chickens

Stupid Questions

We have a broody hen.  For those who may not know, a broody hen is one desires “motherhood”.  Our hen has been broody for about 1 1/2 weeks so far, but keeps changing boxes.  The cure is one of three things: 1) wait it out, 2) let her lay on eggs, or 3) buy some chicks and give them to her.

The natural thing is to let her lay on eggs, and we are trying to be as natural as possible: nature does know best.  However, she keeps moving boxes after a few days and by then the eggs are bad.  Is this natural?  Perhaps it is.

One thing I’ve learned from working on a farm is that the best method is the natural method; there are really no exceptions for this: nature really does know best.  But what’s in it for nature when a hen keeps moving?

The question, I think, is wrong headed: nature has not motivated goal, no purpose.  When I go into the hen house and my broody hen has moved it is me that wonders, not her.  Nature, like farming, is messy and running blind.  As farmers we really just hang on for the ride and try to find sunny spots to plant things in; we try to give our animals the best lives we can.

We fail much of the time, but much off the time we try to be farmers rather than caretakers.

My broody hen lays in her box because that’s what her body is telling her to do.  Maybe if we listened to nature a bit more we would stop asking such stupid questions too?

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Bartering

 

 

Slowly, but surely we are rebuilding our farm.  New starts, sometimes, require new starts and such was the case with us.  So much in two years, but all necessary; difficult but necessary.  At least we have our hens back and they’ve started laying.

Every morning I turn into our dirt driveway and look forward to opening the hen house and watching the girls (and Bentsen the rooster) pour out.  There are always a few girls in the boxes.

At the end of the day I go out to collect the eggs.  This is the ritual.  The day begins, by the way, with scrambled eggs and often at dinner we do a southern favorite: deviled eggs.  Of course, we always have a supply of hard boiled eggs.

The other morning I just couldn’t do eggs (I just couldn’t!); yogurt instead.  And the girls kept laying as hens do.  Happy hens picking around on the farm all day finding ticks, eating grass and taking dirt baths and laying eggs.

We have about five dozen eggs in the fridge as I write this; we eat eggs almost every morning and now my favorite childhood treat, deviled eggs, is starting to lose its luster.  This is just not right!  More eggs tomorrow.

And the hens keep laying; happily clucking away after they do. And the thought came to mind: this is why people began bartering.  Not because they wanted a profit: because they got tired of eating eggs every day.

Don’t get me wrong: fresh eggs are a wonderful thing that sadly many people never experience (other lost experiences include fresh, self-slaughtered pork and chicken, and unpasteurized milk).

Eggs are wonderful, and hens are wonderful.  There is a downside to happy hens: lots of eggs.  In big cities these are premium: $5-7 a dozen, but out in the country people just grin at such prices.

“I’ll trade you some eggs for some of that homemade cheesecake?!”

Well, some things you just can’t turn down.

Sometimes…

bob the rooster

In Memory of “Bob” the rooster and one of his girls.

This last week we have lost a beautiful rooster and hen; one to a hawk, and the rooster to  (what I believe) to be a fox.  These losses were unfortunate, but the fact remains: this is what those animals do.  They are predators and they were acting naturally.  As a farmer, my natural reaction is and was anger: something must pay, and the hawk and fox were prime possible recipients.  As an intelligent person, however, I am capable of understanding justice.

Sometimes we are faced with difficult decisions and in these situations we must make a choice: to react or act.  I could shoot hawks and hunt fox but for what reason?  There is only one answer to this: revenge.  Perhaps killing the fox is necessary for it will return, but the hawk…and at best such a decision is only partially reasonable.

This led me to consider reason.  As humans we are emotional creatures with the capacity, with the freedom, to act intelligently.  Unfortunately often enough we do not act accordingly.  The loss of my rooster and hen presented a situation in which I was presented a choice: to act reasonably or emotionally.  But I had left out another choice: the middle ground: to act both reasonably and emotionally.

I was saddened to lose my rooster and hen, but I could not get myself to simply kill animals for what they do naturally: they cannot be held accountable and so it would be immoral of me to kill them for acting the way they act.  However, I did not want them to return and kill more livestock.  The logical conclusion, was to accept the losses and try to lessen the chances of the predator’s capability of doing what comes naturally: to give them a chance to learn.

Many farmers would tell me that it is not worth the trouble: to kill the animals, and sometimes they would be correct.  However, I value my farm animals and other animals and their lives in a different way: as living things.  So, according to my values it is “worth” my trouble to find a compromise.  Sometimes a little emotion goes a long way, and sometimes (in order to remain moral creatures) we must learn to value all life rather than simply the life we deem worthwhile.

A Good Day to Die

MeatChickens

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.