The Animal Food Cycle

We Feed Them and They Feed Us.

Digging In

Digging In: Facilitating Dialogue and Action
Key Themes and Terms
  • manure
  • closed loop agriculture
  • factory farming
  • grass-fed beef
  • chicken tractor
  • WWOFFER
  • ice fishing
  • life and death
  • hunting and trapping
  • slaughter
  • field to fork approach
Catalyzing Connections

  • Description: What stories about animals are told? How did you feel reading them?
  • Personal Connection: Does this story connect to your personal experience with animals?
  • Common Themes: What social issues/themes are raised in these stories? Is there a common issue shared across contexts?
  • Social Analysis: What are the historical and social processes that created this situation?
  • Planning for Action: What can be done? What can I/we do?

  • What do you think of when you hear the word ‘manure’? Why does Adam love manure?
  • Anna and Adam’s integration of animals into their food production is considered ‘closed loop agriculture.’ Check this site for a deeper understanding of this practice.
  • If you are a meat-eater, what do you know about the lives of the animals that you eat? What kinds of questions do you ask about them?
  • What are the ways that the animals provide more than meat on this family’s table?
  • What does Adam mean when he says “the process of connecting with the animal is a bit tricky”? What are Adam’s feelings about killing the bull? How does he negotiate his mixed feelings about this process? What ethical guidelines does he follow?

Hands-On Activities

Visit a farm that has animals, and interact with them. If you do this as a group, share your experiences. If you can’t visit a farm, look at these short video clips of the animals on Anna and Adam’s farm. As you are looking at them, consider how they are looking at you.

Intergenerational & Intercultural Dialogue

Consider this quote: “When people are very young they see animals as equals, even as kin. That humans are different, unique and superior to all other species – this they have to be taught.” (Sigrid Nunez, in her novel The Friend). What kind of relationship do the children have with the animals on this farm? What do they learn from living with animals?

Dianne Kretschmar raises concerns about the way meat has been portrayed in the new Canada Food Guide; discuss her response:

“The planet-friendly diet promoted by the United Nations and the new Canadian Food Guide emphasize plant-based protein, which leaves livestock producers and dairy out in the cold. You can’t farm organically without livestock, you need composted manure to produce vegetables and grains. It’s what keeps the soil healthy. Grassland sequesters more carbon than anything else; a healthy grassland with lots of microbial and fungal activity increases water retention in the soil, reduces drought and flooding, and increases nutrient cycling. We’re writing our own demise. Civilizations fall because they’ve destroyed their ecosystem and can’t feed themselves.”

– Dianne Kretschmar

Legacies project advisor Rick Hill shared a Haudenosaunee perspective on the relationship between a deer and a hunter with us: 

Also in the Legacies video: “Life in the Longhouse” (16:50 min), Rick says “An animal’s body is a virtual hardware store of useful items.” Compare his perspective that “Nothing is Wasted” with Adam’s experience.

Robin Wall Kimmerer in her book Braiding Sweetgrass suggests that hunting for food requires another way of thinking about the animal, not as an ‘it’ but as a ‘who’:

“The taking of another life to support your own is far more significant when you recognize the beings who are harvested as persons, nonhuman persons vested with awareness, intelligence, spirit – and who have families waiting for them at home. Killing a who demands something different than killing an it. When you regard these nonhuman persons as kinfolk, another set of harvesting regulations extends beyond bag limits and legal seasons.”

– Robin Wall Kimmerer

Individual & Collective Action

There are many ethical dilemmas around the raising and treatment of animals and the eating of meat.

Anna raises one question for meat-eaters: “There are so many people who don’t want to do the work themselves (raising animals, slaughtering them) but want to know where their meat comes from.” How can people who raise animals in a humane way educate their customers about the process? How can individual meat-eaters encourage these humane relations?

In recent years, there has been a growing public debate about the role of meat consumption in global warming and climate crisis. Listen to a conversation with George Monbiot on the U.S.-based podcast “Democracy Now.

Democracy Now Host Nermeen Shaikh: “Meat and dairy production also uses about 70 percent of all agricultural land across the world. It’s one of the principal causes of biodiversity loss, water pollution and deforestation.”

George Monbiot: “But it’s also that if we stop eating meat and dairy, we have an enormous potential then for sucking carbon out of the atmosphere, because so much of the land which is currently occupied by livestock would revegetate if those livestock were removed.”

Are regenerative animal agriculture systems possible? Consider this explanation of regenerative agriculture by Regeneration International. Do further research on this complex issue. Organize a debate about the options. Encourage people to develop their own position on the issue.

Continuing the Conversation

Continuing the Conversation
Fred Metallic

Fred Metallic is a Director of Natural Resources for the Listuguj Mi’gmaq Government.

I see most farming based on an ordering or hierarchy of humans over animals and the right to enclose the animal. It’s about humans having dominion over animals.

We Mi’kmaq people see it differently, we take these relationships seriously in our hunting practices.

For example, we don’t see the moose as an animal. It’s not a pound of beef, like a cow, that you can just pay $8.99 for. The moose is a part of our life, it’s another being. We’re trying to re-educate people on how we got to this place that we’re so disconnected, as humans from animals, as people from territory. We’ve largely depended on science versus Indigenous knowledge. Now we’re trying to bring a more balanced approach.

There are a lot of protocols in terms of what you need to do before you kill an animal. There are practices in terms of how much of the animal you should use, how you share that animal, how you share those teachings with others. So that it really does sustain life. It doesn’t just sustain MY life, because the animal isn’t here just for me, but we’re here for each other, now and afterwards. When I get moose meat from my brother, I’m connected and obligated to the moose and to my brother. When we’re connected, there are obligations.

We’re trying to get back on the land, to establish those relationships and understand the cycles. As human beings we are born and we die in this territory. And we want to be buried in the same territory where the animals are buried.

Digging Deeper

Digging Deeper: Resources for Further Research and Action
Videos

Angry Inuk: The anti-sealing
industry has had dire impacts
on Canada's Inuit families

A Tale of Two Chickens

Books and Articles

Anna and Adam’s Approach to Farming in Quebec

A father’s perspective

Legacies collaborator John Murtaugh is the perfect person to introduce us to the farming practices of his daughter Anna Murtaugh and her husband Adam Royal who are almost self-sufficient in food in the Gaspé peninsula of Quebec, on Canada’s eastern shore. He visits them regularly and helped gather these stories over the past four years.

John: In the early 2000s, Anna met Adam working in the summers with Dianne Kretschmar on Grenville Farm in the Muskoka region of Ontario. They were married in 2012 at our family cottage near the farm. Dianne offered a lamb she had raised to be cooked on an open fire for the wedding feast.

The Legacies Project brought them back from their current home in Quebec to visit their mentor Dianne in 2016, when they showed the farm to their two children, my grandchildren, Katherine and Theo.

Adam: I’d say Dianne taught us everything that we know.

Anna: She taught us that in order to grow good vegetables you have to have animals, you have to have manure, they complement the garden. We now have a couple of sheep, one cow and a few goats. We’re starting to build up a manure pile.

Adam: Dianne has a spectacular manure pile . I know most people wouldn’t say that, but we love manure!

“to grow good vegetables you have to have animals, you have to have manure, they complement the garden.”

John: Adam and Anna have followed Dianne’s example in practicing closed loop agriculture,
in which the animals are fed by plants grown in a garden fertilized by their manure. They were eager to eat meat that was not factory farmed. This was also Dianne’s motivation when she started farming with cattle 35 years ago:  to eat healthy beef  .

Adam: Like Dianne, we started with the idea of including beef in our diet regularly. In an isolated community in Quebec, if you buy meat from the store, it could be bad in two days. We decided to raise cattle for beef, designed for that from day one.

The process of connecting with the animal is a bit tricky. We say it won’t be here next year, we don’t dwell on it. On the other hand, we got the bull as a calf, and raised it for two years, so you get to know it a little bit. Our garden is part of the pasture, so we could be in our garden and the cattle are literally 5 feet away from us, watching us, drooling over whatever we’re picking. We give our weeds and excess plants to the cows across the fence, so they’re very close to us.

We were consciously making them grass-fed beef, which we couldn’t buy in the area. They eat from the six acres of pasture recently pastured with clover and grass, and we supplemented that with some organic barley. So they got grain, pasture, and stuff from the garden. In fact, a couple of times, they broke out and got into the garden…and that was a rodeo..! They had a little feast on everything. They ate raspberry canes, potatoes. They eat a lot of the same stuff we do. Lots of space, wide open, good water, no hormones or antibiotics.

The Menagerie: Animals in the Family

John: Since 2012, Anna and Adam have been raising a family along with many animals on the land of his mother’s ancestors in New Carlisle, Quebec, on the Gaspé peninsula. When we visited them there in the summer of 2018, they introduced us to these members of their family, whom they feed and who feed them. Let’s start with breakfast.

The chickens offer their eggs

We got the idea for the chicken tractor from Dianne ; it’s a movable fence that allow us to rotate the poultry from one grassy space to another. We pretty much raise them for ourselves. This year, we have 55, we’ll keep 35 for ourselves, and some are for friends and neighbours. We have a few laying hens, that wander free range, and IF we can find their eggs, we have eggs…!

“We found them on Kijiji. We drove 3 hours to New Brunswick, bought them from a farm and came home.”

The goats offer their milk

Anna: I love goats and always have. When I was bout 22, I worked as a WWOOFER on a diary farm in France that had goats and made cheese. My host Nadia said ‘I can see you having your own fromagerie, Anna.’ And I said, ‘yes someday I will.’

I always thought I would have my own goat someday. When we moved here and had a barn, it seemed possible. We said let’s go on a road trip and get some goats. It was our Christmas present. We found them on Kijiji. We drove 3 hours to New Brunswick, bought them from a farm and came home.

In the summer, we milk them twice a day, in the morning and the evening. In the winter we just milk them once in the morning.

I am slowly learning. how to make different kinds of cheeses . I ordered a book online: Artisanal Cheese Made At Home.

Turkeys for Thanksgiving Dinner

Adam: We started the turkeys indoors under a heat lamp for the first couple of weeks, because it can be cold in May. Then we move them to the pasture until August. They’re in a portable cage that we move  from patch to patch on the grass everyday. They’re very happy outdoors. Turkeys are so much fun, like little pets. We usually keep one turkey for Thanksgiving, one for Christmas, one for Easter. The black turkey is kind of a pet, her name is Molly!

When they are grown, the males can be 32-35 pounds. We debone them and turn them into sausage. And we keep five for roasting. One year we had a communal Thanksgiving dinner with the others involved in our local Farmers Market.

Food from the sea

John: New Carlisle is perfectly located geographically to offer food from three major sources: the forests, the fields, and the sea. While Adam is only a recreational fisherman, he speaks about the nearby coast as a source of many rich seafoods.

We have a good ice fishing season and smelt run in Feb/March, and then by April, the crab and shrimp and lobster starts up again.

Taking a life to feed a life

John: Many people who question the eating of meat see the killing of animals as a violent act. But when you are raising them to feed your family, you must reconcile that their death gives you life. Adam describes his first experience of having their bull killed, and efforts to make this a more humane process, as painless as possible for the animal.

Adam: We knew the day would come, when this bull becomes our dinner. We were very nervous about the end date, when we had to put it in the freezer. He weighed in at 700 pounds in quarters of meat, not including skin, head or guts. It was a beast.

My dad was very stressed. The bull was getting very big, and not as friendly. We wanted to do it at home but we knew that we needed someone to show us how to do it before we try it on our own. The guys that we got were cattle farmers, and they had done it many times. They were also big moose hunters and deer hunters, so it’s just second nature. It’s fun working with people who know what they’re doing. We didn’t have a clue.

It’s harder than you think, it’s not just bing bang and it’s over. It has to be perfect. It was 6:30 in the morning, the sun was just rising, it was freezing cold. My dad and I were there when they showed up. They said, just make life simple – he’ll follow a bucket of grain. Pour it on the ground, he’ll put his head down. They’ll do the rest.

So I dumped a bucket of feed on the ground, and the bull just very leisurely came to it, with no stress whatsoever. I turned around and walked the other way. I could not watch. Then I just heard ‘Bang!’ He dropped right where he fell, he never knew what hit him, he never flinched, he never suffered. He was shot in the base of the neck of the spine, so it’s over quickly. It was perfect, a flawless process. I’m still learning from them, but could not do it without more assistance. I don’t think I would ever do the shooting.

In factory farming, stress affects the meat. We had heard horror stories. Stress can make the meat tough. This beef was fall-apart-on your mouth, super tender, not too strong.

Nothing is wasted

After the bull was killed, we hung it for 7-8 days. You just have to get the blood out, then skin it, gut it and quarter it. We were apprehensive about the whole process. So we said if we’re going to do this, we’re eating the whole thing: the heart, the liver, the tongue, the prairie oysters, everything. We really wanted to use every part.

We got so much from that one beast. If it was just ours, it would last easily two years. But with my mom and dad and my grandmother, I wouldn’t be surprised if it fed half the town. A lot of things were shared and given away.

The liver was the size of our kitchen table, and we gave chunks to our neighbours and gave meat to people as a thank you. That’s the way the community works – sharing the meat and the garden.

We kept it simple – steaks, hamburger and a few roasts. Out of all that, the tongue was the hit. A tongue’s not really an organ, it’s a muscle. We made tortilla a la lengua.

Even the off cuts – the guts, skin, head and bones – went into a trapper bucket for bait. Trapping is not as dead as you would think. The trapper we dealt with has an elaborate trapping line. A big forest fire about 10-12 years ago has pushed animals out to the coast line – animals that were elusive before: cougars, bear, lynx, and with them come deer, moose, coyotes, wolves.

We could have dried the bull’s hide. I sawed down a few leg bones into marrow bones. We have them in the freezer and sometime we’ll make a marrow soup.

John: I asked Adam what it felt like to be raising, killing, and eating this bull.

Adam: We get quite a sense of joy and pride. It was a big event. Two years of waiting, and wondering – could we do this? Do we want to keep this as a pet? It was getting too big. A lot went into it. It’s not something I want to do every year. I’d rather save up and have one nice big bull that would last two years. There’s a lot of dairy farms around here, and the bull calves are of no use to the dairy. People will buy them in the spring and slaughter them in the fall.

Hunting is what most people do to feed themselves with meat. Farming is a thing of the past. If you see photos from 50 years ago, everything in forests was cut for big family farming. But that has totally shifted. There were socio-economic factors: from the collapse of the cod fisheries to the big exodus, brain drain and joblessness. Just fleeing the country for the cities and suburbs.

All that land has since grown up (basically brush). Abandoned land and wild animals have moved back in. So hunting has been revived.

John: When the local butcher retired, Adam saw a need for a part-time butcher, especially during the hunting and slaughter season in the fall.

After the bull was killed, we hung it for 7-8 days. You just have to get the blood out, then skin it, gut it and quarter it. We were apprehensive about the whole process. So we said if we’re going to do this, we’re eating the whole thing: the heart, the liver, the tongue, the prairie oysters, everything. We really wanted to use every part.

We got so much from that one beast. If it was just ours, it would last easily two years. But with my mom and dad and my grandmother, I wouldn’t be surprised if it fed half the town. A lot of things were shared and given away.

The liver was the size of our kitchen table, and we gave chunks to our neighbours and gave meat to people as a thank you. That’s the way the community works – sharing the meat and the garden.

We kept it simple – steaks, hamburger and a few roasts. Out of all that, the tongue was the hit. A tongue’s not really an organ, it’s a muscle. We made tortilla a la lengua.

Even the off cuts – the guts, skin, head and bones – went into a trapper bucket for bait. Trapping is not as dead as you would think. The trapper we dealt with has an elaborate trapping line. A big forest fire about 10-12 years ago has pushed animals out to the coast line – animals that were elusive before: cougars, beer, lynx, and with them come deer, moose, coyotes, wolves.

We could have dried the bull’s hide. I sawed down a few leg bones into marrow bones. We have them in the freezer and sometime we’ll make a marrow soup.

John: I asked Adam what it felt like to be raising, killing, and eating this bull.

Adam: We get quite a sense of joy and pride. It was a big event. Two years of waiting, and wondering – could we do this? Do we want to keep this as a pet? It was getting too big. A lot went into it. It’s not something I want to do every year. I’d rather save up and have one nice big bull that would last two years. There’s a lot of dairy farms around here, and the bull calves are of no use to the dairy. People will buy them in the spring and slaughter them in the fall.

Hunting is what most people do to feed themselves with meat. Farming is a thing of the past. If you see photos from 50 years ago, everything in forests was cut for big family farming. But that has totally shifted. There were socio-economic factors: from the collapse of the cod fisheries to the big exodus, brain drain and joblessness. Just fleeing the country for the cities and suburbs.

All that land has since grown up (basically brush). Abandoned land and wild animals have moved back in. So hunting has been revived.

John: When the local butcher retired, Adam saw a need for a part-time butcher, especially during the hunting and slaughter season in the fall.

"The treatment of the animal is the number one thing people want to know about when they buy meat. Was it grass-fed? What is the history of the farm? What are the farmers like? What do they care about?"

Becoming a Butcher

Adam: We raised a couple of pigs one year and when they were full grown, we didn’t really know what to do with them. We got to this point, and now what? So we started watching YouTube videos. We also asked around to get pointers from different people. We had someone who did the slaughtering for us and kept them in a cold storage for us. He said come pick it up and deal with it yourselves. So we got Ziploc bags from the store and, without any great knowledge, we did the best we could with the knives and cleaver. It went well, taking maybe two hours per pig. They were huge and we had meat for a long time. That was my first encounter with butchering.

Around the same time I met an old butcher here in town who was selling an old grocery store with cold rooms, a meat saw and a grinder. We thought about it, and said, OK let’s try it. We fixed it up, so it’s all up to code now. And it’s a good business.

The season varies from August to early December. There’s not much the rest of the year. Chicken, turkey and pigs come out in August. Then the hunting season in October is only seven days. So it’s a marathon, a rush when it comes on, then it’s over. This year was a really strong year for pigs and moose. Deer were down, a lot of coyotes have moved in, so the population was down by half. We’re subject to forces bigger than us. If there are coyotes that eat all the deer, that’s what it is. We become conscious of the whole process.

The hunters go way out in the middle of the forest and stay for days on end and don’t see a thing. A neighbour was out there, reading a book, and he fell asleep, then woke up to a big buck. The season for native hunters is indefinite. They can go from the last full moon in September until the snow is too deep.

It’s nice to have repeat customers,people who raise pigs or turkeys or hunt every year. For most part, people want to sit in and help, just be part of the process

The old butcher gave me the run down many times. Learning to cut one moose is easy enough, but how do you manage 20 moose at a time? Then there’s the cleaning, the saws, it’s a big undertaking.

I get people with lots of experience working with me, like an old guy 74 with a life-time experience cutting meat. Then I have younger guys, who are salmon guides on the river. They are pretty well immersed in it. They knew more than I did.

John: Adam the butcher is also sometimes Adam the teacher, as he shares his knowledge with the people when they bring him animals and he cuts their meat for them.

Adam: You can influence what people eat throughout the year, by offering different cuts.  I always ask how they cook it, and they will tell you about the different recipes they use. Everyone’s different. The treatment of the animal is the number one thing people want to know about when they buy meat. Was it grass-fed? What is the history of the farm? What are the farmers like? What do they care about? Hunting’s different because the animal is wild.

“By growing up with animals, my grandchildren are learning more about all the natural processes of living and dying and how interrelated they are.”

Growing children and animals

Anna: Katherine and Theo also got to know the bull.  It’s scary for an adult when you’re up against a huge beast that’s bigger than you but for them it was 10 times their size. But they were surprisingly comfortable with him, even though he was so big. I’d like them to just simply know where it came from. It’s not a factory, it’s not a truck, not a processing plant. There’s the field, there’s the fence, there’s the cow, there’s the freezer, there’s the dinner table. Field to fork approach.

Like many young children of their age, Katherine at 5 and Theo at 3 are obsessed with the excrement of the animals. Listen to them talk  about the turkey poo and the pig poo.

Katherine and Theo have grown up with many animals, who have become a part of their everyday relations while alive as well as on their dinner plates after death.

John: By growing up with animals,  my grandchildren are learning more about all the natural processes of living and dying and how interrelated they are. They understand through their experience that other beings have died so that they may live. And they feel a connection with them that most of us have lost.