Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thanksgiving Week Special from Valhalla - Part 2

Healing sometimes looks like this... says a
"Dirty Bird" here at Valhalla. Sometimes it all
comes down to getting back to basics along with
a heavy dose of peace, quiet, and new pleasant
experiences. At the same time comes the
age-old question: "What's for dinner, and if
the 'What' is in fact a 'Who,' then WHY?" 
In the last installment of this Valhalla 2014 Thanksgiving Week Special Series we spoke of the amazing way that poultry – Valhalla’s turkeys, ducks, and chickens – interact with combat veterans as impromptu therapy companions. In effect they become pets: for example our two older turkey toms who enjoy displaying their glorious feathers all day, BlindGai and Speckles the turkey hens, Betty and Florence the two chicken hens, Stripes and Franzel the roosters, and Erica and Lavender duck hens. They are all personable characters who have endeared themselves to us and all participating Valhallans. And there are many more.

That begs the question: can you name your animals and harvest them for food in a classic homestead operation, while you still have some as therapy animals and even pets? We frequently get that question. Essentially our reply is that while it is highly unlikely that we will ever harvest the most valued therapy animals and genuine pets for food unless in dire emergency, that part of the whole self-reliance, independent living, homestead life here are intricately tied to a realistic appraisal of what the chain of life involves.

Essentially that means, if we are going to be honest with ourselves, we must at the very least recognize where our nourishment originates and respect the sacrifice that those birds and animals make on our behalf. That means that we
give them the best life possible before taking any of them for food. Valhalla’s birds and animals live as free and comfortable a life as possible. The birds free range around the main house, are guarded by livestock protection dogs against predators, and are joined at times by the sheep and goats which get their opportunities to run free as well.

"Here's your dinner... but now, which one among
you will be on our own dinner table inside of
the Valhalla Project Mainhouse?" We agonized
over this question for far too long, right up until
the terrible day that we discovered that there was
a murderer in our midst. We didn't take action
fast enough. As a result, we had to put down
three wonderful, innocent, friendly birds while
a rogue Tom continued his private reign of terror.
Even when in paddocks or – in extreme cases – in  pens, all have ample opportunity to get outside, roam around, interact with others and live in a way that is totally unknown to livestock and poultry housed in Confined Animal Feeding Operations. The latter, known as CAFO in the business, are essentially concentration camps for animals and birds characterized by short, brutish lives sustained by massive doses of drugs and highly restricted spaces. Workers in such units typically wear hazmat suits for protection from the stench of manure and dead animals. This, in case you didn’t realize it, is the origin of the overwhelming bulk of that nicely packaged meat in the supermarket.

Here at Valhalla we approach life differently. When opportunity presents itself we harvest wild game such as deer, feral hogs, and fish. We rely on our own poultry and livestock for basic meat. We milk the goats (and the sheep in the future) and get raw cow’s milk from a neighbor. As the Valhalla Project expands we will add pigs, a milk cow, and cattle. By treating our livestock in such as way as to enhance their lives we also enhance our own by knowing that the meat we consume and the plants we eat are free from artificial enhancements and potentially harmful drugs like antibiotics and growth hormones.

A recent butchering day (August 2014) at the
Valhalla Project. Veteran participants can
elect to opt-out if they are not comfortable
with the finer points of what it really takes to
bring wholesome, drug-free, free-ranging
grass-fed meat to the supper table. That said,
most Valhallans want to learn and experience
all phases of what it is like to raise, care for,
and also humanely dispatch the birds
and animals that provide humans with
essential nutrition and indeed life itself,
one way or another.
To echo what many have said who farm and butcher, the best farmers take every possible step to ensure that the last moments of an animal's life are as stress-free and painless as possible. 

So, yes, periodically we harvest birds and animals from Valhalla’s flocks and herds for sustenance. Butchering is done in as quick and humane a manner as possible with minimum stress on the bird or animal. When combat veterans and war zone contractors – Valhallans – are here during a butchering day, most of them elect to participate (although opting out is always an option) . Generally we set up stations from collection through killing, butchering, and eventually cooking or vacuum-bagging for the freezer.

Odd as it may seem for those who haven’t been exposed to a homesteading environment, the flocks themselves will almost always select exactly who needs to “go away” – i.e., they will definitely issue reports about any bird or animal that has become overly aggressive and dangerous.   Note that minor personality-driven fights between farm animals are completely natural and to be expected (after all, they’re not robots). It is a fact that blood will be drawn by force and injuries will occur. However, every once in a while, a particularly foul-tempered violent personality will emerge. The culprit might be friendly enough to humans, but their farmyard victims will eventually come forward with a clear message: “We can’t take this anymore, he (or she) is really beating us up all the time and it hurts… so please kill that one and have a nice dinner while saving the rest of us from being tortured!”  

We initially ignored the first official warning issued by the turkey hens about a Tom named M-4 last year. He was friendly enough to us, but the hens started making a big deal about cowering in his presence and even running to hide behind us. We chalked it up to ordinary pecking order politics. One of the reporting hens, a wonderful little black and white turkey named Penguin, very suddenly disappeared and was never seen again… we assumed a predator managed to kill her while she was walking outside the fence line. Unfortunately, just two days after Penguin disappeared, we found her two sisters physically shredded but still alive – and at that moment BlineGai ran up to us screaming in horror with M-4 hot on her heels. The situation became crystal clear: M-4 was in fact very friendly to humans, but at the same time truly lethal to all other birds. It was a terrible, terrible thing to have to put the two mutilated turkey hens out of their misery since they were in agony and couldn’t be saved.

Tiny M-4 the turkey Tom (second from the left) just two days
after he hatched, pictured with his sisters. M-4 was half the
size of the other turkey poults and so weak that we finally
had to rip open his egg shell to help him hatch. We had no
idea that this terribly cute, fluffy, tiny runt would eventually
grow, grow, and grow to become a deadly monster. He
later chased Penguin off first (far left, who was never seen
alive again) and then mortally wounded his remaining 
sisters before going on to attack other turkeys outside his
immediate family. The question of "Who's for dinner?"
at the Valhalla Project was resolved, without any guilt,
when M-4 was served up with orange peels, ginger, soy
sauce, and various crispy vegetables over rice as the
surviving poultry outside sighed with relief.
The very next day we happily ate M-4 for dinner, and the revenge of the terrorized turkey hens who lived to see that kind of justice turned out to be the best kind of gravy. We felt guilty all right… but only because we hadn’t acted upon what the turkey hens had very clearly explained several days before. It had taken three very unnecessary, painful deaths of obviously desperate yet innocent turkey hens before we finally got the message that M-4 seriously had to go ASAP. It was a hard lesson learned.

Since then we have listened at lot better to the birds and animals on the property, and let them point out who Valhallans should enjoy at the supper table next. Roger the Freedom Ranger rooster actually had the nerve to not only attack both chickens and ducks but also even humans, yet he was so massively beautiful that instead of doing the inevitable we locked him up in a special 8x8’ square isolation unit (with plenty of room with a roost and various enrichment toys to play with, many other birds constantly visiting with him throughout the day with only a thin protective veil of poultry wire between them, plus a picturesque panoramic view of a large pond) for several months by himself. We’d hoped that Roger would eventually have a change of attitude. Yet in the end the extra effort was of no use: he was just as mean as ever after months, and while he never knew what hit him in the end, enjoying Roger with mashed potatoes and carrots on the side was a lot less cruel that leaving him locked up (even in a luxury suite) forever.

It has taken a couple of years to learn that roughly about 10% of the farm animal and domesticated bird populations here at the Valhalla Property will be identified as food not by us humans, but by their own flocks. When we eat one of our birds or animals for dinner here, it is almost always with the satisfaction that we gave not just best care but also comfort to the remaining animals and birds who identified a threat to themselves.The core philosophy here is “no aggressive animals” and as a consequence they self-select and are removed. The overall objective of Valhalla Project is to demonstrate what a self-sustaining, healthy homestead with domesticated birds, farm animals, and transitioning combat veterans who need both a break in addition to a dose of civilian oriented realities looks like. Valhallans have the opportunity to learn by doing, experiencing, and contributing to their own personal health and happiness -- while building the Valhalla Project up for their veteran comrades who will follow in the future.

* * *
The Valhalla Project needs your help and support
We need YOUR help to keep Valhalla functioning efficiently - while at the same time expanding vitally important programs to assist post-9/11 combat veterans and war zone civilian workers to transition back into the civilian world. 

The Valhalla Project is a 501(c)3 nonprofit charity recognized by the IRS.
Nobody, including cadre or board members, draws a paycheck here, nor will they ever: 
we simply give everything we have to make Valhalla possible. 

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