I have given a lot of thought to whether to blog about this subject matter. It’s not that I don’t think it’s important, and it’s not that I think it should not be talked about. It’s just that I know that when it comes to controversial matters, there can be a lot of haters. I generally stick to writing funny stuff that’s non consequential and is, at worst, ignored.
There’s a lot of support and camaraderie amongst the online family bloggers and I feel very lucky to have been welcomed with open arms. However, in the wider social media world, there is also a lot of judgment. You will have struggled to miss the recent Facebook post by an unnamed first time mummy of two weeks who expresses her disgust at the laziness of modern parents as she has apparently had no trouble at all with a messy house, having time to shower and dress nicely etc.. Aside from the fact that she has a really nasty shock coming her way when her sleepy newborn actually wakes up and becomes mobile, this type of judgmental drivvle can do terrible damage to other struggling mummies, and can fuel things like post natal depression.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are some totally amazing mummies and daddies out there who despite there own very personal struggles with things like PND and cancer, join the discussion, blog publicly about their struggles, and give strength to more people than they will ever know.
I consider myself to be a middle of the road mummy. I am lucky enough to have a happy healthy family, and my struggles are no more than bog standard average ones. I shop in Sainsburys, work part time, do my best with homework, and go to mums and tots.
I also keep chickens as I like having them around. The children collect the eggs, clean the chickens out and feed them scraps. This helps teach responsibility, develops confidence in handling and caring for animals, and means they know all about eggs. We always thank the chickens when we collect the eggs, and we always eat or gift them.
We also grow vegetables and fruit. We are obviously no where near self sufficient, but again, the kids can identify the plants, know when the produce will be ripe, and collect and eat it.
The thing is, I am also a killer. You see, we have recently gone back to some of our pre-children hobbies including taking part in game shoots and deer stalking. Some of you will say, great, so what? Some others will be horrified, stop reading and immediately unfollow, and some will think it’s a bit grisly, but read on.
The rest of this article is really for the last category (the grisly read on people, thanks for reading on!). When I posted a picture of my family with some pheasant, woodcock and pigeon, it was met with a mixed response. Let’s just be clear. The kids are not at all adversely affected by the dead birds. They have all examined them (in quite some detail!), asked very sensible questions and want to know when we can have a roast pheasant dinner. They look a bit sulky in the photo just because we were making them stand still when really they wanted to continue fighting over who got to hold the pigeon and who got to hold the woodcock. The kids are no more upset about seeing these birds than they would be about seeing a chicken from Sainsburys, about which (just as naturally) they do not get upset at all.
The reason they do not get upset is that we walk in the countryside every weekend, and despite their tender years, they are very well educated about the interplay between the different aspects of the UK countryside and ecosystem. It’s actually really interesting, and it is only through volunteering as a beater for a number of years on family run shoots that I have come to fully understand the delicate balance. Pheasants were introduced into the UK for the sole purpose of providing game for shoots and to provide food. Sadly, pheasants are not very bright birds and are not really natural survivors. They lay their eggs wherever they like (middle of path frequented by small kids on bikes and scooters, next to a foxes den, in a ditch), then they generally walk off and forget about it. Walk through woodland in spring and chances are you will see their broken eggshells.
Shoot pheasants are hand reared from chicks by gamekeepers. Their welfare and achieving the best and healthiest birds is the gamekeepers’ aim. Think of it a bit like a pheasant 5* hotel (Heat lamps, food and water on tap, protected from predators, lovely outside runs). When they are able to fend for themselves, they are released into the beautiful UK countryside. There they are free to roam, fly, and live life to the full. There are feeders all over the place so they never go hungry, often supplemented by hand-feeding by the gamekeeper so that he can monitor their wellbeing every day. Game crops (maize ie. Corn on the cob) are left standing to allow the pheasants cover from predators. A side effect is that this co-incides with when roe deer have growing offspring (almost always twins here in the South), and the corn provides a reliable source of food for them and their babies when wild food supplies are beginning to dry up. Most wildlife on the estate benefits. Birds, deer and squirrels enjoy the pheasant food, owls benefit from well maintained woodland and a healthy supply of mice (who also eat the pheasant’s food). Essentially, nature, including the human, rely on each other.
The pheasants are only shot during a short season. The vast majority are killed instantly (trained dogs collect the small minority that are occasionally injured so that they can be humanely dispatched straight away). Unlike supermarket birds, they have lived a full, complete and natural life and their death is in their home environment, not hanging from a conveyor belt. The pheasants are not kept on the estate by force or fencing. They choose to stay there because they have such a great lifestyle. On even the most efficient shoots, only around 40% of the pheasants ever released are shot, the remainder often living many years and many spreading to land where there are no shoots. Every single bird is respected and valued, being taken home by the guns and beaters to feed their families, or sold to game dealers who sell them on, usually at local farmers markets or to local butchers. Most mainstream supermarkets sell pheasant and partridge. These birds are not farmed. They get to the supermarket through exactly this same process, but normally from larger estates.
I feel proud that my children are privileged enough to share in this process, and to really understand where their food comes from. Yes, I am teaching them that killing animals is ok, but guess what, we are omnivores, natural born killers. What I believe I am teaching my children is an absolute respect for the sanctity of life, and the fact that a life should only be taken where it is to provide food. None of these birds will be wasted. However I cook them, the meat will be eaten, and the carcasses will be used to make stock for soups which the kids will help to make. Unlike the supermarkets, who just bin unsold meat, none of this will go to waste. I guess that I am teaching my children the work and processes that are involved in creating food including eggs, vegetables, jams and meat. I am teaching them what goes on behind the scenes. I have heard a child recently tell her mummy that chicken comes from Sainsburys. I am glad that my kids know better.
PS don’t get me wrong, we also eat lots of sausages, pizza, fish and chips, Haribo, takeaway, wine….