Harsh Realities

Often I am struck by how idyllic the picture out my kitchen window is each day. Goats foraging in the fields, stray chickens running back and forth, farmer’s fields beyond our pasture–a picturesque landscape framed in a halo of soft yellow light. Often the stories I share with my readers here attempt to capture those beautiful snapshots. This is not such a story. Before you read on, I warn you that there are somewhat graphic photos below, and that this story brings to light some of the harsher realities of raising livestock. If you would prefer to remain in the dark about these harsher realities, I completely understand and urge you not to continue.

In case you haven’t yet discovered this from previous posts, husband and I have gained a passion for eating as close to home as possible. For husband, I think this stems from a love of projects and a deep love for creation. His desire to live out creation care is part of his ministry as a youth pastor and I am inspired by how he frames his need to work with his hands around this love of the earth. I also appreciate that the fruits of his labor often end up on my kitchen table. For myself, I first became interested in the “locavore” movement through one of my college professors. As husband’s projects have gotten more elaborate, and local products have become more and more available in our area, that college interest has grown into a bit of an obsession with becoming a part of the movement to the best of my ability.

That obsession is what took me out to, “The Killing Field” early this afternoon. For five hours, I stood with husband and our extremely generous farmer friend, slicing, plucking, and butchering 25 meat chickens to prepare for delivery to coworkers and friends who had purchased them in advance. The process is simple but painstaking–chickens are captured then carried to a metal cone where two main arteries in their necks are sliced with extremely sharp knives. I’m told (and have verified through numerous google searches) that this is one of the most humane ways to kill a chicken. Once the chicken has completed its death throes and is certifiably deceased, it is scalded in 145 degree water until the feathers come out with relative ease. From here, it is tumbled in a plucking machine, and then the remaining feathers are plucked by hand.  Once the bird is fully cleaned, the the feet, neck, and organs are removed. The bird is then placed in a water bath before going to an ice bath to await shrink wrapping for the freezer.

As I mentioned before, this isn’t a pretty process. It’s uncomfortable, unpleasant, and, in my case, emotionally painful. So why do we do it? Why did I stand out in a field and cry as husband killed the final two of our chickens? Why did I spend my Sunday holding chickens’ feet as their life drained away? Why did we even involve ourselves in the food chain before it got to our kitchen table; why not just go to the grocery store?

To put it simply: I like knowing exactly how each chicken lived before it died. I like knowing that they all had ample water, that they ate bugs from our yard, fallen apples from our tree, leftover tomatoes from our gardens and quality grain from our local feed store. I like that I know that they were able to lay in the sun, that they got to choose when they wanted to be inside or out, and that some of the braver ones would sometimes roost in the bushes near their shed. I appreciate knowing that each one suffered as little as possible as it died, and I appreciate the fact that the hands that killed each chicken were as respectful and as tender as they could be under the circumstances.

I also appreciated having a little friend enjoy the process far more than any of the humans around her.

I could keep writing about this process and why we do it, but at this point I’m not sure what more (or less) people would like to know. The first time I went out to the field, husband was pretty unhappy with me for asking too many questions when he was already feeling queasy. We are done with chickens for several months; now is the appropriate time for questions. So, for those of you who managed to make it through this less-than-pleasant post, do you have any questions? If you had been standing out in the field with me, what questions would you have been asking? I’d love to hear them all, and I promise to appreciate your curiosity.