The stories, travails, mistakes, successes; the journey of a change in lifestyle for two would-be market farmers and permaculturists.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Meat has a face

We knew this day was coming.  It should have come a while ago, but it was easy to put off.  The spring's batch of chicks has grown into adolescents - almost adults now.  Seems hard to believe that an animal that is only 5 plus months old is ready to reproduce and engage in all activities pursuant....  Like, crowing, and fighting, and pursuing hens relentlessly.  Activities that just don't endear young roosters (cockerels) to their caretakers. When you live on a small acreage, you have neighbors, too, and not all of them enjoy the constant crowing of many many roosters.  So, at some point, decisions have to be made.

We get straight runs of chicks.  I bought from breeders rather than hatcheries, and sexing of chicks at birth was not an option that was available.  That meant that there was an inevitable excess of male chickens that I KNEW would have to be dealt with at some point.  We were pretty lucky, really.  The ratio of pullets to cockerels was in our favor for the most part.  I was able to find homes for some of the boys as they grew, but there was a group of birds that had a genetic defect, that being feathers on their legs where there should not be any.  That meant that they could not be used as breeding stock, and rehoming them would probably not be an option.  I stalled and put off and forgot to make phone calls, but the fighting and trouble making was getting out of hand, and I finally made the dreaded appointment with the meat processor.

And this afternoon, we put five handsome Chantecler cockerels into a plastic crate, labeled the crate with our name, and stacked that crate on top of one containing five white chickens too big for their container.  There were other crates full of chickens there as well.  Ours were the only colored ones so far.  The boys hunkered down and crowded together, clearly unsure what was going on.  Just a half hour before, two of them had attacked me while we gathered up for the transfer.  They are arrogant little guys, cocky as they come, (no pun intended) and until this moment, I was thinking that this day would be a relief.  But seeing them there, suddenly out of their element and scared, I broke down and sobbed.  I touched them, and said good by, and expressed my sorrow, which was meant more for myself than anything.  I was close to backing out, and taking them back home, but it just wasn't a possibility.  We had to give the neighbors some relief from all the noise, among other things.

We drove home slowly, the memory of those chickens crouched down in their crates, surrounded by other unhappy and scared birds, and vowed that we would do better the next time this need arises, because it will arise again.  When we choose to eat meat, a sentient creature has to die.  When our only exposure to meat is what we purchase in the store, plastic wrapped and anonymous, it is easy to be complacent.  It is just another package in the shopping cart.  For the large majority of consumers, this is how it is and always will be.  The chasm between the meal and the animal that provided it is a canyon rarely crossed by those who consume them.  This is the biggest reason, I think, that the factory farms have been able to flourish.  The animals who provide our daily protein are just meat in a package, not an animal that we have taken care of, fed and watered every day, watched grow up and develop a personality.  That meat does not have a face.

But, it does.  Every animal we consume has a face and a thought process, and emotions.  Every time we buy our meat from factory farms, we are contributing to a process that devalues their sentience.  If you are able to raise your own, or purchase from those who raise their animals humanely, at least you are not contributing to the massive negative energy generated from establishments that churn out meat animals as commodities.  I am not happy about the final few hours that these little roosters are enduring.  My only consolation is that they are at least not cramped by their container.  I know their end will be swift and humane, their flesh will be healthy and free from foreign chemicals, and that their short lives were as perfectly chicken friendly as it could be.  They got to eat as much organic feed as they could, they had vegetation and bugs to forage for, they got to fly over their fence and roam around when they shouldn't, and to peck at my feet when they thought I shouldn't be in their presence.

Tomorrow morning I will harken to my Cherokee heritage and send an offering to the four directions.  I will thank them for their ultimate sacrifice and we will honor them when their protein helps maintain our health.

Thank you my little nemeses.


  1. Hi,
    I like your blog! It's hard to drop the roosters off in a strange place at the end, let me know again next time you need to get rid of some and maybe we can help you out! I like seeing the pictures of the birds you've told me about, keep up the good blogging work!

  2. Oops forgot to sign my name!

    Jessie (with the chickens from the Cambridge library)