I’ve tried three times in my life to be a vegetarian. The longest I ever made it without eating meat was about 9 months. One day, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I went to a local burger joint and scarfed a giant cheeseburger. It was so good, and though I felt quite guilty, I decided that this would be the last time I tried to be a vegetarian. I’m just a darn omnivore, I suppose.
The reason I wanted to become a vegetarian is pretty simple: I love animals and didn’t want to eat them. Even now, ten years after my last attempt at becoming a vegetarian, part of me doesn’t want to eat animals, and that’s making this weekend an extra difficult one for this wannabe chicken farmer.
Earlier this summer, my husband and I purchased some broiler chickens as a part of our efforts to become more self-sufficient and frugal. We didn’t purchase the Cornish Cross chickens because they seem to have a lot of problems related to growing too quickly. We wanted a bird that could get around and have a good life—right up until his or her “one bad day.”
So we purchased some Freedom Ranger chicks and have had good luck. They take longer to develop than the Cornish Crosses, so they are not as much of a cost-saver. However, according to some experts, the meat tastes better because they can live a natural chicken life. We’ve not lost any birds to health issues or predators, and, well, unless something happens today, we’ll have had success in raising them.
Tomorrow is their “one bad day.”
My husband and I picked up this expression after watching a Michael Pollan documentary. In the film, a pig farmer discussed her struggles killing her pigs that she has cared for so much. She admitted to having a hard time, but she focused on making the pigs’ lives really good ones so that they just had “one bad day,” the day of their deaths.
This seemed profound to me, and my husband and I have made this our focus. We have worked to make sure they have had good lives.
The birds we have are pretty tame and curious and busy, and they also learned quickly how to get what they want from me and my husband, especially my husband.
As an aside, in an effort to protect me, my husband has done most of the raising of the broilers. I mostly handle the layers; they get to be my babies. And my husband mostly handles the birds for meat.
So my husband, who is definitely a believer in the good life until the “one bad day,” has taken those chickens more scones than I can count and has ensured they’re never without fresh food, water, and a clean place to live and play.
But, this weekend, the “one bad day” is upon us, and there’s definitely a tension in the air.
When we first decided we wanted to be hobby farmers, I did a lot of reading about farmers who love animals, eat meat, and struggle emotionally with the killing of their animals. It seems it’s quite common for the dread to creep in the days before “processing.” That’s where we are. Tomorrow is the day.
My husband says I don’t have to help, but I want to. First of all, it’s a lot of work, and this whole “self-sufficient farm thing” was my idea too. I don’t work outside the home as much as I used to, not nearly so much, so I do see the work on our hobby farm as my responsibility as well. But, second, it feels important to me. I feel like I should mourn those birds. I feel like I should have to know where my dinner is coming from and what the costs of it are.
I don’t know how much I’ll be able to write about it. I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to be the blogger who provides the step-by-step support for the process, as some helpful bloggers do—at least not for some time. But I hope to share what it feels like emotionally, and I do hope to be able to share some tips about things people can do to ensure a humane death for their chickens. We have done a lot of research. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow.
If nothing else, a goal I have for my writing is to help raise awareness about our food we eat. It’s way too easy not to think about where our food comes from. I think we should have to think about it, at least some. I think we should give thanks to the animals.
And we’ll see how I do with this. This time next week, I may be on another quest to become a vegetarian. I really hope not.
One day last week, a little girl from our neighborhood was at our house playing with our youngest son when she saw the coop for the broilers and asked why it was smaller. “How will they have room to lay eggs?” she asked. I told her that these birds would never lay eggs, that they were for meat. I worried about how she might take it.
“It’s a little sad, yes?” I asked her.
“It is,” she said, “but at least you’ll have food.”
2 thoughts on “On the One Bad Day: Processing Chickens”
I can understand how you are feeling and how difficult of a time it is so I want to thank you for sharing your feelings about that day for the meat birds. We have layers whom have quickly captured the hearts of the family members and eventually that time will come for ours.
We have spent hours researching the “best” way to do it and how; the way for us to not do it wrong and the birds not to suffer, to be as painless as possible, to be away from the other animals etc. As emotional a time it will be, I know that concern for the animal will take over to get it done swiftly.
It’s ok if you get to the point and realize that you can’t do it and you need someone else who can, not all of us are cut out for it.
Without death of an animal, there would be no meat and the best thing we can do is use everything possible given by the animals we have raised to honour the animals that made the ultimate sacrifice so we can eat and be sustained.
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Oh, thank you so much for this kind message! It was definitely a tough day, and there was a lot of crying on my part. But my husband was a hero that day. I had the “easy” side of things where I would do the final stages of cleaning and feather picking, but I just needed to see the whole process from start to finish. I watched my husband out the window and saw him go get a bird, hold her in his arms, talk to her for a good bit, and then turn her upside down. She passed out the the killing was very, very quick, much quicker than I thought it would be, and I was thankful. We are now thankful for the food, and we say a little prayer to thank the bird every time we eat a chicken for dinner.
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