The chickens will be 17 weeks old this Thursday. A few weeks ago, we “discovered” that Morgan, one of our Rhode Island Reds, was, in fact, a rooster. (There are no guarantees in life…) We first noticed that his comb was a lot larger than any of the other birds, but that is not always a defining factor. Then, with a little of research, we noticed the spurs on the back of his feet were a bit larger than the other girls, still not totally sure. Then came the morning crowing, the cock-a-doodle-do, definitely a tell-tell. But Morgan’s crow was more of a cock-a-doo-drr-rrr-rr. He was definitely in puberty and his voice had not come into his own.
Keeping roosters in the city where we live is illegal. Our first strategy was to go back to the store where we purchased him as a chick to ask some questions. The owner said she used to take the roosters back, but one of her neighbors turned her into the authorities and she was forced to get rid of her roosters. She said we had a couple of choices, find someone to take him or butcher him.
Knowing you need to kill one of your chickens and doing it for the first time are vastly different realities. We put off the inevitable for a few weeks. As soon as one of us would hear the first morning crow, we would take greens or tomatoes out to the chicken run. This would keep him quiet for an hour or so. This worked until this weekend. He came into his full crow at 4:30 am this last Friday morning.
As I pondered my ability to kill our rooster, all sorts of thoughts became present. I firmly believe in the ability to control our food supply, which means growing and raising our own food. This part of me knew I could take an animal’s life as part of this process. This part helped me to do the research to understand how to do it. This part knew I had to take care of business. At the same time, I had the thought that I “shouldn’t be butchering my own food.” Where did this thought come from? Was it a remnant of my family values. No, my grandparents and father hunted and fished when I was a little. It seemed more like a social or cultural value. What was the history of this cultural value that I had no conscious recollection of making my own? I tried not to give it any power or importance, but instead watched it as it played around in my head. It made me wonder if people who kill their own food on a regular basis are more cognizant of death, are better able to accept death. It made me want to understand how the process of death has been taken away from us, has become specialized for “others” to take care of, has become an accepted external process that most will never examine in their lives. Given all this pondering and philosophical examination, I still knew I had to take care of business.
Today was the day where the rubber met the road. We prepared a space outside with all the tools we needed and crated the dogs. I went to the run and picked up Morgan without much ado. He was calm. I was calm. My nervousness about not being sure about what I was doing showed itself in the first shallow cut. It took three cuts. I became nauseous and light headed, a very visceral experience.
Once we were complete with the plucking, the butchering, the soup prep, and clean-up, I showered to remove the blood. I was pondering what I needed to do differently to make a cleaner cut he next time. I was following how I felt emotions about what had just transpired, but was not emotional. My Papillon came into the bathroom, gave me a look over and a kiss. In that moment, I acknowledged the rite of passage that I went through and allowed the tears to flow.
In this experience, I realized how growing and raising your own food is an extremely intimate experience. You must be intimate with the elements, with death and life, with the cycles of time and space, and so much more… You must be be intimate with the plants and animals you are raising to fully understand and meet their needs. And you must be intimate with yourself to be able to come into alignment with nature and her rhythms.
Thank you Morgan for all that you have taught me!