My summer goal was to write in my blog two or three times a week (one week with two posts and the next with three). I am sticking to the two post minimum (yay me!) but now that the harvest is in full swing I am finding it difficult to keep up. Don’t worry I’m not gone… just busy!
I was debating for quite a while whether or not to write about this. A lot of homesteaders get hate mail regarding the butchering of animals. I must admit I find this phenomenon mind boggling since in most cases there is far more care, compassion and consideration that goes into butchering an animal on a homestead compared to that of factory farmed animals. Alas, the anonymity of online and social media leaves people like me hesitant to share our real life experiences.
Regardless, I am taking the risk and telling your our story.
Way back on April 20th we got eight fuzzy little chicks. They were each three days old and they were oh so cute.
We opted to get chicks for a few reasons; the main one was for my son. As a child with low vision, Monkey Man is often frightened of animals; they are unpredictable, fast and have little regard for a human’s need for personal boundaries. We felt that if he had a hand in raising the chickens and watched them grow up that he would be less fearful of them.
Secondly we wanted to have the experience of raising baby chicks at least once. It was good fun indeed! It was also messy, but well worth the dust and the effort.
The farmer we got them from, a young lad still in high school, boasted a 80% success rate in sexing his chicks. We knew if we got 8 that we’d likely have 6 hens which was exactly the number we were hoping for.
Many months went by and we waited as patiently as we could. Were they boys or girls? As they got a bit older the realization hit that we had a lot more cockerels (boy teenage chickens) than pullets (girl teenage chickens). The 80% success rate turned out to be less than true and when all was said and done we had a grand total of three laying hens.
Yup, you read that right… three. Which meant we had five roosters.
Anyone who has ever had chickens before knows that unless you have a large flock of hens, more than one rooster is a recipe for disaster. Once they were fully mature the fighting would begin. I’ve heard stories of roosters killing each other in the fight for dominance and this was something we wanted to avoid at all costs. The average ratio of roosters to hens is 1 to 10 and we certainly didn’t need to add 47 more birds to our flock. I like eggs but not quite that much.
Up until a few weeks ago things were great. All the birds were happy and healthy. They were getting lots of free run time, sunshine and there was no fighting. Until one morning I came out to what I can only describe as the ‘cock-a-doodle wars’. The roosters (except one) were all dancing around each other, feathers puffed out and each trying to out cock-a-doodle the other. They lunged at each other and crowed louder and louder. The fight for the top bird position had begun. Soon after the pecking began. We often heard bird screeches as we were out harvesting in the garden. We knew something needed to be done.
You see our original plan was to trade with the young farmer lad for pullets. Sadly he had stopped returning my messages long ago and so I was stuck with five roosters. I tried contacting a few of my farmer friends but no one needed nor wanted a rooster. The few people who offered to take them off our hands had plans to butcher them. We decided right then and there that if their inevitable fate was on a dinner plate that it should be us to do it. After all we had raised them from babies. We gave them a good life and they at the very least deserved a respectful end.
Please know that this was a not decision that we came to lightly. Less than a year ago I was still a vegetarian, a lifestyle choice I had maintained for over fifteen years. The decision to eat meat again was not an easy one for me and now I was in the position of butchering my own animals for meat that I would consume! My head was spinning. I knew it was the right thing to do but could we handle it?
We were very grateful to get help from a friend of ours that had experience in processing animals. Without his help I don’t know what we would have done, being completely clueless save a few scattered blog entries I’d read over the past few years.
When processing day came my husband and I had a long talk. Since self sufficiency (as much as is possible in our society) is one of our main goals we decided to look upon this experience as a test of sorts. Could we handle raising meat birds and butchering them ourselves?
In the end we kept a single rooster. He was the smallest of them all and never even bothered getting involved in the cock-a-doodle wars at all. Somehow that little roo found his way into our hearts and after speaking with the neighbours (important to keep good relations with your community) we made the choice to keep him.
The experience was very hard on both of us. Before our friend arrived I said my goodbyes to the roosters. I cried as I thanked them for their sacrifice and I promised that nothing would be wasted. I wasn’t able to take part in the actual killing process; I’m not just ready. I did however watch as my husband and our friend dispatched of our four roosters. They worked quickly and efficiently, doing the best they could to make the experience as painless and stress free as possible for the birds. I know it was a very difficult experience for my husband. He spoke of it days later and I could tell it still bothered him deeply.
Honestly had it not bothered him I would have been more frightened. Taking the life of an animal is not something to be taken lightly and it is a process that should be difficult and somber. The day we come desensitized to that is the day we return to our vegetarian ways.
I took over the process once all the feathers were plucked. It was a sobering experiencing, washing the birds in my kitchen sink thinking about their life with us. In that moment I had no idea if I would actually be able to eat the meat they provided us with but I knew that in order to honour their life I had to try.
As hard as the experience was we did learn a lot from it; what worked and what we’d change for next time. A week after we spoke again about raising meat birds and decided that it is something that we would like to try next year. We know that our chickens are well cared for, well fed and given lots of space to run free, scratch and dig. It’s a good life for them and we’re happy to provide it.
So that is our tale of how our flock was cut in half. If you have something awful to say to me I would prefer you walk away and grab a coffee or piece of cake instead please. However if you have legitimate questions, stories or advice I welcome it with an open heart.
Thank you for reading and until next time,