting from scratch. Which is where I personally am at, figuring out how to eat the way I want to eat and what to eat.

      For instance, I think from my own empirical experience that while I agree that most people, do not NEED to eat meat, our species has a similar history as other omnivorous species, leaving some of us with intricate and complex history with eating animals.

      I say most people, because I would be really careful about telling other people what their diet ought to be. Of course I'm sure most of us could survive on an all plant diet, and can't presently argue beyond an empirical and intuitive understanding of different people's different food needs. Yet I do actually believe that there is in fact a variety of needs. Again, I do believe that the answer to many of our problems, including rampant abusive and detrimental agribusiness practices, global climate change, habitat loss, and world hunger, would be solved by most people eating a much less meat-intensive diet.

      However, there's a few points in which I do plainly disagree with you. While I agree that raising animals in an industrial setting is not a life worth for them to live, I, again from my own empirical experience, I also believe that for instance raising chickens in an organic free range HOMESTEAD setting, is comparable to keeping cats or dogs as pets, if not better. I would argue that my chickens have a much better life than, say a large dog in a city, or even a cat that never gets to go out. After all, one of the first things we do when we get pets is to spay and neuter them, and they often only get to go outside on a leash and have to spend endless hours indoors alone, not their typical environment at all.

      For one thing, our chickens get to behave typically to their species, whereas many if not most cats and dogs do not, they also eat all vegan (and as local as possible) food, therefor not needing by-products of the meat industry to sustain them (obviously there is an energy transfer as many farm animals cannot be fed all locally.). The same argument that they, or goats, horses, or cows, are in this mess with us, applies to them just as much as it does to cats and dogs. I say cats and dogs, because they specifically have been bred/ have evolved with us.

    7. My other point about our chickens and the milk cows and goats is that enable us to eat an extremely localized diet, and getting in certain months of the year up to 50-60% (I've never done the exact math as those are our busy months) of our food within the boundaries of this island. It's a time when they too eat mostly local forage, or chickens, or when pigs get the most scraps. Of course like you said everyone who cares about their food, cares about where it comes from, but for us the local aspect currently trumps many concerns I have over my ambivalence about these issues. The reasons for this are personal and have to do with access to land, money and other concerns not directly related to our actual ideals. Suffice to say, we do not have the land resources to grow enough legumes to cover that. Knowing exactly where and how our food was grown and raised by whom and with what means, is a key part of how we want to live. Being in a small community, there's complete transparency, because word gets around about any mistreatment of animals or workers.

      As for your final question, these are precisely the perimeters within which have not yet formed my opinion, and this is in part because I do not believe they are the only perimeters I would apply to these questions. I would add spirituality.

      As a feminist, an environmentalist and a religious person, I believe that these questions are both political and spiritual and am sure that we agree on these when it comes to industrial ag (rape-racks, genetics, judas cows and all). I don't believe any sentient, considerate, well-informed, emphatic person would enforce the kind of abuse they engage in, but where my trouble with out and out vegan arguments often lays, is comparing small scale animal husbandry with those practices. Having been around and loved those animals, I do not believe that given the choice, they would unchoose (apparently not a word;) the lives they live. Whether or not we NEED to be raising them for meat, milk, eggs, honey, is one question, but just as we don't NEED to have cats and dogs for joy and companionship these are practices that have been with us as a species for a long time. I'd be interested in your thoughts on whether hunting in an abundant, multi-species, pre-agriculture environment, because frankly I also believe that part of our broken system is a the spiritual connections we have lost to wild animals and being part of the cycles with them. Personally, as a descendent of people who believed the bears to be their ancestors and also ate them, I really stand by my thought of the complexity of human animal relations.

      I look forward to your thoughts when you have time to post them and hope that it is possible for us to agree to disagree, while having this very interesting conversation. Please feel free to correct any misconceptions I may have about your stance on anything. It's sometimes though to interpret people's written views.

      Thank you for your time and thoughts,

    8. I'm gonna add that I apologize for any inconsistencies and typos and hope that it all makes sense, because without the preview my dyslexia really as a tendency to kick in. And I'd like to add that there's a lot more I'd like to discuss about the sentience of beings other than humans (not just mammals either), language and specieism, as well the ideas of human-animal-relations in an non-broken system, but I those are honestly the thoughts I have the least cohesion around. Maybe your next response will incite them ;)

    9. Thanks for taking the time to engage, Milla. Very interesting stuff.

      I think you have a pretty good read of what I have been trying to express. I agree with you that your and others chickens and animals used for milk, raised in the way you raise them provides a rather pleasurable life for them and agree that their lives are probably better than the lives of city bound dogs and the like.

      My concern isn't with how people like yourself raise and keep your animals. My concerns are less obvious aspects of keeping animals for eggs and milk. For example, it is my understanding that the chicks people get come from the same hatcheries used by big-ag- where all the males are discarded (usually thrown into a wood chipper or piled into plastic bags to suffocate to death- a practice the industry admits to and is apparently trying to resolve : ) since they do not produce eggs and a different stain/breed is used for "meat" chickens (layers vs broilers). Is this your understanding?

      As for chickens and backyard chicken raisers I am also concerned about the different veterinary and end of life decisions someone would make for a chicken raised for her eggs. I am concerned that MOST backyard egg producers would not make the investment in caring for a sick or injured hen when replacing her is easier (I have similar concerns about people with cats and dogs- not everyone takes the responsibility of companion animals seriously or as seriously as they would if these were their human children, BUT I do think people are more willing to provide care and the like for animals they consider "pets" than animals they consider as food or food producers. Not to suggest you or all backyard animal raisers behave or think like this- but enough to concern me).

      As for the milk producing goats, cows, etc. I am concerned with the babies and the erosion of the mother-infant bond. I know in industrial animal ag, the babies are taken from their mothers within a couple hours/days of birth so the farmer can have/sell/profit from the milk. The babies are either killed (for example male veal calves) or raised to be milk producers themselves (female calves). I am also concerned that as milk production decreases with old age and subsequent pregnancies/lactations, what veterinary/care/end of life decisions people make. In big ag, the cows that stop producing efficiently (read: higher profits), are sold to slaughter and made into cheap hamburger meat. The cows and goats are not retired to sanctuary after their profitability has diminished. I am concerned that backyard milk producers would behave and make decisions similar to those of big ag. Again, not to say all will behave this way, but most (again because they are viewed/kept/fed as food producers and when they're producing less efficiently it may be easier/more economical to kill her and get a new, younger higher yielding female. All of this to say, that the concern is that these female animals are seen as commodities and not a companion to care for.

    10. All of this goes against my feminist ethics as well as my anti-capitalist (profit above all else!) values..

      As an ecofeminism, I agree with you and believe that much of the worlds ills are caused by a human-nature connection that has been broken (e.g. our spiritual connections with animals), however I do not think that hunting them and causing violence will heal that wound. I believe is furthers disconnect and patriarchal, capitalist systems and values of violence and hierarchy. I believe in nature's ability to take care of her own systems (for example, many mammals- especially "prey" species will abort or miscarry their fetuses in response to low food availability. How fascinating is that?!).

      ..I think that's it for now. Although, I do want to add that I do not want to settle on "agree to disagree" as this presupposes we aren't interested in growing and learning. I have found this conversation courteous, civil, enlightening and an important contributing factor to my nuanced views about the subject. These are such important conversations to have and I look forward to hearing and learning more about your views and opinions no matter how cohesive or undeveloped or decisive they may be as of yet. Dialogue is important, it's how we achieve a closer approximation of truth and I appreciate your contributions in this space!


    11. Thank you again for your thoughts, they are most excellent and are really helping me frame and give form to my opinions on these matters, although I do wish we could have this conversation over some tea in person, only because sometimes I feel like some of the nuances get lost. I you don't mind me taking a little time again, I your latest response has in fact made me think of quite a few things I want to figure out how to verbalize. I also appreciate the tone of this conversation and am having a good time wrapping my thoughts around it. Thank you for your time and thoughtful and clear responses <3 I'll be back.

  16. Milla dear, this post is beautiful and strong, brave and delicate. Not many people can voice their ambivalence in such an articulate and compassionate way. Including "Deep, human feelings, slightly beyond words, hovering on the edge of your consciousness."

    And this pensive cow in the morning mist certainly invokes such feelings in me.

    Your response up here is even more thoroughly honest - these are questions I have been asking myself too (particularly about eating organic eggs and goat's cheese, and wearing sheep's wool).

    If non-vegetarians were eating only home-raised animals and eggs, I do think the world would be a better place. However for me, personally, the problem when it comes to rising your own animals (cats, goats or chickens) is trust. If you take proper care of them, they trust you with their lives. And I know that I could not bear to betray this trust... A hen that gave me eggs for four years would remain as a pet until the natural end of her life. Which means lentils and black beans for me, and I would be fine with that.

    I am aware of this every single time I cook an egg.

  17. I just stumbled upon your blog yesterday and absolutely LOVE this post! I dream of a little homestead - once upon a time in the country - now in my little town on my city plot. So far we only have a veggie patch, an apple tree we planted as soon as we got the keys to our house, and perennials which we add to every year. I just can't imagine giving up my sidewalks and stroller walks. Your beautiful and poetic thoughts on this subject are one which I personally struggle with if I were ever to be solely responsible for my omnivore lifestyle. So far I have come to the conclusion that I could raise and cook an animal, but I would have to leave the butchering and processing to my meat-loving, hunter husband.
    And your pictures are absolutely stunning and from a dream for me! Do you really cook on a woodstove 24/7?? If only I could convince my husband...

  18. Once again I have a sense of joy and down-homeyness while reading your words and seeing what's happening in your kitchen. Your thoughts on the beasts and doing for yourself, living off the land. Just admirable. Perfectly you.
    Interacting with animals do make us better people. They teach us so much, don't they?
    I don't know why, but I'm okay with raising animals, naming them and then having them nourish me the following year. (Or, something like that) ;)
    I've not raised chickens or goats or cows. But, I know plenty of friends who do. And that is a perfectly fine lifestyle. Homesteading and farming is very appealing to me!
    It's the killing of Mule deer, when they are declining so rapidly, or the mountain lions, the bears being baited, the wolves & coyotes! Good lord, it's senseless. Only to have a head on a wall or a skin to walk upon.
    I'm getting off track, Milla, I know.
    Thank you for your kind and wise and caring words about the way you think and the way you live.
    I really enjoy seeing what's on your stove and all the cast iron pans stacked up. And what project you happen to be working on and of course, a kitty asleep on a brown paper bag. ;)
    Ta Ta for now. Loverly day to you!!

    1. Oh my gosh, someone JUST told me about the most amazing documentary about the mule deer. Let me try to look that up and send you the link if I find it.

    2. It is called TOUCHING THE WILD a PBS documentary on the most extraordinary man and his encounters and observations while living WITH Muley's in Wyoming for 7 years.
      You must watch this, Milla. Please!
      You'll never be the same. It's remarkable.
      Thank you for thinking of me when you heard about it. :)
      Ps: I'd love to know your thoughts if and when you do get to see it. I think Charlie will enjoy it, too.

  19. I really love this Milla! You made me understand animal husbandry and also the energy exchange between us in such a telling way with such rich words. Just love.

  20. I very much admire your way of life. You teach me things.

  21. So lovely. Your photos are looking beautiful and I love watching you grow more and more into your beautiful way of life. XO