The set-up for this day was a big home-made killing-table, complete with a restraining-cone and sink on one end, a bunch of buckets and bowls for the parts, the hose, some newly-sharpened knives, and a borrowed camp-stove on which to scald our birds before plucking. Our first chicken-butchering day: It was a day we were afraid of, but we were committed.
|Our son cleaning up after butchering his first bird.|
Thirteen years ago I wrote a blog post called Wild Food: Killing Our Own Meat, which went on to become by far the most popular thing I've ever written, mostly because people are shocked and awed by the idea that we killed and ate slugs with our children. At the time we had a pair of ducks, were eating duck eggs, and thought we might end up getting ducklings which we'd raise for meat as well. But a mink killed our ducks, putting an end to all those plans. It's been a long road of parenting and growing since then, but this year we finally got back on the trail toward raising our own ethical meat.
I've been told before that no meat is ethical, but for my partner and I, the question of food seems so much more complex, so I'll explain a little, here. Please know that this is my and my partner's personal perspective, and we understand that the world is vast and varied. You are entitled to your own opinion, and we respect the choices of those who travel other paths. We hate the industrial farming industry - both the vegetable-based production and the animal-based production. Nearly all of it is deeply unethical, causing irreparable harm not only directly to animals who are involved, but to the environment, through mono-culture, exploitation of land and resources, and through physical and chemical destruction of the land. The world is a vast ecosystem of ecosystems, each with many interdependent communities within it, and each community made of many interdependent species of plants, animals, insects, microorganisms and fungi. Every single part - no matter how small - is vital to the health of the whole. Many people have been alarmed to discover that palm oil, which is frequently used in vegan products, usually involves the destruction of endangered orangutan habitat, and even outright killing of orangutans and other species. Enter "sustainable palm oil". And more products using coconut oil... but wait. Coconut oil has recently been linked to even greater destruction than palm oil! And that's just the oil and processed-foods dilemma. Most of the meals my family eats are vegan, as well as gluten- and soy-free, due to our auto-immune issues. So we eat a lot of almonds, (almond flour, almond milk, etc.). Almonds aren't vegan either, due to the massive impact that large-scale almond-farming has on the bees who are transported across the continent to fertilize the almond-groves of the west coast. Further, the impact that the large-scale mono-culture of almonds has on water-systems, forests, and the ecosystems that would otherwise have thrived there is colossal. What is an ethical eater to do?!
For us, the answer is growing our own food. In our climate, and on the 1/4 acre of land we can use, we are slowly figuring out the most efficient ways to produce food for our family. We know we can't meet all our needs, but we're having some success with peas (dried for winter soups), cauliflower, potatoes (about 1/3 of the number we eat each year), kale, (a few) tomatoes, and now chickens.
Remember those adorable chicks we welcomed just four months ago? This week we slaughtered the first four of our chickens. It was the first time I had killed any animal for meat (though I've had experience with many compassionate killings of injured and sick animals, in the past), and the first time my partner and son had butchered an animal at all. Our daughter bravely caught and handed over the roosters we killed that day, but chose to stay away from the place we butchered them, because we gave both kids the choice to join or not, since nobody should ever be coerced to commit such a traumatizing act as killing, plucking, or gutting an animal.
Bringing each bird to the back driveway (so they'd be far away from the rest of the flock who we didn't want to traumatize) was very, very sad, and a difficult thing to overcome, for our psyches. Me cutting those birds' throats was excruciating. We wholeheartedly believe that we, as animals, eat most ethically when we accept that in order for us to live, something must die, but we would like to make that process the least harmful possible for the ecosystem of our world. Part of that is accepting that eating meat is painful, so that we don't do it wantonly.
It's important to us that if we're going to eat meat, the animals have happy, healthy lives, and we think we've achieved that in our chickens. Then, we try to maximize the nutrition from each life we've taken. After processing these four birds, I was actually quite pleased to discover that we'll get the protein component of four family meals out of each of them. Here's the breakdown of how we're using these birds:
- 1 cup of livers into the freezer (1x liver pate = 1 fancy family meal, later)
- 2 jars of feet, neck and gizzard broth made and canned (2x family soup meals, later)
- 1 family meal of gizzard and neck-meat poutine (with chicken gravy)
Then we put the four birds into the fridge to loosen up (from rigor mortis), and two days later I prepared them: I roasted two of the four, then picked, boiled and dehydrated the meat, made bone broth of the bones, and froze the roasted skin. I froze the two remaining birds whole, which will be feasts, later on, each providing an additional meal of bone broth soup. We ate four roasted wings for our dinner that night, which was delicious, and the perfect amount of meat for our family of four. Meal tally from second day of processing:
- 2 family feasts of a whole roast bird
- 5 bone broth soups with bits of meat
- 2 chickens roasted and dehydrated (4 meals, later)
- bag of 5 portions of chicken skin (to add to stir-fries and other meals)
- 1 family meal of wings, on the day I roasted them
|My partner's birthday dinner:|
Homegrown beans & broccoli with chicken poutine
from the first animal he ever butchered, himself.
I can't say I'm enormously proud that we enjoyed eating the meat of the birds we had held in our arms, but I was relieved. I wasn't sure we could do it, and we managed. We fed ourselves.
And I learned something huge about myself in this process. I've always been repulsed and horrified by gore and violence in movies, which seemed incongruous with the fact that I spent my childhood helping with trimming and gutting rabbits, chickens and pigs on my family's hobby farm. Why do those movies upset me so much? In killing my own home-raised chickens, I discovered why: It's compassion. In movies, killing is done for show. Blood theatre. It's needlessly violent, needlessly cruel, and increasingly, it's gratuitous. On an ethical farm, killing is done carefully, and at great cost to the killer. The reason my parents raised meat birds and meat rabbits was also out of a desire for ethical meat, and ethical farming - whether for vegetables or meat - requires a close connection with our food; a deep emotional journey into the lives and greater ecosystem of all the plants, fruit and animals we intend to consume. It requires sorrow, and compassion, and an overcoming of that sorrow when we accept that we need to kill to eat. We choose death in order to survive, and we never do so wantonly, or for some kind of theatre.
Every single bite of chicken that we eat this year will taste of sorrow, compassion, and deep, deep gratitude.