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Meet your meat

Growing a suburban garden is the gateway drug of homesteading. A few salads or enough tomatoes to make a couple dinnersí pasta sauce eventually leads people to think about raising meat animals. Maybe they wonder how to replace that chicken breast, ground beef or pork in that newly prized pasta sauce with something they raised themselves. Or if they didnít raise it, at least know where their meat comes from and how it was treated, fed and dispatched. Documentaries like ìFood, Inc.î showed that grocery meat almost never comes from the idyllic small farm seen on the label. For most supermarket meat, the happy clucking chickens and the single cow on a lush pasture only exist in marketing.In defense of the feed lot operators and the large-scale chicken houses, there are good reasons why most of Americaís food is grown the way it is. Most Americans are price-conscious when they shop for food, which squeezes profit margins. Only 2 percent of the U.S. works in agriculture to feed the other 98 percent. Prime pasture land is also prime housing and golf course land. And almost no one wants the sights, sounds and smells of business-scale farms near their new home. These factors push meat production into smaller areas with fewer farmers, more technology and more intensive practices.Cost and effort of buying a steak vs raising the cowYou may think raising animals for your familyís meat needs will be healthier, more sustainable and more ethical. Itís easier said than done. Raising animals for food is hard ñ really hard.ìBefore you raise your own animals, you take for granted the work it took for that animal to get to where it is and be processed into meat,î said Jesse Brickell, a ranch hand for a multi-generational pasture cattle operation in Rush, Colorado. The Brickell family also raises livestock for food on their own homestead. ìYou appreciate the work of the farmer, rather than when you just get a packaged steak ready to go in the market.îBesides the hard work, meat animals are also far more expensive to raise than gardens or egg-laying chickens. The animals cost money as young calves, chicks or piglets. A bag or two of fertilizer or hen pellets turns into truckloads of hay and feed, or countless hours of pasture management. Adequate fencing, water troughs, feeders, shelter from harsh Colorado elements and emergency first-aid veterinary supplies are necessary expenses, whether you grow a dozen broiler chickens or a hundred head of beef cattle.The time commitment for raising animals for meat is a huge step up from growing a backyard garden. In suburbia, itís easy to hire the neighborís kid to water your vegetables or feed your dog. Itís much harder to find someone who can move your broiler chicken pens and rotate your cattle pastures. Family vacations or even date nights for mom and dad must be scheduled around feeding time, calving season and pig farrowing dates.When your pot roast had a name, and you hugged your hamSome people who daydream about homesteading never follow through because they could never eat a cute animal or one that had a name. Any homesteading family that cares enough about their animals to raise them well will also care enough to have emotional conflicts when itís time for the animals to be processed.ìEveryone gets attached to the animals for the first time, when you raise them and take them to the butcher,î Brickell said. ìThe kids were horrified. We, the parents, had to say, ëThis is what happens when you farm,í but on the inside, we felt it, too. Youíre with them constantly. If youíre a good farmer, the animal learns to love you.îHomesteader online forums often have spirited discussions about naming livestock. Some say itís harder to process and eat animals with names. Others add a bit of gallows humor to naming the animals to remind themselves of the outcome.At Gray Area Farm, our daughter, Ainsley, age 5, showed a wisdom ñ or perhaps callousness ñ beyond her years when she named chickens she helped incubate and raise. A small flock of egg-laying chickens can only support one rooster per about 10 hens, and we already had ìTerryî and ìBillî acting as the sheriffs for our homestead. So, we had to plan on culling and eating most of the new cockerels. Ainsley named them ìNugget,î ìStewie,î and ìSandywich.îìIím OK with the kids naming them now, because they understand now what happens at the end,î Brickell said. ìA cow may be named Snow White if it was a white calf, and the attitude now is that Snow White went to heaven to feed our bodies. Some people say donít get attached, but we still do because we care for the animal.îBuying from the small homesteadersLast time ìThe New Falcon Heraldî checked, covenants in Falconís communities donít allow beef cows in their yards. Suburban meat eaters can still add to their garden-fresh dinner by supporting and buying from small farms to the east.ìThere are certain parts of the animal we like or donít like,î Brickell said. ìWe donít buy the things we donít need from the butcher when we process. We give away the parts we donít need.î and Local Food Colorado Springs both have phone apps and websites to help connect local meat producers with local omnivores who canít raise their own meat.Without the huge economies of scale from feed lots and confined chicken houses, pasture-raised chicken, pork and beef can be far more expensive to raise and buy than even the highest quality grocery meat. For foodies who want to ìmeet their meatî and ìknow their farmer,î itís still a bargain to know exactly how their familyís dinner was raised.

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