I didn’t know if I could do it. That is, intentionally take the life of an animal. I grew up participating in 4H, a program where I raised animals (pigs, sheep, chickens) over the spring and into the summer. Toward the end of the season, I would bring them to auction where they would be purchased and slaughtered. It seemed like a normal process, I didn’t have to see my pig friend be killed and I had never made more money in my life. After years of 4H, a friend and I watched the 2008 documentary Food Inc. The documentary uses an urgency tactic to bring awareness to the horrors of the meat industry, and I decided then I was going to be a vegetarian.
Since then, my relationship with eating meat has been in a constant state of reevaluation. The Food Inc. images of animals being kept in cells and violently slaughtered always penetrated into my mind when I considered eating meat again. I felt like I was physically consuming grief.
In my late teens, my vegan diet became a point of disordered eating and I realized with the help of a therapist that I needed to rethink how I engaged with eating meat once more. This process included understanding death and the experience of choosing the life of another to sustain your own.
Embracing Mortality: Death Positive Lessons Learned from Farm Living
In 2021, I moved onto a ten acre property on the West Coast of the United States.. As someone who comes from poverty, it felt like a miracle that this housing opportunity became available at a price I could afford, and I still feel so lucky to be able to raise a toddler here. When we moved here, I quickly began dreaming of a big garden and a few chickens— enough to provide for my family.
As I started expanding the garden, I had the idea to turn my casual hobby farming into a small-scale community farm to provide food for trans people living in poverty, something I knew so personally. I considered what it could mean to raise my own meat. If it was possible to give an animal a dignified life before accepting my place in the food chain. I knew I wanted to raise chickens for eggs, and the more research I did around animals that were simple to raise for meat, I decided to move forward with raising ducks and rabbits.
This process included understanding death and the experience of choosing the life of another to sustain your own.
The first animals I added to the farm were two chickens and three ducks from my brother. He told me the ducks would start laying eggs soon, but I found out shortly that all three ducks were in fact drakes (male ducks), and since I was not ready to fertilize and hatch ducklings, I didn’t have a use for them on the farm. I considered their death over and over, remembering the humans I have watched die in my death care work. I wondered if I would even be able to eat the meat I raised.
One of my partners, Eloise, had some experience slaughtering animals and I knew I needed the experience myself if I was going to be able to raise livestock for meat. With their support, I decided to learn how to process the ducks, and address my complicated feelings around choosing death for another animal head-on.
For a week, I fed them a high protein diet and let them live their last days as happily as possible on the land. I spent hours reading everything I could, watching every youtube video I could find, and even asking the local meat sellers at the farmer’s market for advice. When the day came, I felt a sense of fear riling in my gut. I still didn’t know if I could actually kill an animal.
We moved through the process as if it was a precious ritual. We set up the space, turned on Enya, regulated our breath with one another and triple checked that we both had the capacity to process the ducks, knowing that we could always change our minds and it would be okay.
I picked up the first duck, and held it close to my chest. We walked to the pole shed, where we pet its shimmering feathers and thanked it for its life. I held the duck upside down to calm it, wrapping my arms tightly around its body, while Eloise made the first cut. We let each duck bleed into the soil, and took turns making the cut.
My relationship with meat had a new layer. I had made the choice to kill and eat a duck, choosing my life over its own.
We fell into a rhythm, one that didn’t require talking. I don’t think I could have gotten myself to talk anyway. It was a new experience for me, having a brain with ADHD that never stops racing, to be so completely in the moment. I felt sadness, but I also felt like I had never been more human. We dipped their bodies in wax to peel off the down feathers, we studied the guide to duck organs as we scooped out their lungs like bubblegum stuck under a desk.
That night, we had a few friends over and prepared the ducks together, using nearly every part of the body for the meal. We roasted potatoes and rubbed lemon and rosemary over the ducks, but when it came time to eat it, I felt stuck. My relationship with meat had a new layer. I had made the choice to kill and eat a duck, choosing my life over its own.
The following weeks, I felt myself trying to push the recollection out of my head. I didn’t want to think about the ducks bleeding, the feeling when they had finally left their body after a final flap of the wings. The more I pushed, the more I found myself consumed by guilt and sadness. I finally realized that I needed to acknowledge the entire process. I had to allow myself to remember how we put care into their death, how present I was with them the entire time, and how we did everything we could to make their death comfortable.
Once I let myself process, I felt a release of the grief I was holding. Since then, I have added rabbits, ducklings, and chicks to the farm. When we lost a duckling on its third day of life, my toddler and I buried it underneath a fig tree. I am breeding rabbits for their meat as well — one of the most cost-effective and easy ways to raise livestock. When we lost a rabbit kitten early on, my toddler knew exactly how to build a grave for it of everything beautiful that blossomed in early spring — daffodils, dandelions, rocks, and acorn shells.
I want to make sure that when I die, no matter how it happens, there is ritual and care at the very center.
A part of me thought that by having death on the farm, it would bring this cloud of darkness and misfortune. What I have discovered instead is that when you invite in these acts of care, and honor your place in the cycle of raising food for yourself and your community, it ends up providing so much more life. I don’t know what my relationship with eating meat is, but I do know that I have never respected the entire process like I do now. I can place faces and sometimes even names to the meat I eat, I know exactly what went into their growth, and now I can share both knowledge and food with the community that means everything to me.
I think about the way I have created rituals around death and dying with people in my life. Reading the bible to my friend Edith as she passed, creating a death playlist, or collaborating with friends on legacy projects for those we love. Creating a ritual around death has helped me understand the vast beauty of a natural process that happens to us all. I still struggle with my feelings around death, especially when it comes to taking the life of an animal intentionally, but creating ritual and giving them the best life I can foster goes so much further than I ever could have imagined.
Because of this, how I view my own death has changed. When I wake up, I want to be let out of my enclosure and experience the world around me. I want to eat food that nourishes my body exactly how it asks to be nourished. I want to make sure that when I die, no matter how it happens, there is ritual and care at the very center.
Help a Trans Farm Grow & Thrive
Learn more about Sage’s farming project by visiting Instagram.
Learn more about how you can support Sage’s farming project on GoFundMe.
I really appreciated hearing your perspective of working with livestock and keeping compassion front and center. It’s a topic that will elicit a strong reaction from many, and while I understand where that comes from, I do believe you’ve put in as much consideration as you possibly can into the wellbeing and comfort of your animals, and that is commendable. Thank you for sharing your story!
Thanks for sharing!