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How to desensitize myself to be able to kill and process an animal

Hi everyone. I am hoping I can get some advice from you all on how to get over the squeamishness I have about killing an animal. 

I know, I know, I can already hear the comments coming of where do you think your food comes from at the store. That’s why I want to try and overcome this and be okay with having to kill and eat an animal if I needed to.

A friend invited me to go fishing with him and I had just seen that The Prepared had put out an article on survival fishing. I read over it and watched the YouTube videos and it just got me all squeamish, uncomfortable, and sad to see the once alive fish end it’s life and be cut open and processed like that. I am a big animal lover and enjoy just watching them live their lives and being happy so I bet watching a video or even in person the killing of something like a rabbit or a deer would be even harder on me. 

I have read from others that being respectful of the animal’s life is an important step to feel alright about killing it, and using every piece that you can. Do I just need to go out and do it?

-Tim

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  • Comments (27)

    • 5

      I can assure you 100% that in a disaster / crisis that as soon as you get hungry enough you will have no qualms about, killing, skinning and gutting any critters.

      I used to take military cadets aged 13 to 18 on survival and navigation training exercises, on day one approximately 80% retched or barfed and being given dead chickens and rabbits to prepare. But by the end of the week hunger overcame their phobias, they would sit in a circle plucking chicken and telling chicken jokes.

      Many would not eat UNIVERSAL STEW  at the start of training ( Every type of veg and every type of white meat we could find, Rabbit, Squirrel, Chicken, Pigeon etc) whacked into a cooking pot with water, jelatine and salt, but by the end we inevitably could not make enough to fill those youngsters tummies. They would eat anything when they got hungry enough.

      The sin in a survival situation is wasting food, so dont kill anything unless you will eat it.

      • 1

        I would have loved to do some military cadet training. Going through a shared experience with others in the same boat would have expedited my qualms over processing an animal. There’s something about being brave in front of a group and not wanting to be that squeamish person still towards the end of training when everyone else is getting over it.

        -Tim

    • 4

      Hola Pizza Ninja!

      Speaking as someone who was in your same squeamish boat not too long ago I find that getting used to performing ‘survival actions’ is much like anything else: practice may make perfect, but preparedness makes it possible.  

      In this context, I refer to ‘preparedness’ in a mental sense. You must come to grips with rationalizing what you do, effectively making a vow to yourself and the creature you’ve put to rest.

      Think of it like a kind of ‘cognitive rosary’: 

      1. “I do not do this for pleasure.”
      2. “I do not waste any more parts than are necessary.”
      3. “I do not inflict more pain than is necessary.”

      Repeat this in your mind as you go about the task (and obviously stick to the vow) and soon (at least in my case), it becomes a chore like any other, done for the sake of survival in the face of nature, red in tooth and claw.

      • 3

        Hola Bongohead!

        And thank you for your ‘cognitive rosary’, that is a very helpful thing to visualize and repeat as a mantra. I certainly won’t ever kill for pleasure, I will do my best to use any and all parts, and it would affect me if I caused the animal more pain than necessary. So it can be something that I can overcome and practice.

        -Tim

    • 4

      Hi Tim

      I don,t know if this will help but a few years ago I watched a TV program that showed a woman who is a vegetarian but her husband and children where not, she wanted them to eat good quality meat so she did all her own raising slaughter cutting cleaning and cooking  of her own animals  sometimes on her own sometimes with friends . she said it was a big step for her but she loves her family .

      hope this helps

      John

    • 3

      You read my mind!  We are currently overrun with tree squirrels (and inedible ground squirrels), and rabbits.  This is thanks to three useless walnut trees and too much cover (blackberry thickets).  The walnuts are coming out in a couple of weeks and the blackberry thicket will be eliminated (it’s in the garden yard).  In the meantime I have been trying to get up the nerve to harvest some of these varmints.  Husband declares he won’t eat them, but I’d certainly try them.

      But I can’t get up the nerve to catch and kill them.  I can do chickens all day long.  And I’m a bit savage with the ground squirrels. I’d be willing to shoot the tree squirrels (they’re not real big) and rabbits but there are too many residences nearby.  So it’s learning how to trap or snare, then boom.

      We’ve raised livestock and had the mobile slaughter guy “do” the animals.  My selectivity in what animal I can and can’t “do” is nonsense.  But it’s a hurdle to get over.

      • 1

        That is very interesting that you are fine with chickens but not some other animals. Makes sense though if you think about it. Squirrels and other rodents are cuter and fluffier giving us the impression and feeling of not wanting to kill something like that. 

        Bugs, fish, or chickens would be much easier for me than killing a fuzzy rabbit.

        -Tim

      • 3

        Well, it’s like everyone has said, you just have to do it .  Those of us who aren’t natural hunters have to develop a tolerance and it isn’t something you can psyche yourself into and expect to have a “skill” when it’s needed. (I’ve been watching YouTube videos on trapping squirrels today!)  Killing chickens did not come naturally to me, I had to force myself, and I still don’t like it.  Once the creature has passed, though, I don’t grieve it, and the task of dressing the animal is little more than food preparation to me.  I do always offer an unspoken thank you to the bird.

        We’ve opted out of fishing as a retirement hobby as I dislike the taste of fish (except catfish) and I am so dazzled by the beauty of fish that I can’t kill them “for practice”.  Fishing wouldn’t be a survival option for us anyway.

        I decided I was going to range-raise chickens many years ago, and started out with a modest (not!) 50 chicks.  I was committed. Now these birds were commercial hybrids that will drop dead on you if you let them go past eight weeks.  Basically, butchering them is a mercy killing.  I tried to view it as the chickens being like annual vegetables.  You have a very small window to harvest before they perish on the vine.  This didn’t make it much easier to strike the blow, but it was a place to start with becoming hardened to harvesting protein.

        Maybe you could find someone out in the country who raises meat chickens on a small scale, that would like some help at butchering time. You’d have coaching, be in a controlled environment, and maybe you could buy one of the chickens you processed and make yourself cook and eat it.  Put an ad in the farm and garden section of Craigslist or other publication.

      • 2

        That’s what I’m thinking of doing, asking around and watching a couple times from someone. I do want to jump in, but if I don’t know how to do it, I’m afraid I won’t be able to keep to the advice of Bongohead and use all the parts properly or prevent suffering. But with a teacher, I’m sure I’ll get over it and know what I’m doing. 

        Thank you Dogpatch.

        -Tim

      • 1

        That sounds like a good plan Tim. Many things we do in life are more successful more quickly with the help of a teacher. Hey, soon you may be teaching others how to process animals.

    • 3

      Good evening Pizza Ninja / Tim,

      The fundamentals are already clearly presented above.

      What you’re dealing with is called a “learned behavor”.  Consider going out a couple more time on fishing trips for exposure purposes. There is a skill in preparing fish. Decisions must be made to meet the objective. 

      The drone-ordered pizza, half bat, half pangolin, won’t be delivered.

      Yes, you “need to go out and do it”. If after a few tries and still completely uncomfortable, then start thinking about maritime botany.

    • 4

      Yep, just go do it and keep doing it until you get used to it. I was a bit squeamish when I started killing chickens, but I look at it this way: if I didn’t kill them, they’d die of natural causes and go to waste, or another animal would tear them apart. I just processed two meat chickens this weekend and at this point, it’s pretty routine.

      • 1

        I’ve read your blog post about the chicken killing cone and respect the respect and honor you had for them. 

    • 4

      I would definitely work with someone who will be patient with you as you work through this.  It’s similar to overcoming seasickness, as you have to be on the boat and GO through it in order to GET through it.

      You may want to start with separating the killing from the processing.  For example, you may want to go hunting or fishing first and get through the killing part.  Then introduce yourself to the processing part.  I hunted ducks for many years when I was younger.  The focus was on getting the ducks.  Then we had to travel back home where the animals were processed.  By then they were already dead, so there was not much else that we could do with them.

    • 3

      I agree with most of the advice above – that hunger is a great motivator, that it’ll be easier when you tell yourself that you’re not wasting anything, etc.  I don’t doubt that when it comes down to starving or killing an animal to eat it, almost everyone has it in them to kill their food (whether or not they’re any good at it is a much different question).

      However, I do want to push back, gently – on the premise of your question.  I’d urge you *not* to seek desensitization.  As you rightly note, you’re taking an actual life, and that should always be meaningful.   

      Good luck.

      • 1

        That is good advice to go into the hunt or fishing excursion hungry. When I haven’t eaten for 24 hours during a fasting period (like to do these every so often) I can then eat some pretty bland and tasteless food and it tastes like a gourmet meal!

    • 4

      I have killed animals I have raised by hand. I apologise to them before I killed them. I view it from the perspective of “They have a very good life and one bad day”. I do not enjoy killing animals but I view  it as a part of life. For me, the important thing is to make sure that it is done quickly and humanely. The reality is that if they were wild animals they would be preyed upon anyway. Do research on the best way to kill each animal you are likely to deal with. If you have an idea on what/how you are going to do it. Prepare for things to go wrong. The first time I killed a chicken using the broomstick method, I yanked too hard and the body separated and I got such a fright I dropped the chicken and it then chased me around the yard (literally as, although I am fully aware it is muscle/nerve reaction, it uncannily did manage to follow me). Chose a location that is easy to clean, or underneath a tree that will benefit if you bleed the animal out.

      Tip: I gave found that nurses scissors are really good for getting and trim chickens.

      https://www.madees.com.au/product/humane-poultry-dispatcher/If you are mainly looking at smaller animals, then something like this might help

      • 1

        Thank you for your comment. It’s either another animal eating them or me, so it might as well be me.

        -Tim

    • 3

      Among people who are animal lovers and just wince at the thought, something I’ve seen help is focusing on the bigger picture of life and ecosystems. Kind of like applying Stoicism to biology. Instead of focusing on the one bunny or fish you’re wincing about, think instead about the bigger cycle of life, how those nutrients are just being recycled again and again (including through you!), how it’s natural, etc. Make sense?

      • 1

        That is helpful and is another way to think about it that I hadn’t before.

        -Tim

    • 3

      Lots of good advice here. One thing I suggest is finding a mentor to help you through your first time or two. While not exactly brain surgery, there are lots of different ways to approach the task. Another suggestion is to start small and develop your skills. A good place to start might be buying a whole, cleaned chicken and then learn how to cut it up. That will help you a lot.

      • 1

        That’s how I got started. Costco’s $5 rotisserie chicken. Sticking your hands in that to clean it off and extract all the meat gives you a rough starting place without seeing blood or other things that might make you squeamish.

    • 2

      wouldn’t use the word “squeamish” – but if someone has no feeling what-so-ever about killing and then processing it into food >> I’d be more than a bit worried about them – makings of a psycho killer there …

      can’t really help you with facing what needs to be done for getting meat protein – grew up around it and dealing with it early on – but it’s 100% mindset ..

      unfortunately – hunting & butchering animals will be almost nothing compared to the horrific & mind boggling events we might be faced with dealing a severe SHTF blow – it’s definitely something we all need to accept and prepare ourselves as much as possible – it will probably separate the survivors from the fallen ….

      • 1

        Did you grow up in a hunting family? What were some of your first memories with killing and processing an animal?

      • 2

        I grew up in a hunting family.  In fact, in a hunting and stockyards and processing plant family.  Perfectly capable of field dressing and (somewhat competently) butchering a deer, and will never (again) forget to pick the shot out of the quail (ouch).  Will never understand why anyone would eat rabbit or squirrel unless they were starving.  Also vegetarian in part b/c of this experience.  I don’t have a goal of getting people to stop eating meat, but I sure would like everyone who does eat meat to at least once kill and process an animal.

    • 3

      Another point I’ll add: animals like rabbits and chickens are prey animals. They’re basically a walking grocery store for predators. Left on their own, they die in one of two ways:

      1. They just spontaneously die and go to waste (except as compost)
      2. They’re eaten alive and/or torn apart and eaten alive

      I’ve seen what a raccoon does to a chicken and it ain’t pretty. If I had the choice between a quick beheading or being ripped from stem to stern, I’d take the former any day.

    • 3

      Hey Mr. Pizza. I found a good video on YouTube about a very humane and better way to kill and process a fish.

      The current method that most commercial fisherman implement is the suffocation method where fish stresses and fights for hours while they slowly suffocate. This floods the body with stress and adrenaline hormones that taint the meat and make it go bad more quickly. This Japanese method called ikejime provides a humane way and also prevents that fishy taste, which is the stress throughout the body.