I will be the first to admit it…..I butcher chickens. I can almost hear the gasps. The most humorous comment I received was from someone expressing sorrow for our chickens, and then, ironically, posted a picture of her chicken dinner on Facebook moments later. Let’s explore this, shall we?
I am not a vegetarian, although I toyed with the idea in college for a few months and then again when I was so morning sick during pregnancy that I couldn’t even look at raw meat for the first trimester. But since then, I enjoy all foods, including meat, but I am constantly vigilant when it comes to trying to control where my food originates.
One of our goals at Happy Earth Farm is to live as close to the land as we can……without going all crazy-extreme-end-of-the-world-prepper types. I know how important it is to feed one’s self well by being mindful of the purity of the foods consumed. When deciding to raise chickens, for our own consumption, as well as for part of our retail endeavor, ensuring that every chicken is raised humanely is paramount. And being aware of what those chickens ingest as they are raised is critical. As the saying goes, “you are what you eat”.
As a psychotherapist, I have approached the raising of chickens from a unique perspective. I constantly work with my human clients on stress management because we all know that stress can affect our body chemicals, which in turn affects our health. Imagine chickens being raised in cages, crammed to capacity so movement becomes impossible. Imagine the stress they experience when the neighbor leaning against them dies and is left to decompose in the cage creating, in many cases, instances of cannibalism. Imagine the stress levels of those chickens when their beaks are cut off so that eating one another becomes more difficult. Imagine how that level of stress affects their nervous system and therefore the quality of their health and the quality of their meat.
From a practical standpoint, imagine how much disease these growing birds encounter. In the chicken “factories”, which supply almost all of the grocery stores, the only way to deal with widespread infection is to bombard the chickens with antibiotics. Tack on the desire to increase productivity so now these birds are force-fed even more antibiotics and other agents to increase their appetites because God knows, their appetites must be adversely affected by the death and disease all around them.
Come processing day, most of the factory birds are loaded onto trucks and taken to another location for butchering. They are killed en mass without much attempt to ensure that evisceration doesn’t break open their intestines, which will pour into the bird’s cavity, contaminating the meat. To combat that, these birds are then given up to 40 chlorine baths…..sounds tasty.
So that is the backstory to most of the perfectly packaged chicken breasts proudly displayed at your local grocer. I’m not trying to gross anyone out here; I’m just trying to keep it real.
The chickens at Happy Earth Farm start out just like those shipped to chicken factories; they have a life expectancy of about 10 weeks before their hearts give out. How and where they live out those 10 weeks is most important. I believe our chickens won “the hatchery lottery”.
Our chickens are raised on soy-free organic feed. They spend most of their days wandering in-between their large indoor coop and a fenced in yard. They are fed twice a day and we keep a close eye on their water throughout the day to make sure it is always clean and full. When the weatherman calls for cooler temperatures, a heating lamp is attached to the ceiling in their coop, letting off a disco party-like look at sunset.
We set up lawn chairs some evenings and drink wine while we watch them waddle around their play yard. Surprisingly, they have a taste for fire ants, so there is often a scurried frenzy when a new mound is discovered. Watching them chase grasshoppers has become a personal favorite of mine.
On processing day, the chickens remain in their grass pen under the huge live oak tree until it is their time. They spend every hour from birth to death being lovingly attended to and respectfully treated. The significance of what they are going to provide us is never far from my mind. Yes, killing anything is difficult, but I am a realist. I have a choice in what I eat; knowing that what I consume is treated with kindness and respect makes being a carnivore much easier. So yeah, I butcher chickens.