Rest Easy, Little Chicken

Author Photo
By Erin C

I wanted to talk about all the new things we have been delving into this spring. Or I wanted to talk about cooking. I wasn’t sure, but writer’s block moved in, unpacked his bags and put his feet up on the coffee table. Then today, while we were outside with the chickens, we noticed the copper laced Wyandotte’s back feathers were missing in different degrees of severity. None of the other birds looked nearly as roughed up as our pretty girls; in fact, nobody else was missing feathers. We watched and waited. And finally, Shawn, our most gorgeous bird snatched a feather right off one of her coop-mates. And she ate it. That’s never a good sign, and can eventually turn into full blown cannibalism in the chickens. We had an earlier problem with this, when Shawn’s twin, Ed was isolated for days on end to help her stop picking feathers, and every time she rejoined the coop fence free, she immediately started feather picking. Since cannibalism is a quickly learned behavior in a flock of chickens, it’s important to separate the feather picking birds immediately. And cannibalism is very difficult to fix once it’s been started. Prevention is always better. So weeks ago, we added Ed to the soup pot. As we watched today, there were two of our Wyandotte chickens that were engaging in the most brutal feather picking behavior, Shawn and one who has not been named yet. My husband and I had a little chicken powwow, and decided it was better to nip this in the bud than watch our entire flock devolve into cannibal chickens, which would have been a huge waste of money and resources. Up to this point, my husband has waited to butcher chickens until I am safely at work for the weekend, two and a half hours away. To say that I am tenderhearted is a fair statement, and maybe even an understatement. We both knew going into the whole homesteading deal what was in store for us; I knew that animals that I name, feed, care for and love on will one day feed us. And my husband knew that when it came time to do the kill, he was pretty much on his own. We walked into this eyes wide open. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still get a touch heartbroken when we butcher. And it doesn’t mean that even though it does make me sad for a little while that we will stop raising our own meat. Or that I will ever stop treating our animals the way we treat them. It’s a huge part of why we raise our own meat. I have read in many different places advice from farmers and homesteaders who say you shouldn’t get attached. Don’t name them; don’t spend the afternoon with a chicken in your lap reading a book. But that’s not who we are; we raise them spoiled on purpose.

I guess the point of all of this is that homesteaders get abuse from numerous angles; I have had vegans tell me what we do is horrific and that we should be ashamed. I have had old school farmers tell me I’m too soft and I should never get so attached to my animals. Neither is truly accurate; if you are going to eat (and my guess is you probably are), then in our minds taking responsibility and really knowing where your food comes from is essential to being good stewards of the land and of yourselves. It is necessary for us to fully understand what is involved in our food choices. Even if that means knowing that our chicken cordon bleu has a face. And if it came from here, it probably at one point had a name. So tonight I will shed a tear or two for Shawn and the bird who shall remain nameless and tomorrow we will enjoy chicken for dinner. Then we will do it all over again as the newest set in the brooder gets ready to move outside and integrate into the flock. That will be a whole other story.

Published on May 19, 2016

Grit Magazine

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