Our First Chicken Harvest
June 25, 2016 was the date we first butchered our own home-raised animals (chickens). In fact, for myself, it was the first time I've ever seen any animal killed at all.
We had this date planned for several months. When we got a straight run of chicks at the end of winter, we knew we would have more roosters than we would need (or that would really be good for the flock), so upon ordering our chicks, we knew this day would be sometime in the future. I think we were both dreading it and also, to an extent, somewhat looking forward to it.
We decided to make an event out of it...somewhat of a get-together, or party. The thought of all our friends and family gathering together in somewhat of a celebration with lots of drinks and laughs was certainly more of a pleasant thought than the thought of just Logan and myself somberly and quietly walking out, by ourselves, to kill our chickens. And it did, indeed, make the situation MUCH better.
Logan and I's original plan was for all of us to get up and have a relaxing morning, maybe head into town and go out for lunch...essentially have a nice day, and save the "deed" for the early evening. "If we do it first thing in the morning, we might be too sick to eat the rest of the day." One of our friends who has experience with raising and harvesting his own chickens, and who explained that he "personally liked killing things," had other plans. We needed to wake up at the ass-crack of dawn! Do it like the old-timers would have! Well, with the drinking that took place the night before, that didn't exactly happen either, but we did finally all gather near the coop around 10:00 AM.
We were supposed to harvest six roosters, but two had been drug off and killed by an animal the weekend before (along with two hens), while we were away at my cousin's wedding. Go figure that we were able to keep them alive for months until the very last week. That's farm life for you. After that, we were down to six roosters total. We were going to harvest four and save two for fertilizing the hen's eggs (the largest rooster and then a second rooster in case something would happen to the first). We had no idea which four we were going to choose. We had discussed painting their feathers, or wrapping their legs with different colors of tape and observing them in the weeks prior. "Maybe we can kill the meanest roosters so we won't feel as bad." Since that never actually happened, we had to choose them, one by one, moments before they were actually going to give their lives.
For me, this, rather than watching the actual harvesting, was the most sobering part of the experience. Watching Logan and our friends walk into the coop to scoop up "that" rooster, as they were simultaneously trying to run away from them was definitely a little bit sickening. And then Logan would walk over, holding the rooster in his arms, in its last moments, as our friends did the final prepping.
A lot of thoughts run through your mind in these moments, looking at your animal right before it gives its life. I both wanted to get it over with and just hold him there longer all at once. You really begin to understand what it means to eat meat, the sacrifice these animals have to make for you to do so. You have so much more of an appreciation for that animal. We received a lot of flack from some of our family members and friends for wanting to butcher our own animals (which we actually found really surprising because it seemed like such a natural choice to make for us). "You don't want to do that, "You'll never be able to actually do it," "Those chickens are like your pets," "Why don't you just be normal and eat chicken from the grocery store?"...we heard these and many other statements for months leading up to this date. Just because you're not there to witness it, to feel what it feels like to personally take the life of a living creature, doesn't mean it doesn't happen. Just because you are not there, present in America's factory farms to witness the dark and tiny torture chambers they have to be raised in, doesn't mean it doesn't happen. Handing over this responsibility to factory farms both creates a sick and disgusting system and takes away part of our true human-ness...our connection to our food and the earth and what it all really means and FEELS like. Our roosters lived happy lives, free ranging and foraging, and eating organic, non-gmo feed. They had one bad day in their lives. If having to personally kill our own chickens means this, then I am both thankful for and at peace with it.
Everyone helped to process the roosters after the deed was done. We had scalders, feather-pullers, innard-puller-outers...I was inside in the kitchen doing the final rinsing and plucking of the leftover quills.
They then each went into bags of salt water. After all was said and done, we pressure cooked one for everyone to try. And it was the best chicken I have ever tasted, by far. Unlike grocery store chicken, which I think is essentially tasteless, it was so full of flavor. I really can't describe it better than saying it was so "chickeny." Logan and another one of our friends also fried up the organs. This is another aspect of personally raising your own meat...because of the connection you have with it, you don't want to waste ANYTHING. I've never been one for "organ meat," but this day I felt I at least had to give it a try. The livers were not bad. But I do have to say....gizzards are AWFUL.
The rest of the bones and carcass were made into a stock for soup. Unfortunately, we did manage to waste the feet but next time they will be given to our dogs.
After game playing, talks about the day, and many laughs and drinks, the day finally ended by walking over to one of our fields and watching some of the most abundant and sparkly lightning bugs I have ever witnessed. They truly looked magical, lighting up every single tree in a constant shimmer. I can only hope that maybe this was the universe telling us we were doing the right thing, heading in the right direction. Thank you, four roosters, for giving your life to feed ours.
P.S. Since starting homesteading, Logan and I are continuously finding where many of the old farm addages came from. We can definitely now add, "runs like a chicken with its head cut off," to the list.