Today was a good day.
I had been trying to decide the best timing to harvest the broiler chickens. I knew it would be this month anywhere between 10-12 weeks. They are 10 weeks, huge, eating me out of house and home and rapidly approaching sexual maturity: roosters crowing, starting to do their little mating dance and just being plain mean to each other in general. As luck would have it Mother Nature has decided for me. She presented me with two 53 degrees nights. Nice cool mornings are perfect for butchering any animal.
I set about Wednesday afternoon prepping the station in a meditative, contemplative way. I was neither excited nor feeling dread. Taking life is not easy, especially the lives of animals you have nurtured from helpless to adulthood, but raising them to nourish humans was my purpose and I have no hesitation in harvesting them. I had a twinge of guilt over feeling thankful that the opportunity to harvest would be when I was alone on the farm, Matt still away at work. I wanted to be alone with my birds for my first time harvesting.
I rose at 5:30 am and the morning was perfect. Bright pink sky, 55 degrees. I grabbed my coffee and quietly fed Roger, the laying hens and Flavius, the pullets and threw Phoebe and Gus some hay. I went out to select my biggest roosters for the day’s harvest. The Freedom Ranger breed is a friendly one and the whole flock came to greet me. Four big boys happily got in their cage and curiously, but quietly, looked around as we made our way to the barn.
I thought of Wendell Berry’s beautiful poem, a blessing really, For The Hog Killing :
Let them stand still for the bullet, and stare the
shooter in the eye,
let them die while the sound of the shot is in the
air, let them die as they fall,
let the jugular blood spring hot to the knife, let
its freshet be full,
let this day begin again the change of hogs into
people, not the other way around,
for today we celebrate again our lives’ wedding
with the world,
for by our hunger, by this provisioning, we renew
I know it’s about hog and I’m butchering chickens but it’s fitting for any animal really. Reminding us to not venture too far from our connection to the living world and the things that sustain and nourish us. Our food is more than the piece of meat shrink wrapped on the Styrofoam tray at the grocery store. I whispered the last two lines to myself and set about my work.
All went as it should and it was quiet and peaceful. My hand was steady and I thankfully made no mistakes. Roger laid at a distance quietly and watched, occasionally coming to inspect and have a sniff, not sure what to make of my activity. He, too, seemed to appreciate the situation. The breeze blew and the birds sang. I swelled with pride at the condition of my birds. Large, clean, a very light layer of beautiful golden omega-3 fat from the fresh grass and bugs they ate being on pasture, healthy bright organs. These birds had lived a good life.
Afterward, as the birds chilled in the cooler, I took a break, grabbed another cup of coffee and took a walk around. My corn is knee high with the pole beans close behind and I discovered my squash seedlings just emerging from being planted last weekend. The sunflowers were making their way up too. “We are actually doing this.” I thought to myself. Our dream of so many years ago and now we are here. Tiny step by step we are starting to provide things for ourselves. Eggs, vegetables, meat. On a property where, when it was established, there was no choice but to provide for one’s self. I thought about being able to share our bounty with our great community of friends. It was emotional for me. Sounds silly I know, but I guess it just brings me great joy. These small steps.
Matt returns home tonite and I’m looking forward to our ritual bourbon on the porch.
It was a good day.