At Happy Earth Farm we raise meat chickens. Yes, that means we get day old chicks, usually in batches of 130, and then butcher them here on the farm when they have grown to the appropriate size and weight. Sometimes I get conflicted about my role in the whole process. Last night was no exception.
As I said, we take delivery of our chicks right after they are hatched. Until the birds are completely “feathered out”, meaning they have lost their yellow downy feathers and grow their more protective white feathers, we keep them in brooders in the barn under closely monitored heat lamps. We keep them artificially warm for about 3 weeks and then move them to the pasture until processing day.
We moved the 130 fully feathered chickens out to the pasture last Friday. They are free to roam the fields during the day, but we put them up in large covered pens at night to protect them from predators.
It has been warm and sunny at the farm for days, but yesterday evening, rainstorms began pummeling this area. Right before sundown, we headed out to check on the farm animals before calling it a night. I noticed two chicks shivering in the corner of one of the pens; they had gotten wet from the rain. As I scooped them up and called to Steve to get the barn key because these little guys needed to get warmed and dried overnight under a heat lamp, it hit me. Here I was, exceptionally concerned about the wellbeing of these cold, shivering chicks, yet knowing full well that they will die by my hand in four weeks. It caught me off guard.
I suppose that is what, as a farmer, I should feel.……conflicted at times. I should be reminded often of the irony. I should feel a deep sense of responsibility to the comfort and safety of every living creature on this farm. Yes, ultimately these chickens will provide clean, healthy nutrition to our customers, but they must be treated with the utmost respect while residents of HEF.
As I walked to the barn to check on our “patients” this morning, I reminded myself that these chickens may have a short life, but it will be a good one.