If you’re still debating the idea of including your children in the business of the animal harvest, that’s OK. It’s a sensitive decision that should take into account the personalities of your children and your farm dynamic. However, if you’ve already decided to get your children involved with slaughtering and butchering this season but aren’t exactly sure where to begin, here are a few ideas.
Helping With Harvest Prep
Making sure everything is set up before you begin the harvest is probably the most important step in the process, and children can certainly lend a hand with it. These set up chores are especially good for kids who are more timid about the actual slaughtering activities.
- Have an older, competent child assist in sharpening all the knives under your supervision. Do not attempt to humanely slaughter and butcher an animal without your knives sharpened.
- Older children can also work to wash and sterilize all cutting boards, knives and surfaces that will come in contact with the meat.
- Younger children can set out garbage cans lined with bags for feathers, fur and entrails.
- Have a child bring the first-aid kit to a secure location near the butcher site.
- A child can set out latex gloves, towels, wipes and water bottles for thirsty workers.
- Have a child or two help with setting up the water source you’re going to use during the process to keep things clean. Hoses are easiest, but kids can also lug buckets with a wagon.
- Have an older child help set up a propane stove to keep dunking water warm if you’re plucking birds. Also, have him or her get out blow torch or similar tool, so it’s ready if you need to burn off bristles or pin feathers.
- Have a child assist with hanging killing cones or setting up tripods for the larger animals. A child’s deft fingers can be taught any manner of knots for rope or connections for chains and pulleys.
Assisting With Slaughtering
This is the tenderest part of animal processing for most of us, especially for some children. I don’t advocate forcing any child to participate in killing an animal if it goes against their nature, especially while they’re very young. As mine are getting older, especially my son, I encourage him to participate in the actual slaughter in order to be a part of the circle of life and to have a connection to the sacrifice required to keep us all fed. Plus, slaughtering is a practical survival skill to have.
For those children who are participating in the slaughtering, here are some ideas for how they can play a role:
- Have experienced older children teach killing methods to those who are new to the process and there to lend a hand on harvest day. There’s no better way to really learn a skill than to have to teach it.
- Have older and/or stronger children bring animals to the killing zone and secure them where they’re meant to be. At this point, a child can do the actual slaughtering and/or help with any animal control as the specimen passes.
- Older children can help heft larger animals to the butchering tables, and younger children can handle something like a chicken or a rabbit.
- Children can clean knives and axes during slaughter as directed by an adult. Children can also keep track of smaller tools, like ammunition, for the adult in charge. There never seem to be enough hands to keep everything in order while slaughtering is going on, and a responsible child can make the whole thing run more smoothly simply by organizing and cleaning the necessary tools.
- If you drain the blood into holes dug in the ground, a stronger child can cover and dig new holes as needed.
- If you have access to a slaughtering facility, a child can keep the floors hosed down as you work to prevent slips and accidents.
We often combine the terms slaughtering and butchering into one and just call everything butchering. Butchering, however, is actually the cutting up of already deceased animals into usable portions and specific cuts according to how we’d like to eat and use them. Children who are old enough to handle knives can certainly participate in this process, and it’s a good one for any accomplished cook to be familiar with. If you want your kids to stop wasting their food, have them butcher their own dinner and they’ll freak out at the thought of wasting even a morsel of that time and effort.
- Have an accomplished kiddo teach visiting helpers how to butcher whichever animal is their specialty. Chickens and rabbits are the easiest for kids to teach, simply because larger animals can take several hours to break down. We want to help our children feel a sense of accomplishment and authority, not give them so much they get overwhelmed.
- Young children can come clean up entrails, feathers and other gunk that’s not being kept for use. As home educators, some of our best anatomy lessons have taken place as I explain which part is what in all the muck at the butchering table. Along those same lines, quiz the older kids as they butcher, and have them tell you which body parts they’re working with and what function they performed.
- Younger children can watch the smallest children and play with them, keeping them entertained to mitigate the number of times you have to wash your bloody hands to tend to a kid emergency.
- Have children bag and/or wrap cuts that have been finished as you direct. If you want a container of livers, have a child collect them, bag them and label them—make sure they know how to correctly spell everything. You can provide a master list of spelling words ahead of time and post it so that everyone can see it.
- Elect several children to be ice-chest runners who take your butchered parts immediately to wherever you plan to cool the meat down. Getting the meat to a cool place is essential to keeping it healthy and germ-free.
- A big part of the butchering is the winding down process and clean up. Make sure your kids each have a job for clean-up, and have them report back once it’s finished.
Make sure everyone knows what tasks they’re assigned and ensure they’re comfortable with the job before processing begins. Everyone being clear on what is happening helps ensure the harvest goes smoothly. If you’re still not sure how to involve your children in the process, check out how Flip Flop Barnyard handles their family butchering day.