Saturday, March 21, 2015

My First Kill

A few months ago I had a visitor.  At the sound of my barking dog I rushed out to see a pretty, blonde lady in a jeep.  She rolled down her window, "I'm looking for a lady with curly brown hair and lots of kids."  Probably me, I thought.

"Would you like a rooster?"

I laughed to myself.  I had just brooded a new batch of chickens and had two roosters in the new batch, plus had taken one from a friend.  I tried gently discouraging her:

"Well, we eat our extra roosters."

That didn't deter her. She said, "Well, it's almost time for Thanksgiving!"

I told her no thanks.

And then the crying began. "You see, he's RAPING my poor chickens!"  "It's just awful, and I can't bear to see it anymore."

I had to choke back a laugh. (Though in all honesty roosters are sometimes pretty violent when it comes to mating.)  I wished her luck, but felt a little frustrated.  People often get backyard chickens without first having a good exit strategy for roosters, which are inevitable at some point. What bothered me though was that while she didn't want to kill him, she was totally fine with some one else killing him.  My neighbor down the road would often end up with 'extra chickens'.  Always they were old hens no longer laying that people would dump over the fence into her chicken yard.

No one wants to get blood on their hands.

Those of us who blog often get some unfair criticism for too many pretty pictures and not enough real stuff. I debated weather or not to talk about this so publicly, and in the end, my husband was encouraging, so here's the real story.

It is a hard thing to slaughter your animals. And that's a good thing, since there's way too much of violence and killing, and sensitivity is a good thing to cultivate.  Please don't think that I'm judging anyone or thinking that everyone can or should kill their own meat before having the right to eat it!

The truth is that the proper management of a laying flock of chickens will mean sometimes culling birds. This often happens before you even purchase them, as male chicks are usually disposed of shortly after hatching.  All of you who are interested in raising chickens should take note of this great article before you dive in. It'll help you make a responsible decision.

I've never killed much more than a spider in my lifetime. I have even, fortunately, managed to miss out on the experience of accidental roadkill.

And of course, the chickens have been charming and fun.  They are delightful birds, all part of the romance of country living.

Until this week.

There's nothing romantic in the least about killing chickens.  But it was time:  In our case, three roosters mating on only 9 hens was stripping them of their head and back feathers and stressing them enough to affect their lay.

So far I'd been full of talk, but now I had to walk the walk.

Weird thing is, I decided to do the killing myself.  Hard to explain really, but I needed to answer a question, I needed to know something.

Could I really do this?

When I was a little girl I used to tag along with my brothers and my Dad fishing.  They used to say to me, "If you come, you'll have to help gut the fish, and it'll be really gross."  I assured them I was cool with that, and I'd get to go along.

Thing is, once I'd get on the boat, they'd do it all for me.  Bait the line, stick the worm on the hook, and take the fish up away from me to clean it.  They babied me. And I admit I was happy to let them. I feel like I missed out on something though. It made me feel less capable.

Well, I put myself to the test this week.

Let me assure you, killing chickens IS gross, and there are guts, and I didn't enjoy it. I wasn't a wimp, but I had respect for those creatures and it was hard.

While I did most of the work myself, the killing, the plucking, the gutting, there were times I needed extra hands, and my husband was by my side supporting me without taking over or 'rescuing' me.  I am so thankful for that. I couldn't have done this without him, especially his humor, which broke the tension for me.

I botched up the first job, and will spare the details here, but luckily the first rooster was calm and seemed to understand that I was trying my best.  These creatures that I have nurtured and cared for, grown, let my kids name and hold, and marveled at, well I caused their death.  I read somewhere in one of my books that taking an animal life can be a sacred act.  I don't feel any guilt, and I could philosophize on that, but let's just say that any life meeting it's end, it's just sad.

It took courage.

My feelings are mixed afterward.  Might take awhile before I can eat those two birds. But seeing them in the freezer, I have that same feeling of gratitude and plenty that I get after I've canned some tomatoes or jam and it's all lined up on the counter-top. Or when I've come home from the grocery store after a busy day of planning, and I know I have what I need to feed my family in the fridge and pantry.  In the end it's food that I am grateful for and it's in my freezer because of my hard work and care.

Last week when we knew this had to be done, and one of my kids was struggling with it, we decided to institute Meatless Mondays.

Well after today, I can say that I think Meatless Mondays are here to stay.