December 2, 2009

DTQ: The Right Age For A Sheep Slaughtering?

A question from DT reader DT:

We have a sheep to slaughter on Saturday, and I'm wondering how old is old enough for butchering? I know it isn't age 2. I seem to recall reading that a lot of hunter-gatherer cultures kept kids away from slaughter until age 6-8; 8-10 is when you start to see kids deer hunting around here.

We spend a lot of time talking about where food comes from--meat = animals, et c., as I don't want him to grow up quite as soft-hearted as I did--it's a liability for a farmer. I think if you wait too long, you'll never accept the killing of animals for food as part of life; too early, and you end up with a deeply scarred vegetarian, maybe. It feels as though some sort of cognitive milestone needs to be reached first.


I have to confess. I come from sheep ranching, turkey farming people, and I think the first actual barnyard slaughter I saw was last year, in the background of a Sarah Palin interview.

So I asked my mom who, it turned out, vividly remembers chickens bleeding out and running around with their heads cut off from her earliest days, maybe 3 or 4yo. It was the normal cycle of life on the farm. My guess would be, then, that if it's a regular enough occurrence, if animals come and go already, a kid will have the contextual framework to handle a slaughter when he happens to see it. Killing the sheep or the chicken, though, could be an event that sticks with a kid for life, no matter how old they are.


My four-year-old daughter said we can't eat a "bird turkey" for Thanksgiving. Only a "food turkey." DT, let me know how it goes.

My mom says:

Here’s another piece of info…When I was a kid 2-5 a meat market chicken came with guts in. Bamu [her grandmother] used it as an opportunity for an anatomy lesson. Since I never knew the chicken, it wasn’t traumatic.

I had fits when my dad killed a bunch of chickens when I was around 5. I thought I wanted to watch.

You may remember I ran inside for the actual killing of goats, pigs etc. Probably will this time, too.

I don’t think you hung around for the gutting or the cutting up.

Actually, DT, who started this string, was present at slaughtering from a very young age (maybe three or four). We had a little ritual where we would thank the animal for the food it was providing, and always killed in the most humane way we could (no headless chickens running around). This was mostly chickens and ducks, and later a few pigs.

For the larger stuff (the yearly beefalo) we had a guy come in with a gun for one shot behind the ear.

We tried to be matter of fact during the process. I never saw any trauma in DT, but a keen fascination in the whole procedure including the butchering. Maybe that's why he turned out to be such a good cook.

I grew up on a small farm, and I think you're right that for it to not be traumatic animals need to come and go regularly. it's spring time so the lamb crop goes to market it much easier to deal with than "Okay, time to slaughter Lamby-Lamby-Boo-Bookins"

I was probably 6 or 7 before first observing a chicken slaughter. I didn't enjoy it, but I understood why it was happening and had no qualms eating the meat. We did have one asshole of a rooster that I was happy to see go, and was glad to eat him even though he was stringy and not very tasty. talk about a Jerk Chicken.

Also, our next door neighbor was a butcher shop, which was my bus stop. Butcher shops were never scary to me, it was always a warm friendly place who'd let us wait inside on cold winter days.

how you recreate similar situations in suburbia, I'm not sure. Perhaps fishing (and eating what you catch) would be a good place to start?

I don't think it occurred to me where meat came from until I was pretty old. My kids are a little more aware and cognizant of death from some pretty traumatic (to me, at least) pet losses. But check out my Thanksgiving pics from the inlaws and you'll see the kids playing right under a gutted deer dangling from a tree. Totally not how I grew up.

I must also mention that my kids' cousins already have BB guns and the six year old also has a rifle that his grandfather justifies because it has a shaft lock that needs to be unlocked with a key. And if my 5 year old was a boy, they would probably try to arm her. Yet another reason we live 900 miles away.

It took me a couple of readings of this to understand that it was asking about the appropriate age to *witness* butchering. I initially read the question as concerning the right age for the *sheep*, and thought that I had somehow stumbled into the wrong blog.

Carry on.

here you go: lamb=

My brother weighs in. He grew up in the third world, ended up an executive living in London. Age: Mid-40s. Maia: Daughter
Very interesting question. We were seeing chickens being killed from a very early age, and I don't think too many adults were concerned about us being traumatized. In fact, you were likely to be teased or laughted at if you appeared squeamish.

Don't know that I would want Maia to witness the actual killing at this age (just turned 3), but my gut says that she wouldn't come to any long term harm if she did.

My son has been present for the butchering part of slaughter since he was 4. That's when he was big enough to carry the bowl of trimmings over to the grinder without dropping it. He could also fetch beer from the fridge. Younger than that, the kids are underfoot and a PITA.
As for the actual slaughter, if it is something you are going to do every year, it's probably better to let the kids see it as a normal thing to do because if you don't let your kid be there until they are 12, you will have a crazy, pre-teen vegetarian on your hands.

And it needs to be pointed out, you can't spell slaughter without laughter!

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