“I’m feeling slightly anxious about today,” I confessed to my husband.
“What’s the worst that could happen?” he asked.
“I could murder a chicken.”
“Rachel, that’s kind of the point of today.”
He was right of course. The point of today was precisely chicken murder, though I do believe that the process is more aptly described as chicken butchering in preparation for the dinner table. Either way, the end result is that two of our chickens died today. One went into the freezer, and the other went into my husband’s wood-fired oven. A friend of a friend taught us two different methods to butcher chickens (skinning versus leaving the skin intact) and walked us through Chicken Anatomy 101 while doing so. My husband claims that the butchering process was much less gory than he’d anticipated, but I’ll spare you those details all the same because I certainly found the afternoon sufficiently gory.
I have always been squeamish about blood and tendons and the like. In fact, I’ve been a vegetarian on and off since middle school. Even when I’m “off,” though, I still rarely eat meat due to that squeamishness. I jokingly refer to myself as vegetarian-lite because I eat meat maybe once a month. To a strict vegetarian, 12 meat dishes a year means you are not a vegetarian, but I know many a carnivore who cannot imagine eating only 12 meat dishes in a month, never mind a year.
In an ironic juxtaposition, many of those same carnivores cannot imagine butchering their own chickens to eat. So why did I butcher my own chickens as a somewhat squeamish mostly vegetarian? I have two primary reasons for helping to butcher my chickens: (1) I need to be able to keep laying chickens, and (2) I believe in knowing where your food comes from and, where possible, what kind of life it may have had prior to it arriving on your plate.
I live in a suburban area, so I cannot keep an unlimited number of chickens whose egg-laying capacities have subsided or even ended. My chickens are not pets as a general rule, though exceptions certainly do exist. I need to replenish the chickens that have slowed or stopped laying eggs with fresh layers. In my opinion, the reasonable course of action is to eat a chicken that needs to be replaced rather than to either dispatch her or sell her to someone else who may or may not treat her well before dispatching her. And I do treat my chickens well. I like to give them the occasional treat, pet them, and pick them up because I am more or less fond of them, and I am particularly fond of the baby chickens that I am raising. I have struggled to reconcile the knowledge that I would soon eat these adult chickens with my delight at the fluffy adorable antics of the baby chickens—the baby chickens that I will also one day eat and that I often address via gruff jazzy songs that invariably end in an enthusiastic gravely chorus of “baby chickens!”
The incongruity between my silly affection for the baby chickens and the knowledge that I will eat them in a couple of years essentially boils down to one fact: I know what kind of life these baby chickens are going to have and the kind of life that I had given to the adults before we killed them this afternoon. My chickens saw treats and dust baths in rays of sunshine. They lived their lives as chickens. I cannot say the same for any chickens that end up in shrink-wrapped packages at the grocery store.
Still, as the baby chickens chirp little shrill noises of delight as they kick up sand in their own dust baths in their brooder box beside me, I must confess that I feel awfully guilty about it.