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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

RIP Rooster

Rooster met his end today.

Man, this is going to be a difficult entry for me.

And I've had to ask myself WHY. Why, when he is simply an animal...a food source? Why was it so hard to dispatch a creature who poops on my patio and pecks at my jeans? I thought at first that maybe it was because I've raised him from a chick, he's eaten from my hand - super-sharp beak and all, never hurting me! - jumped up into my lap when I've sat outside the coop, and followed me around the yard like I was his mother.

But that's not it. I figured it out after he was dead and gone today and I let Spot out of the coop. See, she leapt out, streaked across the patio and over to the other side of the house, then wandered aimlessly for a few minutes and finally sat in the dirt looking lost and dejected.  And THERE IT IS: I have ascribed human qualities to these animals. I have had to remind myself over and over all day long, they are not humans, they are poultry. Animals. Protein providers, from eggs to meat. And Rooster can't provide eggs, and we couldn't keep him in Elsinore, so he had to become meat. He IS meat now, stored in the fridge and awaiting the crockpot tomorrow.

Though he is "just" an animal, I still respect the life he led...which is why I insisted both on giving him the best chicken-y life I could, and on being the one to dispatch him...personally. It was only right. When I posted on facebook earlier that he is now gone, the writer side of me came up with a thousand pithy comments, but I couldn't post any of them. I really do feel the utmost respect for the animal whose like I took today, so as I describe the experience in these next few paragraphs, I will be doing my best to sound matter-of-fact, and to explain from an educational standpoint what it all entailed. There are others, you see, who are interested in doing what I've done...many more than I realized. None of them have posted comments on this blog, oddly enough - one girl said it was because she doesn't want people to know she's thinking of killing anything, and another said it was because she is embarrassed at the idea of wanting to raise chickens when she and all her friends are the career-types - but the interest is there, and I want to encourage it.

Even if this will be just a bit gory. My mom-in-law snapped some photos, you see, and in the interest of either scaring off the emotionally unsure or educating the staunchly determined, I'm going to post them. Be warned: they aren't pretty. But they are fact, and may serve to assure you, as they do me, that Rooster died with dignity at the hand of the human who cared for and loved him best.

I locked up Spot in the coop this morning after dropping Thing 1 & Thing 2 at my dear friend Tara's, then offered Rooster some collards...his favorite greens. He had a bite or two and I snatched his feet out from under him, holding him upside down until he was calm, then pulling in his wings and cradling him securely against my chest. Everything was prepped: a very small, very very sharp brand new knife, a table covered in plastic and a sheet of (rust-proof!) aluminum with a small bucket for the entrails and some pruning shears at the ready, a tub of warm water for plucking, a pot of hot water for scalding, a tub of ice water with a couple tablespoons of vinegar for chilling and disinfecting, (industrial farms use BLEACH, people!) and finally, a "killing cone" fashioned from a gallon milk jug (missing its bottom and an inch or two off the top) and a bucket to catch the blood. My husband fetched a bowl of water mid-clean to rinse down the table and for me to dunk my hands as necessary.

Finally dead and all bled out; note clipped wing feathers.
I held him for a while, thanked him in earnest, and then held him upside down again, gathering in his wings and inserting him upside down into the "cone" my husband held. I pulled his head through the top-turned-bottom and bent his legs down, tucking them into the cone, then took a few deep breaths, trying not to cry, and sliced across the left side of his neck, opening up the jugular. After a moment's struggle I managed to get the knife into his beak and pop it backward into his brain, very obviously ending his own consciousness of his life. I took the cone from my husband and held it as he bled out entirely. The rest - 3 or 4 solid struggles, during one of which his feet came out of their tucked position - was all just his electrical systems as his body shut down. The last shudder was the largest, and then there was nothing.

Removing the head with pruning shears
Rooster went into the scald pot for 20 seconds, then into the warm water for plucking. It was hotter than I'd have liked, but I got most of the feathers off and took him to the aluminum sheeting. First I cut off the oil gland, but I'm honestly a little lazy and just took of the entire tail section. I used the knife to get through his neck, then the pruning shears to remove his head and feet at the knees, but needed the knife to get through the ligaments there. (The bone was no problem for the shears, but they couldn't snip through the ligaments.) At this point it looked like a closed store-bought chicken, and I could get to work without the "this was Rooster" reminders. I made to small slits on either side of the vent (read: anus), then up and to each side to open him wide. He had the largest gizzard I have ever seen, FYI. I loosened the membranes inside of the bird from the chest and back walls, and pulled out, well, everything. I separated out the heart, liver, and gizzard, and the rest went into the bucket with the head and feet. I cut the rest of the way around the vent to remove it from the bird along with the intestines, keeping any fecal matter securely in the bird. (Please note: when the bird died, it had a small bowel movement; it was washed away by the scalding and plucking, but any e. coli still on the bird was taken care of by the vinegar in the ice bath. Still, it was neither pretty nor a comfort...) The esophagus and crop came out next, followed by having to scrape against the back to pry out the lungs.

Removing innards - that's the gizzard + intestines
I'm still shocked at how colorful everything inside a chicken really is. I remember as a young woman in biology class seeing a human dummy with all the different parts seemingly color-coded and thinking that that couldn't possibly be real. It IS. Each part has its own color, consistency, etc. The liver is brown, the heart is red, the intestines are a bluish pink, the lungs are bright is the strangest thing. Strange or no, though, at least it makes identifying the keep-worthy pieces easy! I ended up wrapping, rewrapping, and rewrapping all the parts to dispose of them, but mentioned to my husband that if we had a dog, I'd feed the parts to it. He mentioned that he'd read that you should never give chicken insides to your dog because they then potentially develop a taste for them and will seek to kill your chickens in the future to get more. Sort of a Captain Hook/Crocodile thing: Croc gets Hook's hand and likes the taste so much he spends the rest of his days hunting Hook down. Anyway, DON'T DO THAT.

Okay, so...chicken is empty and clean, he goes into the ice water and hangs out there while I get to cleaning the pieces. The neck needs no help, but the tubes have to be pulled out of the heart, the liver needs a good rinsing, and the gizzard needs...well, lots. You slit it down the middle (cut it halfway through, but not all the way through; makes peeling more difficult) and spread it wide, cleaning out the (really disgusting) grit, sand, and digested goo inside. Rinse it away, then peel off the yellow membrane; should come off easily. Then, well, you're done, and it's all clean up from there.
Inside of gizzard; rinse junk, then peel yellow membrane.

I poured the scald water into the blood bucket and used it to water the tree in our front yard (blood is a really great nitrogen source for trees). I scooped the feathers from the pluck tub and drained them in a colander, then tied them into an old pillow case and ran them through the dryer on low. FYI, I should have washed them in a gentle detergent first, because they stank of chicken oils. Eew. YOU will stink of chicken oils, too, should you dispatch your own chicken. I still smell it on my hands, faintly, 12 hours later. Should be gone by tomorrow. The chicken and usable parts went into the fridge in a tupperware, and everything else was cleaned with all due haste.

And, totally anticlimactically, it was all done. Which, of course, is when I let Spot out of the coop and she sought out Rooster, and I lost it. Such is life.

Speaking of feathers...the plucking.
Anyway, the feathers went to Tara to say thank you for watching my munchkins, (though I'm going to have to call tomorrow and apologizing for not knowing I was supposed to wash them,) and tomorrow Rooster hits the crockpot in preparation for dinner tomorrow night. And again, that is, well, it.

And I'm tired. I took a nap today, I was so emotionally spent. I confess, I hope it gets easier...and that I can take on the farm-life attitude of animal-for-food instead of the city-girl attitude of fluffy, imprinted chicken. Either way, I can be proud of the fact that I got through it, and that my Rooster lived - and died - with dignity. After all, THAT is the purpose of an animal: to live the traditional life of that animal, and die a dignified death for the sake of feeding a family that will utilize every usable part.

I don't know what I am right now.

No, that's not true. I'm thankful.

And I'm content knowing that if ever it came down to it, I have the knowledge, the skill necessary - and the emotional ability - to feed my family animal protein. That's a good feeling.

And that is all I can say for now. Maybe I'll have more insight tomorrow, next week, 3 years from now, I don't know, but for now, I'm ready for bed.
Rest in peace, Rooster. Thank you for fulfilling your purpose so beautifully. You were amazing, and you'll be missed...especially at 5:27 AM when you used to crow to summon me to let you out, and more especially by Spot. Thanks again, Rooster. You taught me a ton. Love, Jess


  1. Incredibly impressed by your empirical appreciation of where our protein comes from--I am sure I could not have done that; you're amazing!!!

  2. It hard because we care and we (in the modern era) don’t have to kill on an everyday occurrence to feed ourselves.
    But your right, animals are food, and he had a much better life than if he was raised on a chicken farm.

  3. There is something so real and tangible about being able to feed your family for yourself. so rustic and yet animalistic. I hope one day to be able to do it for myself and my family too. thanks for the motivation Jessica


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