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.|
|Removing the head with pruning shears|
|Removing innards - that's the gizzard + intestines|
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.|
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