Thursday, June 28, 2012

Blood, death, and fresh local meat

I really respect vegetarians. While I may not approve of Betsy's fake-steak-eating tendencies (ew?) I respect the principle--which is why I have my own principle: I will not eat anything I would not be willing to kill.

But principles are meant to be fudged, yes? Not living by our principles is what lets us live in the world, I say, and happily chow down on rare steaks, well-seasoned pork chops, and steaming fried chicken. I really like meat. If I actually held to my principle, I wouldn't eat any flesh except fish, because a fish is the only animal I'd killed. And bugs, but I don't eat bugs.

Now, however, I can eat chicken in good conscious. Today I helped process 200.

Complimenting our veggies-only operation, the neighbors raise chickens (eggs and meat), duck, rabbit, swine, and (in the near future) sheep. I've been wanting to put Le Principle to the test, and so I had mentioned to them that I wanted to come over some time. 

Yesterday, the summons came; they would be short two hands today and would I please show up at 8:30am in rubber boots.

WARNING: This post may not be for the squeamish.

So this morning, I tromp through the woods and waddle up in my semi-water-resistant cowboy boots after the 8:00am discovery that leaving rubber boots outside leads to fire ant nests. Oops... I wish I had pictures of the operation, but I didn't want to be the tourist with the camera and also they told me to wear rubber boots for a reason: killing things involves lots of water for cleansing, and we all suited up in this huge black butcher aprons which trailed on the floor on the kids (the family has 5), making them look like maniacal choir choirboys. One of the kids wears a curling rooster feather in the back of his baseball cap like a war trophy. Here in the country, everyone helps with chores and no one seems to be squeamish about little kids darting around the squirts of blood from dying chickens.

I'm not going to swagger around say that it was easy. Full disclosure: I was slightly nauseous the whole time, and thinking back on it makes me more so. I helped with the final stage--inspection--and I still haven't killed a single chicken, but I have gutted several while their little organs were still warmly quivering and I think that counts for something. The worst part is watching; once you actually have your hands in there (literally), it's not that bad. You buck up and get to work. My hands and arms still smell like chicken grease. 

Here's the picture: 200 chickens in crates on the bed of a pickup truck backed into a roofed and mostly wall-less structure. Over a sink-of-sorts to the right, there are about seven metalic cones, glinting like humane and antiseptic guillotines. The slaughterer loads a chicken into the cone, snips the veins on either side of the neck with a knife, and leaves the chicken to gargle and kick away while he moves away to the next. This happens very quickly.

Fun fact: 7-week-old chickens make a noise very much like screaming. They go, "eeeek! eeek! eeeeeeeek!" And then there is silence and thumping and coagulating blood because they've had their little throats cut.

After they stop kicking, they get quickly boiled to loosen the feathers and then they go for a spin in this rotating drum with rubber knobs which rub off the feathers. Next, they get slung to the other side of the table where their feet and tailglands get cut off.

Each of these steps can be easily performed by one skilled person. The following step, gutting, is rather tedious and requires a team. The little boys are quite good and the little anatomy lesson fascinates them. I won't describe gutting for you, except it's actually pretty fun and very interesting. I'm with the boys here. Popping off the heads is kind of gross, but you get over that.

It took us about 3 hours, and we left the neat little bodies market-ready and bobbing around in cool water to chill down while we cleaned the place up and went up to the house to eat chicken salad. It was delicious, and my appetite was none the worse for the great slaughter. If anything, I respected that meat more. 

My boots are still decorated with little strands of entrails. I'll brush them off tomorrow.


  1. ew ew ew ew ew ew ew ew ew ew ew ew ew

  2. I respect you so much right now. But seriously.

  3. Also, chicken salad sounds delicious right now.

  4. You just brought back so many memories. Would you believe me if I said I'm jealous.

  5. I do believe you, Calvin. Slaughtering things is disturbingly satisfying.