I looked down at my shirt and jeans and saw the bloodstains. Only then did I realize what I had done.
I had killed a chicken. I was finally butchering my chickens, something I had long wondered how I would handle. I think I did OK.
It happens in its own time, if it happens at all: the realization that if you are going to breed and hatch eggs, you will invariably end up with more birds than you can keep. Or sell. The first few years of my venture into raising Buttercups I had a Mennonite farmer who was willing to come pick up my extra males, no matter what the number. I never asked him what he did with them and he never offered to tell me. So be it. The extra males who had some small defect that would not make them show-quality were gone.
The females get a reprieve…even if they are not close to the standard, someone will want them for their egg-laying ability. Not so the extra males.
For the more squeamish, I won’t get graphic, but it was a bit surreal to find myself plucking feathers, pulling off skin and trimming the feet off before harvesting the meat for the freezer. There were three others there with me, and between us we had about 20 birds. Each of us helped in all the stages, a real communal effort to get the job done. I wonder if the pioneers got together for chicken butchering as they did with a barn building? I’ve only heard stories of the farm wife going out to butcher the chicken for Sunday dinner, one at a time. So, maybe this is our new version of barn building since I don’t even own a barn.
Its hard work, physical work, and it took us all of four hours to finish off the job on that humid, hot Saturday morning. I really only killed one of the 20 chickens. My friend, John, who is the leader for us in these ventures, handed me the very sharp butcher’s knife and brought out the last bird of the day. Not, I’m happy to say, one of mine. He showed me how to hold it so it remained calm and the end was swift.
Not pretty work. But at the bottom of it all is the realization these birds have lived the life of Riley, eaten well and run around before being used for food for my family. Such a funny thing…our ancestors would not give this a second thought, but this is the state of our lifestyle today. We’re very separated from our food source and certainly me–a child of the suburbs–was no different. And, granted, its taken me nearly a decade to get here, but here I am.
But in an odd way, I feel quite satisfied, triumphant even, that I am making the best use of my birds, not just casting off the unwanted males, but really using them for something important. And I have 12 lbs of chicken in the freezer, chicken that I did cast away or give away, but will use to feed my family over the next few months.
There is a British poster from World War II intended to keep public morale up. It says: “Keep calm and carry on.” As I looked down at my blood-spattered t-shirt and jeans, I thought about that saying.