Stories of life on our farm in Northwest Georgia where every day is an adventure in this beautiful spot that God has entrusted to our stewardship.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Musings on Meat: Blessed by a Chicken

Advisory:  Some of these photos may be considered graphic by some viewers.

My sister-in-law just emailed me this quote from a column in a San Francisco newspaper--right after Herb and I finished butchering our second batch of 10 chickens in two days.

Yes, this is really funny--and it is really sad!

It also goes right along with what I was musing on this morning as we murdered our meat.  (I don't really consider it murder, but I couldn't resist the alliteration.)

Yesterday after we butchered the first ten chickens, Kara and I went to Chef Mart to get some more supplies.  I mentioned to the owner that we were butchering chickens, and a woman customer said, "Oh, I could never kill an animal that I had seen in person.  When I eat fresh lobster in a restaurant, I just tell them to pick one out for me.  I don't want to see it before I eat it."  She said that she prefers to buy her chicken in the grocery store, so I told her in a few words why we do what we do: natural, humanely raised and slaughtered, antibiotic- and hormone-free instead of chickens crowded 20,000 to a barn, never seeing the light of day.  She was completely unmoved and uninterested.

As we conversed, she went on to say that she and her husband used to buy a side of beef and have it cut up to order, but the place they used had closed down, and she didn't know where else to go.  I suggested a place I know of and mentioned that they have locally-raised grass-fed beef.  "Oh," she said, "I like mine corn-fed at the end.  It tastes better."

While Herb plucked and I eviscerated, I recounted this experience to him.  Together we marveled that here is a woman who wants to eat meat--she just never wants to see the animal it came from.  She doesn't care if the animal is raised in inhumane conditions or if it is raised in a way that makes its meat less healthy.  She wants cheap, good-tasting meat with no inconvenience or unpleasantness to herself.

Yesterday morning as we went outside at 6:30 am to feed animals before butchering chickens, I saw that one of the ducks had escaped the barnyard.  It was over below Kara's house, and as I came out the door, it spooked and took flight.  It was hard to capture its graceful winging in the dim light as it soared over the chicken tractor--minus the ten roosters who had spent the night on death row--on its way back to the barn.  It was too far away to be sure, but by its size I'm guessing it's a drake.  Chances are 5 out of 8 that this drake will end up on death row himself in a few days.  But he has had his night of freedom and his morning of glory, catching my breath with the grace of his flight.  Please remember this as you read the rest of my musings.

As I walked out to begin butchering my first chicken this morning, I thanked the Lord for this opportunity that we have.  Yes, it is hard work--back-breaking, neck-cramping, foot-aching, sweaty work.  And yes, it is hard to kill an animal that you have raised from birth.  But it is also a privilege to experience first-hand where our food comes from and everything that is involved to get that piece of fried chicken on our plate.

I also thanked the Lord for Herb who talks to each chicken as he carries it from the crate to the killing cones.  As he puts each chicken in the cone, he says, "I'm sorry, girl.  I hope you had a beautiful life, and I hope you have a quick death.  Blessings on you."  And with one swipe of his large, sharp knife, he ends its life.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again:  If you have to be a chicken, this is the way to live and the way to die!

I've "sanitized" this photograph for those of you who might wish to read my thoughts without riling your sensibilities.  But I would like to challenge you to think of your food in a different way.  Look beyond yourself and how you feel, and think about the animal and the process and the people that make it happen.

When I took this photo, I left off the bottom of the cone with the blood dripping down.  But remember how you laughed at the newspaper article above, finding it ridiculous!  If there is meat on your plate, an animal died, and blood was shed.

I'm not asking you to help shed that blood.  I'm not asking you to look at photos of it.  I'm not asking you to come help feed our chickens and pigs.  And I'm certainly not asking you to raise any of your own.  Most people will never have that opportunity.

But I AM asking you to acknowledge the animal.  Give it the dignity of acknowledging its existence, its daily fight to live and its eventual death that you might eat.

Acknowledge the planning and the work involved for that meat to end up in your fridge, sanitarily packaged.  And, unless you buy your meat directly from small farmers like us, acknowledge that the people who did all the "dirty work" to prepare your meat are poorly-paid
low income workers who stand for hours in freezing processing plants, gutting chicken after chicken after chicken.  These are people who do this job because they can't get any other.  NO ONE says at age five, "When I grow up I wanna be a chicken processor!"

I never used to think like this.  I told Herb that we couldn't possibly sell our chickens at a price that would pay for their purchase and their feed, plus pay us a salary for all our work.  When I said that the only way chicken can be so affordable in the stores is by cramming them into barns 20,000 strong and by hiring the poorest of the poor to process them en masse, he jokingly told me that I sound like a Marxist!  :)

I used to buy my chicken in little styrofoam trays, wrapped in plastic wrap, boneless and skinless--about as far from anything resembling a feathered, clucking bird as it could be.  Ditto for my beef, pork, lamb or fish.

I still don't think I could butcher and eat one of my laying hens.  They have names!  I know what color egg most of them lay.  I know their personalities.  That is a privilege and a blessing for which I am thankful.
But so is this--getting to this fridge crammed full of chicken, waiting to be frozen.  Of course it is a privilege to eat such healthy meat that tastes so good.

But far greater is the privilege of having rushed to the Post Office in the dark to bring home a box of peeping baby chicks, teaching them to drink one by one, carrying water twice a day, checking their feed every few hours, cleaning out their smelly litter, moving them in heavy crate-loads into the chicken tractor, dragging the heavy chicken tractor to a new place on the few occasions Herb wasn't around to do it, enjoying their eagerness as they moved to fresh grass, faithfully feeding and watering twice every single day without fail for 12 weeks, until finally, it was time to make sure they were comfortable for their last night and that they died quickly and were processed sanitarily so that their life and death were not in vain, but able to nourish our bodies.

Maybe it's a bit much to give credit for this to a flock of clucking chickens and squeakily-crowing roosters, but these chickens have nourished my soul, as well.  I have had the responsibility for their lives in a God-given Kingdom task.  They have brought me to reflect on all these things--and it is good.


  1. Great idea, Herb, to bless the food even at butchering time!! Beautiful yellow birds!
    The newspaper paragraph is hilarious! :D :D :D
    As you can see, I couldn't stop laughing!

  2. Barbara, we'll eat some when you all come! I believe the bright yellow fat and skin comes from them eating grass. Of course, they ate lots of grain and had a lot of fat (note to selves: less grain next time), but getting that green grass is so good for both meat and eggs!

    That article really is hysterical, isn't it? What's scary is to think that people like that are out there reproducing and voting! :D Or maybe :(

  3. Thanks for the update Mom, some great reflections!

  4. Sorry if you were hoping for more pictures, Jenny--too complicated when I'm the one having to take them. I'm sorry we couldn't do this while you were here; as it turns out, waiting didn't get us any cooler weather! Thank you for taking the time to read my reflections. As you see, there's a lot going on in that little brain of mine even if it doesn't always show! :D

  5. Hi Susan! I'm so glad to have found your blog and look forward to reading more. Love to all!!

  6. Glad to have you here for a virtual visit, Bryonie! Love back to you all!


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