I am amazed at the beauty surrounding me. The goats and pigs, the oaks and rustling leaves, my gentle lady cooking rice and doing chores, the grasses swaying in the winds, the sunlight slowly fading off the fields, the cold dew in the rye grass early in the morning. The ducks squawking, their quack boxes getting a good workout in this warm fall weather. The pigs oink and grunt and root in the soil happily, the moon seems more gentle then I have ever seen it, hanging like an icicle in the sky.
I think that in farming, gardening, or just plain living, beauty is always balanced by that which could be considered not beautiful. We have an infestation of ladybeetles in the kitchen that like to drop on your neck when you're cooking or eating. The roof is showing serious water damage and needs to be overhauled in the spring probably. The basement floods in the rain, and a floor joist seems to be unattached to anything. And that's all just problems with the house. We really have little room for our operation without outbuildings. We have tools and feed and boxes of jars stuffed into our pumphouse, and the chickens don't have a coop yet. No indoor room to store the firewood for the winter to keep it dry, no room for me to work on small projects. We have a refrigerator and the washer outside because there is no room inside at this point. But all this is not to complain, it is to show you that the seemingly idyllic nature of any farm or homestead is underscored by the many problems and projects that compile a long and comprehensive honey-do list. But this is what I signed up for, what I was looking forward to while planning to move to the country and start farming with my girlfriend. It has been a long time coming and I can safely say that I am almost where I want to be. I have a sneaking suspicion that I will always almost be there, but as in all things in life, the journey is what counts. It's hard to remember that sometimes, when you sort of wish the journey could hang on a second while you take a nap.
So soon we are going to be killing our two pigs. We are both quite a bit nervous about this whole process, but we have hired a (hopefully) skilled man to take care of the killing and skinning part. Of course we will be there to watch and learn, and next time we will do it ourselves like homesteaders, farmers, and herders have done for as long humans and animals have had this most intimate of connections, that of mutually symbiotic sustenance. That is the main thing on my mind these days.
The relationship we have with these animals that delight us with their personalities and sustain us with their very bodies is probably the most intense ethical dilemma that I have had to try to comprehend in my life. What it all comes down to for me is that in this world we really do eat to live, and when we eat to live we eat some form of life. The idea that an animal has more inherent life then a plant does not sit well with me, it seems to smack of a hierarchy that doesn't exist in nature. Nature seems to me to be a circle, and without us animals to complete it, it is incomplete. We identify with animals because we are animals, or more to the point, we identify with mammals because we are mammals. It seems easier for most humans to kill a chicken or a fish, then a pig or a goat I would say. Our mammalian history bonds us to those who share our fondness for mother's milk. In the end, we are engaging in a wide range of speciesism ( although I am not using that term in the way that is usually used), implying that species closest to our genetic heritage are more sentient and important than the vast array of living species on this planet. My point is that we have to eat to live, and we eat life, so the only ethical way to consume life is to raise species with the utmost of care and with the best of lives and then to end their lives swiftly and as painlessly as possible. What else is there to do in this world of eating living creatures?
Of course animals and plants feel in different ways. Most animals can't regrow limbs like a tree can, for instance. Mostly we don't recognize that plants have intelligence, but I would argue that what we call intelligence could simply be survival mechanism, i.e. the brain has evolved to react to various stimulus by firing synaptic connections and releasing chemicals that change physiological conditions in the animal body, but who is to say this is a better evolutionary technique then that of the plants which could be said to react to various stimulus by increasing growth, releasing seeds, growing extra runner roots, etc... The one kind of intelligence is mobile and the other stationary, relatively speaking. With all our running about, do we actually ever get anywhere, though? Maybe the plants have figured something out that we should pay attention to...
I feel deeply that you should never stop considering these ethical dilemmas that face us as human beings, just as you should never stop working on your relationship to your family, friends, and partner. There is no real ultimate conclusion to all of this really, there is nothing really new under the sun. Our intelligence can only get us so far and then it is all feeling, and even though the brain denigrates feelings and emotions and intuition as base behaviors, perhaps the brain has it's own agenda? Who can say, but I feel in my heart that what we are doing here on LTD Farm is as ethical and humane as raising livestock can get. Each animal is loved for it's essential nature, and each animal is treated with care and given the best life we can give it. When that animal has reached the end of its useful life, and/or it is suffering in some way, its life is ended. It is a rough analogue of wild nature, wherein the wolves job is to cull the caribou herd of weak or sickly animals for the overall health of the wolves and the caribou. In our case as clever human beings, we have bred domestic animals to be dependent on us, just as we have bred wild plant species to be weak yet produce much food for us.
Perhaps harvesting wild species as food is inherently more ethical and sustainable then domesticating species for food, and I will always be interested in this idea as well. But in a world where some people think potatoes come from trees and steak comes from the freezer, I think we have one misconception and disconnection from the natural world at a time to overcome.