I slit chicken throats yesterday. Five of them. The first kill was a bit less humane than ideal because I had cut one vein open, but had a problem getting the knife through the feathers and skin to the second vein. Blood gushed down my hand from the first cut and the chicken made futile, desperate attempts to escape as I tried to re-position its head to finish the job. In less than a minute, it was all over. Yet in that minute, I understood the importance of a clean kill. I knew I had to get it right the next time. My teacher showed me to use the tip of the knife if necessary to pierce the skin before slitting. This helped on the chickens with thicker skinned necks.
Afterwards, another veteran chicken-killer (funny man of the crew) teasingly tried to baptize me in chicken blood. I almost let him. I felt like I had crossed a threshold, and I kind of wished there were some ritual to commemorate it. This same person had made me hold the chickens before flipping them upside down and dropping them into a cone to do the deed. I also appreciated this because it kept in perspective that I was taking a life, not just learning a skill.
These were not our chickens. Our girls are still romping around the reLuxe Ranch eating all the new seedlings we plant and ripping apart the lizards we've been creating habitat for over the last year. I was helping friends "process" meat chickens they raised on pasture and non-GMO feed at their farm. When I came back home, the first thing I did was pick up one of our girls and stroke her feathers. I suppose I wondered if she would notice the difference in me. As I held "Runty" (who showed no signs of alarm even though I still had blood splatters on my face and arms), I contemplated the difference between the chickens I cuddled and the chickens killed. I thought long and hard until the answer came.
Circumstance. That's the only real answer that I couldn't boil down to cosmetic. Our chickens have lovely ruffled feather skirts that make them look like cancan dancers. But, a "meat bird" has it's beauty too if we cared to appreciate it. My girls have been raised with more free range space so they don't show any signs of "hen-pecking" common in confined chickens, which would be true of meat birds in this environment as well. Because I only have 13 to care for, I have come to know their discernable "personality" differences, but our friends have had the same experience with meat birds. Mine lay more eggs, but over time, if bred for egg or meat performance, meat chickens would regenerate into layers and layers into meat chickens. For our chicken that was eaten by Clitis, the neighbor's dog, her circumstances weren't so different than the meat bird.
Ultimately, most chickens' circumstances will be decided by how we see them - as products in factory farms, as pets on small homesteads, or as creatures raised with dignity to be sacrificed for our sustenance. After yesterday, I am ok with blood on my hands from the latter two options.
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