Some people might be surprised at how easily we’ve adapted to country life. I can safely say nothing (that I have come across to date) grosses me out anymore. I’ve stepped in poop. Not like stepping in poop left by the dog on the carpet in the middle of the night, mind you. I’m talking about gooey, slushy chicken shit squishing under my boots, and not just once, but every day at least twice. I live with bugs, a LOT of bugs. Our home plays host to a slew of ladybugs and box elder beetles during the winter. The housefly population increases dramatically when the cows have been gone all summer and they have nothing to compost outside, and the daddy long legged spiders keep their place in the corners of the ceiling, making sure those populations don’t get too out of control. And today, as I completed my transformation to all-out, no-going-back- (yet-still-fashionable)- country-girl, I saw a live chicken squirm under the knife that decapitated him, and I was the one holding it.
I had a lot of mixed feelings during the 8 weeks I raised chickens for slaughter. We decided from the start there would be no names for these chickens. I fed and watered them, changed their bedding (2 times a day at the beginning when they were small), and watched them grow. About 5 weeks in I started to really KNOW chickens. They are very simple. They eat, and they shit. And they shit where they eat. And they shit where they sleep. They shit in their food, and they shit in their water. And they obviously eat some of their shit. I told Chris at about that time, I didn’t know if I could eat these chicks. He told me not to let my emotions get in the way of the purpose…6 fat chickens in our freezer. But it had nothing to do with my emotions. I was disgusted by these filthy animals. I didn’t know if I would ever want to eat ANY chickens again after seeing how foul they are while they’re alive.
I also had to keep wondering, is how I am raising these guys any better that what I buy in the grocery store? For the first 5-6 weeks they are growing at lightning speed, but don’t have enough feathers to stay warm out of a temperature controlled environment. This meant we basically had to keep them caged for over half their life, just so they could survive. When they were able to move out of the incubated area of the coop, we had to section off a small area toward the back of the coop to keep them (and their high protein food) separate from the 30+laying hens and roosters in our other flock. As they continued to grow, it seemed as if they would soon be falling on top of each other in that area. They had an opening to a small pen where they could be separate and go outside during the day, but even that wouldn’t qualify as “free-roaming” in my mind. I was seriously in doubt if the time, effort, energy, and money we were expending to have them as a food source was even worth it.
As time went on, I learned a lot more about chickens. They really don’t require a lot of space. They might be sleeping on top of each other, but they do that anyways, regardless of how much space they have. And the fact that they could be outside at all, seemed like a novelty as I spoke to others who were raising meat birds. I felt better. And then the day came.
I am so grateful for a neighbor who has seen us through this entire process and provided advice and education on raising meat birds and help with the processing. The night before the “deed” was done I read a book about butchering that was very similar to my college culinary studies. I felt pretty confident that I wouldn’t vomit, or at least not more than once. When I arrived at the site (which was a great set up complete with electronic defeathering machine) we got right to work. It went really well, and I will spare you the details. I did not vomit. And my only sadness is my own inexperience and the extended pain and suffering I feel I inflicted on the two birds I personally decapitated, as it took a little longer to get through then if I was more familiar with the process. But the end result was the same, and I am proud of myself for seeing it through.
And now I am officially more than a little bit country. I have a skill most people do not. It’s a survival skill, and another step in our path to self-sufficiency. And, although I don’t know whether I could get the same quality bird at Costco, the fact is I KNOW exactly what I am putting on the table. I KNOW how these birds lived, I KNOW what they ate, and I know I had enough respect for their short lives to CARE about all of these aspects of raising them. Will I do it again? I will. The processed birds are beautiful and far cleaner on the inside than the outside. They were very healthy in their life as I could see by the quality of their internal organs, and surely will be delicious in their death. I might change a few things, like provide them with a separate coop on a different part of the farm so they could roam. I will do more next time, probably 12, and try to do it in warmer months so they can leave the incubated area sooner in their lifespan. Other than that, though, I am just proud of myself for taking on something I would never have thought about in Vegas. And so my transformation is complete, and I'm sure I could qualify for a 4-H badge of some kind.