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Becoming an ethical omnivore

 
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I've had quite a few "radical worldview changes" regarding animals and nature, especially as a teenager, but going vegetarian or vegan was never one of those. It never occured to me that NOT eating animals may be better for them, or for us, or for the environment. However, I knew that there was one thing still very disturbing for me: the actual death of an animal harvested for food, which is very different from natural death, and if that something is unbearable to me, then I should stop eating meat, right? I did already know how natural human death looks like, sadly. I know that there are people who may never see it, because they place their relatives in care homes, or live far away from them, and are lucky enough to never even see an accident either (yes, I've seen that too - a schoolboy hit by a car).

Human death is different for many reasons. First, because it's humans. Even if there are other species equally or more intelligent than us (like perhaps dolphins or elephants), we can't possibly communicate with them in a way that will let us know about it, or exchange some more advanced/abstract thoughts. So we don't know if they think about afterlife, do they believe in reincarnation, are they afraid of death or not. What we do know, is that we, humans, think about it. It's like we have other lives going on in our heads, and that consciousness is very precious to us.

I love what Alexia Allen once said, that if animals are harvested peacefully and calmly, they are not afraid of death, and if they are not afraid of death, maybe she shouldn't be afraid of it either.

So, I started from reading about methods of stunning animals, and their effectiveness on various species. I skipped any pics or videos that might be included, and I preferred the scientific pdfs, because they usually don't have illustrations. When I learned enough about that, I could look at pictures and videos, and the painful part was usually just seconds; minutes at worst.
How does it compare to animals suffering at the vets, where they often come back again and again, during long and painful treatments?
If I had a stopwatch, and measured the time of *actual suffering* of a respectfully harvested animal, and compared it to the amount of time that many animals suffer during veterinary treatment, I think the latter is worse.
Of course, sometimes it's for a good reason; the animal can still have a good life, it's relatively young, important to keep herd dynamics in balance, etc.

There was a time when I volunteered for a local animal rescue organization, but they started omnivore-shaming me, haha. Although I usually worked with dogs. I stopped for other reasons; due to poor knowledge, many of their actions were really stupid, and animals suffered more as a result. So I quit, but I still struggled with other "dilemma": the animals which are "better", because they're our friends and pets, and the anonymous animals which become our food.

I came across such case just now - I visited the website of a dog shelter. The shelter has not only dogs and cats, but also pigs and other critters. I looked at the description of pigs out of curiosity. There was a note at the end: "These pigs are up for adoption, but only as friends, not food :)".
What do they feed these dogs, just pasta?!
If so, they should know how many animals die during mechanical harvest.

You can look at it this way: here is my pig Joe, he's my friend, I'm not eating Joe; so I'll eat that anonymous other pig instead.

Why can't the animal raised for food be your friend too?!

I also keep seeing many of those memes saying that farm animals "have feelings", "build friendships", "remember faces", and so on. I wonder, how could people possibly not know it?! I'm sure that our ancestors knew it very well.
Because if you have farm animals in your life - working animals - it makes you know them better. The more you need them to do for you, the better you get to know them. They're like a bridge between us and wildlife. They don't freak out when they see us. They can be calm and peaceful till the last minutes of their life.
I think, that although it's important to have animals of different ages in your herd - I don't know if it works for other species, but certainly a herd of horses is more balanced when it's a family of all ages - harvesting them before they get old and weak saves them some dignity. Like my dog, he depends a lot on his incredible speed and hyperactivity. It's a huge part of who he is. With his many fears, he'd be very miserable losing sight, hearing, ability to run. I hope to put him down before the worst happens, and if the vet says that he's not old enough or not suffering enough to be euthanized, I'll say that he's aggressive to people.
Fortunately he's not there yet, but I totally believe that one can euthanize or harvest an animal BECAUSE they love it.
It makes me so angry when I see people look down on farmers or homesteaders who raise animals for food; as if they couldn't possibly care about nature, or love these animals, or try to preserve their breeds and wildlife. In fact, I think it's the meat eaters who can have the biggest impact on changing farming and approach to environment protection, because farm animals make us understand how nature works, while being adjusted to our ways and needs.

Perhaps it's another social change that's coming - growing plants for food is not a shame anymore, or a thing just for people who can't afford buying. Now, growing just ornamental plants that need a lot of outside maintenance is becoming a no-no, and maybe the same future awaits for domesticated animals. I do believe that it can give us not only a more nature friendly way of growing food (both plants and animals together), but also more respect for life, and its different stages, and a huge mindfulness lesson when it comes to death.

Maybe some people have a problem with animals not being anonymous anymore; on small farms, with heritage breeds, every individual is different and can express a unique personality.

I'm also a horse person, and there was a lot of drama in this community too. Opinions like "horses know if you're a meat eater, and they prefer vegetarians". Well, I knew one of the best horse trainers, who admitted to eating horse meat regularly. I think, that when the horse accepts being ridden, it's already like giving up their life. And it doesn't have to be any cruel breaking; we can totally make the horse want to do things we need it to do. It's usually safer that way, too. Don't horses know that we're capable of eating them anyway? I used to have a horse, and when I couldn't keep her anymore, I eventually gave her to some people who seemed kind (instead of just selling her, which was my initial plan). They had this weird idea, that she should give birth, because "every female should". They were vegans too! I don't know how these two concepts could exist together in their heads, but people are weird I guess. Well, the horse died during birth. Not their fault, I believe; it can happen to anyone. The foal survived. I'm now thinking that a "respectful horse harvest" would spare my mare a lot of pain. I wouldn't know how to arrange it anyway, but I just think about it differently now.

Another issue: respect for the animal body. Many people think that it's disrespectful to do all the head cutting, blood pouring, skinning, etc. What about people who donate their body to science? Are they disrespected too? I once listened to a conversation with a woman who works at forensic "body farm", seeing lots of human bodies decomposing. She said it made her believe in afterlife; that it's not possible that the physical body is all that there is. I believe so too, and in reincarnation, and I do believe that we can meet the souls of harvested animals in our next lives; and that they can be grateful for a painless and respectful death and a life full of purpose.
 
pollinator
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Flora Eerschay wrote:

If I had a stopwatch, and measured the time of *actual suffering* of a respectfully harvested animal, and compared it to the amount of time that many animals suffer during veterinary treatment, I think the latter is worse.

...harvesting them before they get old and weak saves them some dignity.

...be very miserable losing sight, hearing, ability to run



I think that same argument could be used to euthanize any person suffering a terminal illness.  Actually, I could easily make, and I think prove, that shooting a person in the back of the head would measure less on a time scale of actual suffering than a skinned knee, certainly less than a broken nose or chemo treatment.

My point is not that people should be vegan, because I don't believe that.  I just don't think the points you made will sway people away from veganism, if indeed, that is your purpose in this case.
 
Flora Eerschay
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Trace Oswald wrote:I think that same argument could be used to euthanize any person suffering a terminal illness.



I don't think so; I tried to explain the difference between humans and animals. It is from a human perspective, obviously. Where euthanasia is legal, it is only consensual and there is a thorough procedure which could not be performed with any animal.

I just don't think the points you made will sway people away from veganism, if indeed, that is your purpose in this case.



I do not intend to. In fact, I encourage people who are new to permaculture, to start vegan. At least in the garden. As long as they don't damage the environment, I'm fine.
 
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I have a big problem with a lot of people in our area. My husband and I are known "killers". People know we kill our own poultry regularly. Those people could NEVER do that. However, when they have a problem rooster or their flock gets out of control guess who they call to try to "give" their birds too. They know very well that if I take them they will be killed. They really don't have a problem killing their birds, they just want their hands to be clean of it and judge us at the same time. Needless to say I do not take other people's birds anymore.

I've done many mercy killings. At my house my husband does the slaughter when we eat things. We just make a great team where he kills and plucks and I gut and package. I'm better with the knife. However, when it's an animal I've been trying to save, I do the killing. I think that makes the killing harder. Here I spend days trying to save a bird and finally come to the conclusion it's just suffering and the kindest thing I can do for it is put it down. I don't like doing it, but I do. I think it's harder on me than it is on them.

Now we have killed something more sentient, our pigs. The first time it went really bad. We felt awful. It was awful. We said we were never, ever going to do that again because we do not want our animals to suffer, even in death. The second time went way better. My husband is an excellent shot and both pigs dropped dead immediately. One minute they were happy eating, the next, gone.

We have also put our own dog down once. We have taken our fair share to the vet to be euthanized. Usually it's a surprise. My favorite dog ever just had a bloody nose we took him in for and it turned out to be really advanced cancer which they put him down for immediately (it was that or let him bleed to death slowly). Another was a pup that we couldn't figure out what was wrong with and it turned out his kidneys never grew with him. He was put down so he would no longer suffer at the vet. The one we did ourselves was old. He was already set to die any minute and we were simply providing him love and comfort until he did. Then he got twisted in some rope and hurt himself badly. We had a decision to make. Take him to the vet where he was sure to be put down or keep him at home, loved, and put him down ourselves. I think it's kinder to put them down at home. Kinder for them. It was really hard on my husband to do it.


As far as killing people, I'm for that too. We know someone who suffered cancer and was slowly suffocating to death. It became so terrifying to him they had to put him in a coma until he eventually died. I don't want that. I want to be able to make the choice of when I will die if I become unhealthy or senile. I never want my kids to suffer watching me with alzheimers or dementia, and I don't want to suffer either. Just let me go.
 
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There is a lot of points in your entry and I will not discuss each of them.

Let's just say that I agree that a farmer who keeps and slaughters animals can care for them and do so in a respectful way.

But I do not agree about the "putting down" of animals.
I should say that as a German with the historic charge we have this is a very sensitive topic here. There are lots of discussions and we closely observe what happens in other countries like Belgium or the Netherlands. You have to be very cautious if you are offering something out of love and respect or if you want to persuade a person that "it's the best solution". Well, not an easy topic.

As far as animals are concerned, I don't agree with some of your points. Should we try to keep suffering from the animals we are responsible for? Yes, I think so.
But can we really say we know a dog would be miserable because he can not run anymore? Isn't that hubris? Is a pet animal only worth living when it is healthy and cute and functioning, and does it lose its right to live with old age, dementia, illness? Because we don't want to be reminded of things that will come our personal path one day.

I just leave these points here as food for thought.
I have recently lost my MIL and she was home at her eldest daughter, surrounded till the end by life, children, grandchildren, the dog etc. Yes, it was hard on my kids but life is not always without pain and suffering.

And my cat is not healthy. Aged 15, she is on medication for about two years now. Two or three times in the past she had massive weight loss, grew apathic, and the vet can feel lumps around her intestines. There is nothing she can do about it, just check blood levels. There were days when I mentally looked for a burial place in the garden, then she recovered again. She might not feel as vigorous as ten years ago. But will I deny her a life for that reason? She still enjoys to lie in the sun, to join us on the sofa in the evenings, to play with a thistle in the garden, to catch a mouse some days. Maybe she has some feelings of pain. But she is not miserable.
Honestly, I don't know what I would do if I had the feeling that she was really in pain. Right now, I let her live in dignity as long as her body will permit.

(this obviously left the point of omnivores a bit - reading Michael Pollan and Jonathan Saffran Foer was very interesting)
 
Trace Oswald
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elle sagenev wrote:
As far as killing people, I'm for that too. We know someone who suffered cancer and was slowly suffocating to death. It became so terrifying to him they had to put him in a coma until he eventually died. I don't want that. I want to be able to make the choice of when I will die if I become unhealthy or senile. I never want my kids to suffer watching me with alzheimers or dementia, and I don't want to suffer either. Just let me go.



I just lost a good friend Monday.  He battled cancer for years but did surprisingly well.  Last week he went into the hospital.  Friday he said he thought he would be going home.  Something went wrong with his lungs, he went downhill very fast, and he was transferred to hospice at 2 Monday afternoon.  I sat with him, watching him choking and suffocating until his family arrived at 430.  I don't think he knew I was there, or if he was, he couldn't give any indication that he knew.  He was dead by 7.  I can't think of any reason that ending his life as soon as they knew there was no hope was the wrong answer.  Certainly it seems preferable to lying and choking for air for hours.  I wouldn't put an animal through that.
 
Flora Eerschay
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Perhaps we should discuss harvesting for meat and euthanasia separately. I would probably have some "parent animals" and only butcher their offspring, thus knowing what they're meant for from day one. The parents, would perhaps be allowed to retire and euthanized eventually if they weren't edible at certain age. There is a lot of animals I wouldn't eat; cats, dogs, mice, rats, insects. Maybe some of them are edible, I don't know. As for people who want someone else to do the "dirty job", perhaps they should pay for the service. People tend to see things differently when they are not for free.

It would also be hard for me to be with a person who made a conscious decision to be euthanised, and had it accepted by all the doctors, and just needed someone to be there with them. But I would respect that. The worst is someone relatively young but suffering "only" from depression. I remember there was such case somewhere; a young woman who was raped and couldn't recover, and attempted suicide a number of times.
 
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My thoughts on this have changed a lot. I knew someone who worked in a slaughterhouse many years ago (he conked cattle in the head with a hammer) and I have rural relatives who kill their own pigs. Thsese experiences and things I read and watched made me feel for a time that I did not want to eat meat because I was not sure it was killed in a manner that was acceptable to me.
As I've gotten more exposure to small-scale farming and permaculturists I've been very impressed with people's concern for their animals. There is a lot of nastiness out there about "happy meat" but there is a lot to be said for the "one bad day" train of thought. I have a lot of respect for people who raise and harvest their own animals.
 
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Lots of interesting points being made. I'm going to try and focus my thoughts on the title of this thread. I live in a farming community. Generally speaking we don't see instances of shaming or what I would call activism. I think that a large part of what we see today is a result of humanity getting away from raising your own food. To truly know and understand something is to have done it yourself, and even then it's not guaranteed. I can study and research a topic my entire life, but until I have done it myself I won't fully know it. A bit of Schrodinger's Cat if you will. In the past, even if you didn't raise your own chickens or whatever you ate, you knew who did and you knew how it was done much more so than today. There is a comment from a newspaper that I've seen circulated as being humorous about someone saying "hunters need to stop killing these innocent animals and go buy meat at the stores where it's made." The reality of that is many people believe that is how things work. They do not understand where that meat actually comes from and what it takes to produces it.

One of the reasons for moving back to the family farm is that I want my children to know, to truly understand where their food comes from and what it takes to produce it.
We raise meat birds and have a small flock of egg layers. When it came time to butcher the first rounds of birds my children, 4 and 7 at that point, watched and participated in the process. We discussed it and I did my best to help them understand that we are taking a life so that ours might continue, and that in doing so it was our obligation to be as compassionate in the process as possible. Killing of anything should never be taken lightly.

We are all working our way down a path. Some are simply further along than others. Sadly there will be those who just go to the store and buy meat where it's made that will never get any further down that path. Those who are further along just need to remember to have patience and show kindness.
 
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It is easy to act vegetarian or vegan in the city where the onivores are making life possible for you. Rural life being vegetarian or vegan is not so easy. So much so that a friend actually said that to "cure" people of this idea is to stick them on a farm, soon they will be asking you for meat to fill their needs. At least that is what he said, and has experienced repeatedly.

Something I have noticed is as soon as you get away from factory farms, you get ethical animal raising and slaughter. People who are invested in the animals tend to care for them. The only time things go different is inexperience not will.

elle sagenev wrote:Now we have killed something more sentient, our pigs. The first time it went really bad. We felt awful. It was awful. We said we were never, ever going to do that again because we do not want our animals to suffer, even in death. The second time went way better. My husband is an excellent shot and both pigs dropped dead immediately. One minute they were happy eating, the next, gone.



As mentioned they wanted to do better, but botched the 1st try, getting better as they learned.

This is common in rural life.
 
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Devin Lavign wrote:It is easy to act vegetarian or vegan in the city where the onivores are making life possible for you. Rural life being vegetarian or vegan is not so easy. .


Please explain this comment as I'm confused. I'm happily plant based and living in the country.
 
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I am not sure what ethical is as it relates to this topic.  I do eat meat.  I dislike killing animals; although it is something I do. I cannot,  or maybe refuse to, dress up killing animals as being ethical to make me feel better.  But, this does not mean I feel it is automatically unethical.
 
Flora Eerschay
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What's wrong with feeling good? Should people who work in butchery be properly sad all the time?
 
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I also strive to be an ethical omnivore and am comfortable with my decisions and reasoning.

I don't expect everyone to share my view, nor do I think there is one correct way to feed yourself. I think that the human race has a relationship with food that simply does not mirror that of the other animals on our planet, for better and worse. Populations all over the world have developed different food cultures over the millennia primarily stemming from geographic realities, but also from the complex social and political way we organize ourselves.    

I take some issue with vegans who conflate their moral standing with a wider ethical one. In north america when I see wealthy white individuals taking a hard stance against animal consumption, it reminds of a very collonial mindset, as First Nations and Inuit have traditionally had meat-based and omnivore diets. Obviously, I personally see a glaring difference between traditional hunting and factory farms.  When I think about my food choices it goes beyond a black and white, killing=bad, and instead look at the many other factors of sustainable growth, social and community impacts, environmental degradation, economics, and the innumerable links and additional factors among those. This billboard was making the rounds several years ago and I think it tries to address some of Floras points from a vegan or vegetarian perspective:


My argument is that as a society and individual, you draw the line the same way you draw the line for other equally ethically challenging questions. For some people that line may be no animals, for others it may be some of those. It's ok to pick and choose. You do it with people. No one is friends with everyone; you have a family you may treat differently then your friends, verses your very good friends, vs coworkers, vs a stranger on the street, etc. This isn't good or bad, it's just how we all navigate through life. Absolutely it's possible to take a shining to a pig that you were raising for slaughter, and either choose to keep it alive on the farm for companionship, or continue with the planned butchering. There will likely be a mix of emotions regardless of your decision, and you will come to it by reflecting on the implications that matter to you. I have spent time saving birds that we will eventually kill. I think that most farmers on small farms have done this with their animals, because having a relationship with your food, whether it is plant or animal leads to a feeling of being more connected to the life sustaining world around you.

I am not saying I think that anything goes. I have my own moral lines and I'd say they align pretty well with the larger socially acceptable norms around me. I'm boring that way.  

I think that no matter what your eating preference is, if people are able think more deeply about those choices and be open to change we are all better off. I like to assume that most people want to be kind, and thoughtful, and live in a way that is less damaging to others. Being an ethical eater is not simple or straightforward but I believe it's worth striving for.
 
elle sagenev
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Nicky McGrath wrote:



I may be in the minority but I already know which of our 4 dogs we'd eat first. I wonder how many people would starve to death before they ate one of their pets. I wouldn't, let me tell ya. In fact my husband and I have had a rousing discussion about how long one of our dogs could go without eating before he ate us. We just have the one particular dog who gets super excited for feeding time and if we are late let's use know how very upset he is about that. I think he'd break into the pantry and eat all of that before he ate us, but he'd eat us no problem. Consequently, he'd be the first one we eat. lol He's nicely fat and almost completely useless so....yum!
 
Flora Eerschay
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Maybe the relatively new concept of pet animals is a part of the problem. Also, it's not very environmentally friendly... Even now, there are farmers who would be dumbfounded by the idea of keeping an animal just because it's cute.
Many domestic animals would eat their people, and the herbivores would kill them because they look spooky in that new hat ;) or for whatever other reason. It's the humans who keep things in balance within a controlled environment, which may or may not include letting some of the animals grow old.
 
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I think that a useful experiment for any of use that want to explore the concept of 'ethical eating' is to try to go a whole year eating only food that is/can be produced in your area. If you live far enough from the equator my experience is that doing this without eating meat requires a lot of storage, a lot of effort by someone to harvest/process/store your winter food, and an acceptance of a seriously constraining of your options in the depth of winter. None of those things are inherently bad, but for me there is an element of poor ethics involved anytime you are importing staples to your location. To me, moral trading far and wide happens for 'luxury' items (in the sense of items that aren't crucial to your survival, not necessarily meaning that they are priced such that only the extremely wealthy can ever enjoy them). If you are dependent for essential calories on some distant land then it seems to me that you are likely leveraging some deeply unethical systems to provide for your sustenance.
**Major shoutout to anyone doing the work of sustaining themselves off of localishly produced calories while eschewing meat consumption**
The interesting thing about this kind of diet limiting is that meat becomes a winter/early spring staple that can be set aside in the heart of the growing season when all the fresh foods are available and abundant. To me this hints at what my version of deeply ethical eating would look like.
I really think that the loss of seasonality in our mindset is a potent source of poor societal decisions.
 
Flora Eerschay
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I have another reason for being an omnivore within permaculture mindset; perhaps I expressed it already, but here is a story: a number of years ago, when I was in the first years of my very long art studies, I had painting classes.

Every first year student has to draw a nude and paint a still life. The still life is assembled by the professor, and there are usually some problems within the composition. One time, I didn't like one of the items, and I thought that my painting will look much better if I just ignore it, and paint the rest as if that one thing wasn't there. When professor asked why I didn't paint that item, he said something like: "you can't just ignore this because you don't like it. It's still there, so find a way to paint it so that the whole will still be balanced".

I knew nothing about permaculture then, but it was certainly a breakthrough moment in my life as an artist. Painting got so much more interesting and challenging after that! In permaculture, nature in its pure state looks very beautiful, but if we observe her closely, there is death and suffering and fear all the time, everywhere. The natural world, which (I believe) we try to preserve is often cruel and ugly. The fact that nature made young and healthy animals extra tasty is awful. If I were The Creator, I wouldn't do it this way. But that's just one of the creepy laws of nature, and I don't want to pretend it doesn't exist. I know that life lessons learned from observing nature are going to be hard.

I'm also reading Eckhart Tolle's "A New Earth". I read his "The Power of Now" a number of years ago; I heard about him from some horsemanship teachers. They really like applying his mindfulness lessons. Tolle never talks about any specific lifestyle choices; diet, work, or anything. But he talks about how we interact with nature, or a collective consciousness shared by all living beings. In the book, he discusses it with the viewpoints of various religions, philosophies and scientific theories.
Allowing farm animals to reproduce, and choosing their moment of death is certainly a different form of interaction with life as a whole, than just growing plants, and perhaps having wild critters come and go. But I think it allows us to use the full power of permaculture, which in the time of climate change and biodiversity loss is so important.

This, I believe, is as close as Tolle got to saying anything specific about food choices:

 
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Location: Russia, ~250m altitude, zone 6a, Moscow oblast, in the greater Sergeiv Posad reigon.
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WARNING: GRUESOME SLAUGHTER DESCRIPTION.
    I personally killed two turkeys a year-and-a-half ago. I botched the first one quite badly, (the knife was too dull) only to find out that the bird was experiencing no pain while bleeding from the neck. It was acting completely normally and calmly, just a little tired. After I calmed down and finished the job, it started convulsing like normal, but I remember very clearly the moment it stopped being a turkey and became a piece of meat. The head curled back, the wings splayed out, the feathers even stuck out in a way that for all the world seemed to say "pluck us", and it suddenly looked like a carcass you would buy at the store but unprocessed, if that makes any sense. It was so peaceful, and seemed right, somehow. I applied what I had learned to the slaughter of the other turkey, and decided to let it bleed out slowly, (since it was painless) following it around the yard slowly, to keep the blood moving. It all went as planned, the turkey just slowly became more and more tired, sat down more often, but retained all the normal turkey behaviors, looked up at me curiously, chirped every so often, and seeimed perfectly relaxed until he lay down and seemed to be going to sleep, when I moved in and finished cutting his throat, letting him bleed out completely. DISCLAIMER: I would not have done it this way had I not been certain that it was painless, but I am not prescribing this turkey slaughter method for anyone; use preferably not at all and at your own risk.
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Clean With Cleaners You Can Eat by Raven Ranson
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