We did it. We took a big step in homesteading. We butchered our first chicken.
Last fall we picked up a few straight run dual-purpose chicks. We got more then we needed to cover any accidental chick deaths, and any “surprise” roosters, which would be destined for the dinner table.
We had one chick die, and miraculously, only one of the 5 remaining chicks turned out to be a rooster.
That rooster become our first homestead butchering experience, our first home raised meat – that rooster became our dinner.
Because all of these birds will eventually be butchered (the hens will become stew hens when they stop laying in a few years), I purposefully avoided bonding with them. I was pretty successful at that. We don’t name our birds, I don’t teach them tricks, and I don’t really give them treats other then tossing them the kitchen scraps after dinner.
Now before anyone gets all hot and bothered over my “cold-heartedess”, I care a lot about these birds. I make sure they have lots of space and the best food available, and I make sure my girls treat them with kindness. They have free-range over our large backyard, and I’m grateful for the pest-control, egg laying, and garden fertilizing services they provide. And really chickens are pretty hiliarious creatures. Watching them out in the yard brings me great pleasure.
However, they are “working” animals on our homestead, and so I personally feel I need to keep up a bit of an emotional wall when it comes to them. They have a job to do, and part of that job will ultimately be feeding my family.
From the beginning we were very honest with our girls about the fate of these chicks.
We told them from day one, and kept reminding them over the time we’ve been raising them, that any of the boys we would be eating like the chickens we buy at the grocery store. So they had an abstract understanding of what was about to happen. And even at their tender ages of 4 and 3, they have experienced death (you can read about some of those instances here, and here). So they understood as much as they could before the butchering day came.
As a mother in this modern world, I felt some hesitation at allowing them to be there and witness the butchering process. It’s something soooo far removed from our daily lives that it’s become “inappropriate” for children to see.
But, really, it’s only in what? the last 70 years that this life providing process has been removed from our cultural norm. I mean, I’m pretty sure that since the beginning of time, children younger then mine have witnessed and perhaps even helped in the butchering and processing of their dinner.
Plus, I feel like this process, though somewhat grizzly and uncomfortable, is far more humane and kind then modern factory farming and processing. Now that. That, I would not want my kids to see. It’s cruel and disturbing.
So we let the girls decide for themselves if they wanted to be present during the process. And they both decided to be there for it. We all said goodbye to him, and thanked him for feeding us, and we said a prayer over him before we took him to the killing cone.
My four year old, who is very attached to her chickens (she has a favorite which I’ve promised will never be a meal…I’ve got a soft spot for my baby, what can I say?) watched with interest during everything but the actual killing. She averted her eyes for that. She was sad, and we talked about how that was ok. Because it is sad. It should be a little sad. It helps us appreciate our food all the more, in my opinion.
But later, after the plucking was over, and I was eviscerating the chicken, she stood by and watched and asked her ever present question about everything lately, “what’s inside?”, so we had a bit of a homeschooling moment as we dissected and I told her what was inside. She was fascinated, and that’s okay too. Because it was fascinating!
And then, it was finished. We let the chicken chill for a few days in the refrigerator and then we enjoyed a delicious home raised, home cooked, meal, straight from our own back yard.
All that being said, it was difficult for me to do.
I’ve never intentionally killed anything other than vermin – bugs, a rat, and even a couple deadly venomous snakes. This was totally different. I could have easily handed this job over to my husband. He’s never butchered a chicken before, but he’s a hunter and is familiar with butchering wild pheasants. But to me, homestead butchering was a right of passage. This whole homesteading thing was originally my idea after all. I felt like it was important for me to finish what I started when we picked up these chicks months earlier.
So I was the one who ended the roosters life. My husband and I tag-teamed the plucking, and the processing was mainly my job – my hands were small enough to get in the cavity and pull everything out – I saved all we could, including the feet for stock. And I prepared and cooked it.
From brooder box to the dinner table, I owned the process. And you know what? It felt good. It was difficult to take this bird’s life, but I’m proud that I faced that discomfort and soldiered on. I’m proud that we were able to raise our own dinner. I’m proud that we were able to give this rooster a good life before he gave it to give us life in return. And I’m proud I pushed passed artificial modern norms, and let my children experience the process too.
It was a difficult but rewarding process. Home-raised food really does taste amazingly flavorful (yes – even a rooster!). And we are very much looking forward to the day we live on a enough space to raise a flock of meat birds to feed our family many more meals.