Tuesday, July 20, 2010


As a farmer (of sorts), the truth of the phrase even in the midst of life, we are in death is very much a part of what we live here. Our philosophy is that death is not the end, but rather a transformation, and we see the truth in that belief in the world around us.

In the spring, the green shoots start to peek out from their ground slumber, in the summer, our garden is bursting with life, in the fall the cooler days and freezing nights cause the plant growth to stall and the plants to die back, and during the winter, the garden is little more than a bare patch of dirt. We learn about the cycle of birth, growth, death, and rebirth from watching our plants.

But there's more to our farm than just the plants. We also raise animals for food. Mama bunny has a litter of kits, and we know from the moment that we see those bald little bodies wriggling in their blindness that at some point, we will have to harvest them.

And the chickens, too. From late April until mid-July, we have fuzzy baby chicks in the house and chickens out in the yard at varying stages of development. When they have reached maturity (at about eight weeks), they are butchered and put in the freezer. Usually, we take our live chickens to a butcher and pick up frozen meat, but I have been saying for a very long time that I wanted to learn to harvest my own chickens. Part of it is that in butchering them myself, I will save a great deal of money, and if raising my own food is, in part, a frugal choice, then paying someone else do that job for me doesn't make a lot of sense. The other reason, though, has to do with my desire to be self-sufficient, and if I'm ever, really, going to be self-sufficient here on my nanofarm, then I need to own the entire process - from brooder to butcher.

It's been a real quandry for me, because intellectually, I know this, but emotionally, the thought of killing this animal that has never done me any personal harm is, almost, painful.

The other day, I walked out into the yard to make sure everyone out there was okay. In particular, we have an Americuana chicken who is light enough and lithe enough to make it over the poultry yard fence, which she does, every chance she gets. Then, she heads over to the broiler tractor, harrasses the broilers and eats their food. I didn't see her with the broilers, when I stepped outside, and I started to get a little nervous for her. So, I'm walking around the yard, and I walked over near the broiler tractor, which is open so that they can wander a little in the yard (and they only wander a little, because they're so heavy).

Suddenly, I feel something sharp on the top of my foot, and I look down to see this rooster. At first, I think he's just stepping on my foot, and accidentally scratching me. This particular batch of broilers has been very friendly and will run up to us to greet us, if they're not closed up in the tractor. It's actually been kind of neat (but hasn't done a thing to assuage my concerns about harvesting them myself).

Then, I realize that he is most definitely NOT accidentally scratching me, but he is most definitely intentionally biting me on the foot ... twice.

And, as the sky clears and the sun bursts forth, all concerns about not killing things that have done me no harm evaporated. I grabbed him around the neck and exclaimed, "Why are you biting me on the foot?"

We almost had chicken for lunch ... almost.

And I was thinking, perhaps, when his compadres go to see Ken on Monday, maybe he won't be with the group, but will, actually, have been enjoyed at Sunday Dinner.

Dance of the Adolescent Male

Too full of the rooster swagger
To see the lonely hen,
Patiently nesting in far corner,
Her feathers drooped.

Strut, Strut, and Crow!
Bellow, Baby!
For all the world to hear
Your cock’s glory.

You know someday that strut
Will be a shuffle
And the Cock-a-doodle-doodling
A muffle,
In the hands of the axeman.

Then, your crazy strutting body
Will run wild
Through the barnyard,
And the hen will be roosting while you’re roasting -
Sunday Dinner.

~ written by Wendy, August 7, 1992


  1. I would, from personal experience, definitely recommend processing the rooster yourself. It is not a joyful experience and that first time takes far too long. However, there is a whole new level of connectedness you will experience with your food, almost a reverence. (yeah, I know that sounds freaky)

    Let him bite you a couple more times though. It does make things easier:)

  2. Actually, Lorie, that doesn't sound freaky at all. Because we raise a lot of our own food, and because a great deal more of it comes from local farmers, I know that I probably already have a stronger than average sense of respect for the whole process, but that having to actually harvest my own chickens would add a little more depth in my respect for what these animals (and plants) do for me.

    I'm not sure that I want him to bite me another time, though. Did I mention he drew blood? For anyone who thinks chickens are defenseless ... yeah, not so much, I think.