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?
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.
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?