chickens

A Good Day to Die

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Farming sounds romantic: the bucolic environment, the clucking of chickens and the smell of manure and soil.  Certainly, there are aspects of farming that are romantic.  There is the peace and quiet, the honesty of the work, the freedom of the day as well as the rituals of the chores.  But farming, especially when the farm includes animals, is a reality that soon makes itself clear.

This week I will be slaughtering the first set of chickens as well as some roosters.  And while I’ve done this before the act is never comfortable.  Most of us eat meat, but most of us do not slaughter our own meat.  This disconnect is clear for the farmer, and the disconnect soon becomes a cohesive whole as the day for the killing nears.

Killing an animal should never be easy, for any reason, even for food.  But when one sets off to the country to be self-sufficient, killing to eat becomes a reality.  Most hunters make this argument but I doubt that many of them kill simply to eat.  Perhaps the hunt becomes separated from the killing;  I’m not a hunter, and don’t see the point in it with few exceptions.  But I eat meat, and that necessitates the act that I will soon partake in: killing animals.

I believe that there is an honesty in killing your own food, but that honesty comes at a price: we must look our meals in the eye while we put knife to throat.  There is no easy way around this, at least any way that is honest.  But the fact remains: if I cannot kill the animals that I have raised, I should not be eating meat.  Peter Singer goes further with his concept of speciesism.

To raise animals for food is really a balancing act between morality and need, or perhaps desire: that I’ve not figured out yet.  However, if we decide that we cannot kill our food but expect others to do it for us, we really should not be eating meat.  I like bacon, and barbecued chicken and for those reasons I must do the deed and pay the price.  Moral food has a price.

Playing God

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There is no better way to get a perspective on one’s life than to start raising the very food that you eat.  Life is a cycle that is often times invisible to us both mentally and physically but on a farm, a self-sufficient farm where nature is allowed to take its course, that cycle is clear.  We raise chicks here on the farm and we start them in an enclosure complete with clean sawdust, clean water and ample food.  They enjoy the digs, they eat and drink.  Their fate is sealed: they will be dinner.  But, they are oblivious to this and most other things, as long as they have their food and water.

As I look down into the box at the chicks as they create their world, I think to myself that their world is not much different than most of ours: we eat, we drink, we sleep and do not question much as long as we are comfortable: our fate is sealed, as long as we have our comfort.  At the end of the day there is not much of a difference.

Of course, we have more potential, but what is potential and how many of us actualize that potential?  What is potential to the chicks?  They are potential food, potential compost makers, they give back what they receive, probably more, but in the end their lives will end on the sharp edge of a knife wielded by me.  They will end up in my freezer and will supply me with the comfort of knowing that I will have food.  They will supply my compost pile and then my garden.

Their potential is in effect endless.  I wonder, then, who is god: us or them?  They fulfill their potential without ever knowing it while we struggle to even know ours.  They are efficient users of resources and effective suppliers of the very thing that sustains life; we are consumers without understanding what we consume.  This is all not to judge, but simply to ponder the fate of god, the fate of us all, which is to supply life in all its confounded mystery and magnificence.

Killing Chickens

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I killed a chicken today. I say “killed” because I did not “take its life”; it did not “pass on”. I took a knife and I slit its throat. To kill and animal ought to be an act of respect, and I hope that I do the bird justice when I eventually put her in a pot and make chicken and dumplings with her. She was a nice looking bird if not a bit old. She’d had a good life, which is important.

 

I also think that it is important for everyone that eats meat to kill their own food at least once. It is never a pleasant experience until after the act of killing when it is easy to differentiate the food aspect from the living creature aspect. Somehow in that split second it is easy to understand how fragile all life really is and the cost that is paid for living. This is perhaps one of the greatest personal motivations that I have for trying to become self-sufficient.

 

I’ve killed a number of animals over the years, all of which I’ve put in my freezer and eaten, except for a few sheep that I helped someone kill in order to put in their own freezer. Death is certainly part of life, and is no doubt a part of becoming self-sufficient: we have to eat. Self-sufficiency is in some ways self-realization and in the bigger scheme of things, the realization that we are part of a greater cycle which will continue with or without us.

 

I thought about that I was a part of; the cycle that would begin with the death of the old bird. The owner of the chicken had bought four new pullets to replace the doomed chicken. I would eat the chicken and eventually the cycle would come full circle with my own death. This is not morbid or odd; it is beautiful actually.

 

More and more, as the realization of what it is to become self-sufficent grows along with my skill-set, I realize the beauty in the idea of self-sufficiency whether it is through my new found love for “Bee TV” (pulling up a chair with a cup of coffee and watching the bees fly to and from their hive), growing a garden, carpentry, mechanics, putting up drywall (I did that last week, one of my lesser favorite skills) or killing a chicken for a friend.

 

I thought about it and concluded that it would not show the respect due the old chicken had I simply referred to her death as a “passing”, or that I “ sent her to a better place”. I killed a chicken, simply put. But her death symbolizes something greater than can be described, pronounced or understood.