Anyone remember the movie Office Space? One of my all-time favorites and I could not help but think about it the other day. More specifically, the line - "I can't believe what a bunch of nerds we are. We're looking up "money laundering" in a dictionary."
I thought of this as I was scanning the table of contents in The Encyclopedia of Country Living, looking for the 'chicken butchering' section.
I can't believe what an uneducated, non-self-sufficient nerd I am. I am looking up how to process a chicken in The Encyclopedia of Country Living.
We have decided that the roosters have to go and we are going to be the ones to do it. They are our responsibility. But we needed help.
Roy had done his fair share of butchering and processing in his teens at his Grandparents cattle farm. So much so, that he was once rumored to mutter, after being served yet another dinner of steak, "Can't we just have hot dogs?". But he was rusty, having not butchered in many years.
My Dad has more recent experience in that he processes his deer yearly and he has put many pheasants in the freezer though the years. So with metal cone in hand, he and my Mom came over and went to work.
Mom = child care (22 months is just a little too young to pluck)
Me = Water boiler, assistant rooster catcher and supply runner
Roy = Rooster catcher, processing assistant
Dad = Head processor and person who knows what he is doing
Dad borrowed a metal cone from a friend and he hung it out behind the shed. Roy and I caught the first rooster, I gave him a little pat on the head to say goodbye, and Roy took him to the cone. Dad cut the throat and drained the blood and this was pretty much what we did the next three times. Four roosters all together. All the same, except for the last one. The hens knew something was up. But instead of ganging up and shoving him out the coop door, they started protecting him. He was in the corner of the coop between a bale of straw and a nest box. There was 6 hens literally sitting around him, circling the wagons. Another was curled up under him and another was standing guard on top of the straw bale. There is nothing else I can say about this except people can say and believe anything they want, but I believe that animals are smart, have feelings, and unique personalities.
I stayed in the coop because I could not watch. Yes, you read correctly. Big bad do-it-yourself homesteader could not kill her own roosters. Couldn't even watch. Couldn't even pluck!!!!
Why couldn't I?
I have been eating white meat my whole life. I know that the pre-cut pieces I buy at the store were once living, breathing animals. Granted, we only buy hormone and antibiotic free organic meats, but it is still meat.
I buy it, I cook it and I serve it to my family.
So why couldn't I deal with the source of our food?
For all intents and purposes, this was going to be the best chicken we could have. We knew exactly what they were eating, how they were cared for and how they were killed. This was what I wanted - to know my food source and to be 100% sure about every aspect of it.
But i couldn't watch, I couldn't participate in the process and I wasn't sure I would be able to cook and serve the meat. I was even feeling very uneasy about making the decision in the first place. Couldn't i have built another pen? A larger pen to give everyone more room? Gotten more hens to even out the numbers? I felt guilty. I felt like a murderer. These were my animals, under my care. How could I do this to them? What was their crime?
I felt like a willing executioner for the rest of the day, even though I wasn't even the one who 'flipped the switch', so to speak. Hell, I wasn't even working at the power plant that supplied the proverbial electric for that switch.
Homesteaders should be able to deal with the rigors and stresses of killing dinner. In every year up until the invention of the supermarket, I am guessing, they did. Is it part of the configuration of modern homesteading that we do as much as we can for ourselves - gardening, sewing, home repair, milk and egg production, etc., and then use local services for the rest?
The word "modern" seems to give everything a whole new meaning. I am happy being a "modern" homesteader but I am still bothered by this inability to participate in the processing of my roosters. Is part of being a "modern" homesteader the unconscious incorporation of today's ideals into that homesteading effort?
Does the fact that I treat my cats like people and that my neighbor puts little sweaters on her dog influence how we feel about slaughtering our own poultry?
Do this also mean that we have the willingness to take care of our livestock as just that - livestock and not feathered pets? And along those lines, have we also lost the knowledge to do so? If the 'stuff' hits the fan some day, will we all be nerds looking up self-sufficiency skills in The Encyclopedia of Country Living?