This task has been hanging over us for some time now. We knew when we bought these chicks from Andrew and Kira back in June that we would be putting the roosters in our freezer. They had a happy and natural life in every way. They free ranged by day and roosted in a large coop by night. Aside from the odd game of harmless chase with the children and dogs, they were free to be chickens. Because they had lots of space they very rarely even picked fights with each other. It really was a good life punctuated with a not so great final 30 seconds.
Andrew and Kira had offered to show us (by that I mean Mike) the process they use. They arrived early, we chatted, sipped coffee while the kids played on the ice and followed our tame outdoor rabbit Sugarfoot, and then proceeded to get ready. I thought I would stay away entirely, but decided at the last minute to watch the process. It ended up being Kira doing the task and the teaching. There is something comforting to me about a woman doing the job. She is a calm and gentle soul and it gave me an even deeper sense of peace with the whole process. Once the ball was rolling, the task went quickly and Mike told me later that Kira makes for wonderful teacher.
Poppy was a bit confused, but we took turns explaining what was happening in the simplest terms possible. She seemed to understand to some extent and innocently said to me “No, you can’t eat animals, that’s yucky”. Silas took that time to have a complete melt down so I took our kids inside for a snack where we checked on things from the window from time to time.
I was relieved when it was all over and now that we have 7 chickens in our freezer neither of us have an appetite for chicken. I remember my dad telling me about my Gramma not being able to eat her chickens for quite some time after processing them herself. I guess we just feel it proper to give it a window of grace. A moment of quiet gratitude. A moment to process our own emotions. A moment to allow it to cross some arbitrary threshold where it becomes meat rather than a living, breathing creature that once grazed on our land. Mike was a bit quiet and reserved for the remainder of the day, perhaps processing his first experience with killing something himself.
My issue is not in this method of raising and killing animals ourselves, but more with the bigger question of if I should be eating meat at all. I came to the realization that if I am to eat meat, I am responsible for the death of an animal regardless of whose hands do the deed. To send them away or to buy from the conventional market simply makes it easier for me to continue with the easy disconnect. That being said, if it were left to me and me alone, I would not eat meat again and wouldn’t find it to be a grave hardship. I have always struggled with eating meat on a personal level and this practice has brought me face to face with that issue; just as having a responsible, respectful organic beef farmer for a father and a responsible, respectful hunter for a step father has done throughout my entire life. I believe that chickens and other animals are capable of forming bonds and “friendships”; they know the primal sense of pleasure of warming themselves in the sun; they break off into their own groups and have roosting buddies; comforting bonds if you will. It may be on a primal level, but just because they cannot contemplate these bonds and attachments, doesn’t mean they don’t occur.
The Hoff and the ladies laid low under the cedar tree for the remainder of the day. Usually Mike shuts the coop door each night, but that night I went out to say goodnight and thank you. The 4 Barred Rock ladies were sitting on one roost while the 5 Wyandottes sat on a much higher roost. The Hoff sat alone and alert on his own looking a little disoriented. He watched me cautiously as I talked in a soft voice. I told him I needed him to remain a gentleman and he curiously cocked his head and looked me in the eye. I hoped we had reached an understanding and so far he has held up his end of the bargain. I went out again a little later just to look in the window and he had snuggled right in with the older girls on their roost. I was glad for that.
This way of doing things isn’t for everyone, nor is it emotionally easy, but for us, it is right. When I think of how conventional meat ends up on the table the decision is easier. This was not something we took lightly. We are grateful for the meat, we are grateful for organic farming parents and friends who help and support us so fully along this path we are choosing.
go gently + be wonderful