Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Chicken Slaughter

Last week I took part in helping slaughter the chickens we collectively raise with various family members up at my aunt and uncles' house. Our friend Adam was here and helped out as well.

We've been doing this for a number of years but until now I've never been in on the actual process of gathering the chickens and handing them over to be killed. This year I had my chance. A couple named Ralph and Cindy Persons from Hardwick come with a mobile slaughtering trailer that has everything needed to take a chicken from live bird to ready for the freezer.

I've always been a bit iffy about eating meat, but I've always maintained that if we're gonna eat meat, well, we ought to be up for doing what it takes to get that meat, so in that sense I was glad to be a part of this work.

The first task is catching the chickens. You grab them by the leg and hold them upside down. Within a few moments, the chickens settle down and you grab another. Cindy said she wanted three at a time, because that the number of be-heading cones they have on their trailer.

So Adam and I brought up rotations of three chickens at a time and handed them to Cindy who placed them in the cones and with a swift action with the knife, took the chicken's heads off and tossed the heads in a bucket. Its true that that chickens continue to convulse and move for a minute or so after loosing their heads.

From the killing cone the chickens are then taken by Ralph and scalded in a pot of hot water to loosen up the feathers. From there they go into the de-feathering drum that has a series of rubber nubs that pull the feathers out in short order while the chicken bodies whirl around and around. Once the feathers are out, Ralph and Cindy gut the birds and from there they go into a barrel of ice water to cool.

After cooling for a bit, Adam and I then took the processed chickens from the ice water and transferred them to our own barrels of ice water to continue cooling. At the end of the morning's work we'd caught and killed 39 chickens that will be divvied up between three families. This year we lost a handful of birds so we won't have quite as much as previous years.

This is the closest I've ever been to deliberate killing of anything. It wasn't exactly pleasant, but it wasn't all that hard to deal with either. I guess what I was aware of was both my own sensations around the experience, but also a bit of a fixation on the the actual moment of be-heading. Every time we went to get another round of chickens I had this awareness that I was grabbing a living being and taking it to its death. That didn't feel good, but it didn't overly trouble me either.

When we eat meat, we are asking someone to do this work, whether we see it or not. I am glad to have had the opportunity to be this close to the process.