Okay, before y'all get too comfy on this here farm blog, adoring our cute-as-pie, egg-laying, pet chickens, let's have a reality check:
We love chickens!
We also eat chickens.
Don't worry folks, we don't eat our pet chickens!
Our pet egg-layer chickens live good lives. When we started keeping those chickens, we started contemplating the lives of other chickens. Specifically, the ones we eat.
We heard terrible things about factory farms and the poor quality of life the chickens endure on those farms. Not to mention the icky things that go into those chickens - things I do not want to eat.
As a result of this knowlege, we started eating less and less factory-farmed chicken. Our chicken started getting more and more expensive. I was openly mocked at work for buying a $23 chicken from Soul Food Farms ($23 does seem like a lot of money for one chicken, even if it WAS delicious).
In early 2010 I started lurking in the "meat birds ETC" section of the forum on backyardchickens.com, and browsing tutorials on YouTube.
In April 2011 we picked up seven Cornish Cross chickens from the local feed store. I had been contemplating the best, most humane way to kill a chicken for many months now, and it was looming large in my mind.
Book learning and online education were great, but it helped even more to have some local farmers SHOW us how.
Rachel and Tom from Dog Island Farm came over and graciously taught us how to process chickens (We were very nervous). I can't recommend this enough - if you are urban farming - connect with other local people who are doing what you do, to share skills and resources. Don't be shy! Send that email, knock on that door, stop and talk to your neighbor when you see him out in the yard, join the local bee club, etc.
Okay, back to the meaties (as we affectionately call them). We do not name them individually. We DO name them as a group to remind us of their ultimate purpose. The first batch was named "Delicious". The second batch was named "Tasty". Our third and current batch is named "Succulent".
We pet them and talk to them every day. We could have as little contact as possible to spare our emotions, but that is not what this experiment is about. This experiment is about knowing and respecting our meat. Handling the meat birds frequently reduces stress for them on butchering day, because we don't have to chase them to catch them.
We are not "saying grace" kind of people, but because of this chicken raising effort, we now say "Thank you, chicken!" before starting every chicken meal. I can understand the $23 price tag now.
If I were a farmer depending on eggs and/or meat for income, I would not have had the luxury to "grandmother in" my six egg-layers as pets. I promised those six chickens they could stay forever, and a promise is a promise, even when the dorky, novice farmer doesn't know any better.
Next week: Back to the cute-as-pie pet chickens.