Sunday, May 19, 2013

Dealing With Death On the Farm

Our son Caleb, age 3, making friends

One thing that I’ve thought about extensively as we prepare to farm is how I will deal with inevitable animal deaths and parenting my children through that process.  I want to handle farm death in a realistic and honest way that isn’t scary or traumatizing for my family.  I want our children to know where their food comes from and I don’t want to hide the fact that there was a death in order that we might eat.  I think it honors the animal and the process more completely that way.

I thought I would share some points about handling death on a farm that might be helpful for anyone, but especially when dealing with children.

1.  Death is normal and natural.  In the book of Ecclesiastes it is written that, “There is a time for everything, and a season for everything under the heavens.  A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal” (v. 1-3a).   Our time on earth is not infinite.  We are made for a time and season.  God said in Genesis 3:19 after sin was introduced into the world that “for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Death is part of the cycle for plant, animal, and human and it is normal.

2. Killing is part of eating.  In order to eat meat, an animal must be killed.  Explaining to a child (or to ourselves!) that in order to derive nutrition from meat, the animal must be slaughtered is helpful.  This is a simple cause and effect relationship that makes complete sense to a child and is often accepted readily without trouble.  We often, especially with very young children, don’t need to go into any more detail than that!  Sheri Salatin of Polyface farms confirms this as she states
The first time my family processed chickens, I was eight years old. I think that when you start out at such a young age, there is nothing to “deal with”.  We have noticed that when families come to watch us process the chickens, parents are always more squeamish than their children. I think that innately, children don’t have a problem with killing animals for food. It’s a learned response. I never questioned why an animal had to die as a child, it was simply a way of life. If I wanted to eat meat, that was the way it is. 
3.  Honoring the animal in life and in death.   Sometimes thanking God for the animal in a simple prayer can help with our emotional response. When animals are treated well and raised in a way that honors how God created them to act and live (cows on pasture, chickens eating bugs, etc) we can see it killed knowing it lived a happy, healthy life doing exactly what it was created to do.  How fulfilling and wonderful that we could provide a wonderful life for the animals, and that they in turn, give us nutrition!

4. Don’t spend a lot of time at once killing the animals.  In Joel Salatin’s book, The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer, he recommends that we don’t do a lot of animal processing at one time.  When we focus on death too much it affects our psyche and emotions. Spending a few hours processing chickens is fine, but then hoeing the vegetable patch or turning the compost is helpful as doing something else keeps our perspective correct.  Staying connected to our food and being sustainable are vitally important, but we also don’t want to overly focus on the death of the animal, as it leads us to be unbalanced.  Death is a part of the process as is the animal’s birth, life, and eventually as food on our table. It should be treated as an important part of the process, but the killing is not the only part, or even the main part.

5.  Finally, we can’t be afraid of our child’s questions.  We have to be willing to talk about death as they witness it take place on a farm and answer questions honestly, while telling the truth in an age appropriate way.  Part of the reason America has become so unhealthy is because the relationship between the farm and the table has become closed off and people no longer know (or want to know!) where their food comes from.  When we open up that discussion with our children, even talking about the death of an animal, we help guide the next generation towards understanding how to grow healthy food in a way that honors the animal and God. 


  1. Great post! We raise goats and have had a difficult kidding season this year! These things are always hard, but it is a part of life and we can rest in the knowledge that God is always in control. All we can do is our best!