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May 1, 2011 5:59 pm

Free Range Shechita – An Eye Opening Experience

avatar by Rachel Soussan

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Having grown up as the daughter of an Army Rabbi, my childhood was spent in three different countries, often in places where orthodox Jewish communities where small or absent and where kosher food was scarce. During our time in Germany, my family switched to being vegetarian out of sheer neccessity. My mother, who has always been an advocate for healthy eating as well as buying ‘ethical food’ was careful to provide our household with free range eggs and organic fruits and vegetables, as well as fair trade products. During my father’s last assignment in Leeds, U.K. she surprised us with a dozen chickens which became our sole source of eggs and we began planting our own produce as much as the weather in England would allow.  I discovered later that my parents had discussed the matter of getting chickens for months, having doubts regarding the work it involved as well as how the neighbors would respond. It turned out to be the easiest thing in the world, and we’ve never looked back. It has been almost half a year since we have bought eggs from a store. When we moved to Columbia, South Carolina last summer we decided, as a family, that we would try to be self sustaining as much as our small garden in American suburbia would allow. We began exploring where the food that we bought was actually coming from.

Unfortunately, kashrut is only determined by how an animal dies, not how it lives. Particularly chickens are often kept in horrendous contiditions, raised in battery farms to minimize cost and maximize profit. They are fed high protein nourishment, containing antibiotics to avoid the spread of disease and live overcrouded enclosements. All battery farms have light timers, allowing the chickens only three to four hours of rest. Their lives are stressful and short.

Battery Chicken Farm

As previously mentioned, due to the nature of my father’s job, my education was largely secular and it was not uncommon for my classmates to tell me that I was the first Jewish person they had ever met. Most were interested and naturally, the issue of kashrut came up. I realized that there is a strong stigma attatched with slaughtering and the idea of cutting the throat of the animal and then letting it ‘bleed out’. The most common question was, “Doesn’t the animal suffer?” Naturally I defended kashrut, but with no real personal experience from which to relate.

This Passover, my grandparents joined us from Germany and since we had recently made the choice to stop buying chicken completely, my parents asked my grandfather to bring his knives for slaughtering. My mother contacted a free range farm and she and my grandfather drove out to bring home two turkeys for our Passover meal.  Having never witnessed the act of slaughtering, I decided to go along and see for myself what it involves.

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My Grandfather Performing Shechita on a Free Range farm in Monetta, SC.

I can only describe the experience as peaceful and truly spiritual. The birds carried from their large outdoor enclosement to the sink. The wings were then folded over each other to ensure that the turkey remained completely still during the ritual slaughtering. My grandfather held back the neck and with a few slick movements the throat was slit. It was neither grusome nor barbaric but rather calm and natural.

There are many laws surrounding kashrut to ensure the least amount of sufferring possible for the animal, one of them being that the knife must be razor sharp. Any nicks in the knife would render the animal unkosher. Furthermore, it is forbidden to slaughter one animal in front of another.

I not only saw how the animal died, but also how it lived. The benefits of eating free range poultry are undeniable. Eggs of free range chickens show up to fifty percent less cholesterol than battery farm chickens. Because their food is not supplemented with antibiotics and growth hormones, there is no risk of building up antibiotic resistance which is a growing problem in the Western World. Scientists are simply running out of viable antibacterial and antiviral drugs because our food is so overloaded with them. Most importantly, free range chickens essentially live happy lives.

Unfortunately in our modern day consumerist society, we have lost touch with where our food actually comes from.  Witnessing the turkey from the time that it lived in its pen to the time it was served as Shnitzel on our dinner table made me appreciate what I was eating more than anything I had ever eaten before.

I feel enriched by my experience of witnessing the act of kosher slaughtering and strengthened in my position to defend it as the most humane method of obtaining meat. Having seen how easy it is to keep chickens as well as the possibility of simply driving out to a farm and having chickens slaughtered, I would never again eat any other type of meat.

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  • Lessand Pillion

    I am doing a project on battery farmed eggs at the moment… my family being vegetarian I was appalled at the way poor innocent animals are treated. This link… http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/09/01/chicks-being-ground-up-al_n_273652.html
    is possibly the most horrific thing I have EVER seen.

    Many people ‘would be a vegetarian but i love meat to much’, and many times I have been tempted by the yummy smell meat has to try it, but then I think of the animal that I am eating and what it was (a living thing). Personally I think of eating meat as cannibalism, as our bodies aren’t made to digest meat but I think the least you can do if you don’t want to give up meat is find out where your meat is coming from and make sure what you’re eating hasn’t suffered.

    Also what you could do is use free range eggs instead of battery farmed eggs or ‘cage eggs’. I encourage you to search up on battery farmed hens/chicks and see what they go through.

  • I feel like I’m often looking for interesting things to read about a variety of topics, but I manage to include your site among my reads every day because you have interesting entries that I look forward to. Here’s hoping there’s a lot more amazing material coming!

  • mari selvam

    i like poutry culture may i know procedure and culture method,,,

  • Rachel

    I’m not sure what you’re disputing. The antibiotic loaded food supplementation? The fact that the chickens only sleep for a few hours? The tiny living space? I advise you to visit the farm where your butcher buys from, or the farm where you get your eggs from. I used to think that surely if it’s kosher, the animals are treated differently. I have no doubt that if you manage to visit the farms, you will be very surprised.

  • Rachel Soussan candidly admits “due to the nature of my father’s job, my education was largely secular” but that does not really compensate for her erroneous suggestion that “Unfortunately, kashrut is only determined by how an animal dies, not how it lives”
    Kashrut or “kosherness” denotes the state of something – usually food – being fit or correct. Indeed the term has entered international common parlance: if “it’s Kosher” -everything is OK. And that is true even for animal welfare, where Judaism established the orinal laws protecting animals from pain and abuse.
    Without writing a corrective essay, let me be specific about Rachel’s particular concern and advise her that the laws of food kashrut themselves impinge on how poultry is reared because the birds have to be healthy in order to be brought to slaughter. Jews are only allowed to kill animals for food, by the most humane method of Shechita; shooting and blood sports are forbidden as is the killing of animals not intended for food (unless presenting a clear and present danger to humans).
    So where is Rachel in error with her birds? Battery farming and cage-rearing produce unhealthy poultry which is simply unfit to be kosher. Such conditions do not allow for the development of healthy legs and leg-tendons, and as a single snapped tendon renders a bird unkosher (never mind a broken or dislocated bone) it is abundantly evident that the Jewish dietary laws – the laws of Kashrut – themselves provide for the conditions of good animal husbandry that are spelled-out in the laws of animal welfare for their lives as well as for their humane despatch.

    I trust the author will now be doubly assured, and with new-found knowledge of Jewish ethical law, have a care as to how she now copes with the poultry farmers’ problems of male chicks!

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