A word of warning for my vegan and veg friends: I'm talking about the chickens we raise for food on the blog today. Scroll on if that's not something you're interested in reading about.
I was a vegetarian for nearly a decade. But unlike other healthier vegetarians, my body didn't do well on a grain- and legume-based diet. Over the years I became less and less well. Finally, in my late 20's I decided to try eating meat again to see if I might begin to heal.
And while eating meat wasn't the magic bullet I was hoping for, it was the first step in my healing journey. (I've written extensively about our family's path to gut healing on the blog through the years. Search "healing" here and you'll find enough reading to keep you occupied for days.)
But starting to eat meat again after avoiding it for so long was not a simple choice. I decided then that I would be extremely mindful about the meat that I would choose to eat. Initially I ate only fish and venison that my family had hunted. Then slowly I moved into ethically raised meat from small family farms.
Raising our own meat would be better still. We could have total say over quality of life, quality of feed, and farming ethics. We would know for sure how these animals lived and died.
Before I knew it we were raising the majority of our family's meat.
And that is how this one time vegetarian ended up with 90 homegrown chickens on hand to butcher this weekend.
Butchering weekend is nobody's favorite.
It's hot, it's emotional, it's smelly, it's messy. It's difficult work in every way. But to walk my talk as best as I'm able? To never take for granted those sanitary packages of meat in the coop or grocery store freezer, but instead to know so well what it took for them to get there? To raise kids who know – quite literally – where the food on their plate comes from, and what it takes for meat to find it's way to the kitchen?
Well, that's something I never want them to forget. And after this their fourth butchering weekend, I'm certain they will not.
Honestly, I wouldn't have chosen this week to butcher it if I had any say in the matter. Life is still quite tender over here. (And honestly, I've had enough death for the moment.) I wanted more time in my cocoon. More time to grieve. But chicken butchering can't wait. And in an abstract way I think that's actually been helpful. To be forced to pull on my big girl pants and get to work.
Because life rolls on and there's work to be done.
And so the four of us butchered and processed 90 birds together in two days. (The most we've ever done before was just over half that amount.)
It was an epic amount of difficult work, but with so many varied jobs to be done, each of us found our own ways to contribute. (Sage, for example, doesn't have the constitution for chicken butchering, so he helps by rounding up birds, then heads to the house to cook and clean up all of our meals.)
Because it seemed like a good idea at the time, I also put up a couple dozen jars of chicken soup, white chicken chili, and broth – to save us a little freezer space mostly, but also to keep our momentum going between batches of birds. It added another layer of work, but it's one that is more my speed and added satisfaction to a challenging weekend.
In just 2 days long days we put up enough meat to last us more than a year.
Every part of me aches; and all four of us are exhausted. But as Lupine put it, it was oddly satisfying work. Because we do eat meat. And honestly, there isn't a way I would rather fill the freezer than this.
I am humbled and grateful.
6 thoughts on “Food for a year”
That is so wonderful Rachel. I have had laying hens for over 3 years and each year I say “this is the year I am going to butcher the roosters” and I have yet to butcher one. In fact, I have never even tasted a farm fresh chicken in my life. I am trying to build a self sustaining flock so next year I am keeping the cockerels and doing the deed. It is the right thing to do. Heck, I even bought a second hand plucker so I don’t have any more excuses. I guess, though, I really should stop naming them all. That could help.
Wow, that’s a lot of birds in just 2 days! Our family processed 60 a few weeks ago. As chicken butchering newbies we underestimated the time it would take and ended up butchering a second full day. But I was so proud that we did the entire process, from start to finish, as family. My 8 year old trimmed and gutted and my 4 year old cleaned and peeled gizzards. I agree with Lupine, there’s nothing more satisfying than raising the chest freezer lid and finding it filled with chicken that lived happy, healthy lives under our care.
I am slowly recovering from vegetarianism, myself. I really enjoyed this post. <3
If I had to hold the killing knife I would be a vegetarian again in an instant. Pete kills them – I know what it takes but just don’t have it in me. (The first meat I ate as a post-vegetarian was a bluegill. I insisted on killing it myself, then sat on the floor of our boat and sobbed for an hour. After that I realized that I couldn’t be the one to do the deed, but I knew very well what it meant.) Maybe you need a helper. 😉
It’s amazing watching the kids pitch in and do this work. Doing 60 with kids that young is impressive! Well done. We found that now that our kids are so much older it’s gotten much easier, because they are able to work as hard as Pete and I!
I grew up on a farm and watched what was going on when the days like this one you had came. I would cover my eyes and ears and run away, but in a few days, I would eat meat of the animals slaughtered that day. When I was 11, it was time for me to start helping my mom. That summer day, she was doing the deed, while I was holding chicken by their tiny legs. I’ll never forget the force they were fighting with. I wasn’t crying, I wasn’t complaining, but after 50 deeds done that day, I couldn’t smell chicken for a year. When I was 26, I realized that I am not capable of doing the deed myself, that I cannot even split an already dead chicken. That was the moment I decided I won’t eat another bite of meat if I’m not capable to kill the animal myself. For 12 years now I’m a vegetarian, my husband and kids too, all perfectly healthy. But, I know, I know, now that I have children I know, that if I had to kill an animal to keep my family healthy and alive, I would do it, I wouldn’t hesitate. And I would be thankful and humbled, just as you are. Thank you for your openness.