Chicken Soup

These hens have lived with us for three years. They ain’t no spring chickens anymore.

I’m thankful for our chickens.  We’ve had a small backyard coop for three years now. Fresh eggs with golden yolks for breakfast, the joy of opening up the nesting box and cradling a warm newly laid egg. But after three years, egg production has dwindled and winter is coming on. On Thanksgiving weekend we plan to kill our chickens.

This is no surprise.  We even named one of the chickens “Soup.” Part of the reason we decided to raise chickens was to help our kids understand where food comes from. The egg part they get. What will they make of the butchering?

What’s it like to be a chicken?

Likely what farm kids and rural kids the world over make of it. If we eat meat, this is part of life. I know one farm family who raised three pigs each year and always named them the same three names: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.

Still, it gives us pause. It’s one thing to have an animal you’ve cared for die. It’s another thing to kill it.

I have butchered chickens before. I helped a friend out with the operation, mostly to see if I could do it. If I couldn’t kill a chicken myself, I figured I shouldn’t go on eating them. Turns out it wasn’t hard at all – psychologically or physically. I do try to buy “happy” chicken meat now; ones that had some room to roam during their lifetime. After having raised chickens myself I know the truth of this even more: chickens hate to be cooped up.

Winter is no fun to be a chicken. They’re cooped up all the time. Deep snow piles up. And even when warm weather comes, these girls are getting old. They ain’t no spring chickens.

Fresh egg with pesto on a toasted bagel – yum!

Still, I’m going to miss the old birds. I like watching their simple joy in taking a dust bath, or sheltering another chicken under their wing. I like to hear them vocalize, especially the proud cacaCACACACAcackle when each one lays an egg. And I simply adore the fresh green and brown eggs with their deliciously golden yolks. But there will be new chicks in the spring.

To my surprise, that’s what my four-year-old focused on when I told him the hens were getting old and we were going to kill them. “What will we name the new chicks?” he asked.  “How about Fairy Bubblewrap?”

His next question was: “What will you kill them with?” A knife. That seemed to satisfy.  Mostly he’s curious.  “I want to see all the parts.  When you kill them, when you cut off their heads, when you pluck them and when you put them in the pot.” We’ll let both children watch if they want to, answer their questions, and help pluck.

Thanksgiving seems a good time for this. It’s the time of year most of us have big birds on the table. We need to pause and remember where our food comes from. For kids, there’s simply no replacement for personal experience. They may not choose to eat our homemade chicken Soup, they may decide to become vegetarians someday, but knowing what happens to old hens is important.

I think next year we might get four chickens and name them Soup, Casserole and Gumbo. Oh, and Fairy Bubblewrap.

What would you do?  Involve the kids or shelter them from the process?  How close have YOU come to producing your own food?

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4 Responses to Chicken Soup

  1. Natalie says:

    This could not have come at a better time. We have 5 hens and two roosters. Both of the rooster attacked my 6 yr old yesterday. She was taking eggs out of their coop. She was terrified. When we found out that we had two males, we said if they ever become aggressive Giant or Angel will become dinner. So their nicknames are Dinner.
    Back to my point, my children are so sad. This is our first time raising chickens. We don’t have any experience in killing/butchering them. My partner’s mother will do it for us the day after Thanksgiving. We will learn from her, as she grew up on a farm in Portugal.

    We started with 12 in May and now have 7. They have experienced loosing their chicks, but not killing them. It is important for us as well for them to know where our food comes from. They already said they don’t want to be here when it happens. The one that was attacked does not want Giant killed. I am afraid of how they will feel after. I don’t want to traumatize her. If you have any thoughts to share, I would really appreciate it. Thanks. Natalie

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Hello Natalie,
      Glad the post was timely for you. Sorry to hear about the rooster attack, and it’s understandable that your daughter has a mix of feelings about it – terror, but probably also guilt that she’s responsible for the rooster getting killed. Sounds as if you will be in good hands with your family expert from Portugal. If the person in charge is calm and matter-of-fact, that can help kids take it in stride. Be open to all your daughter’s emotions, and be ready for the fact that she may think it’s all her fault. You might try watching some nature videos which depict predator and prey – how it’s not the antelope’s fault or the cheetah’s fault, it’s just the mix of life. Good luck – and let us know how it goes!

  2. “If I couldn’t kill a chicken myself, I figured I shouldn’t go on eating them.”

    Heather, I admire your mindset. Whether a person is a carnivore, vegetarian, or vegan, it’s important to know where meat comes from. Many children understand that meat comes from a package in the grocery store, but they haven’t any experience to connect the dots back to the original source, a living animal.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      It is hard to connect the dots for kids and adults as well. I agree with you that we all need to learn about food’s sources, no matter what our eating habits. I find killing a chicken makes me more grateful for the life energy the bird gives me.