CAGJ joined the farmers of Island Meadow Farm – Chandler Briggs, Caitlin Henry and Roby – in an awesome heart wrenching, gut wrenching chicken slaughter during the September Teach out to Vashon Island. Here is a juicy snapshot of our journey.
By CAGJ Intern, Valentina de la Fuente
Something I learned about chickens today is that they live in the present moment. They show no fear or dread as their sisters and friends are snatched by the feet and vanish from their chicken tractor home. They continue naively clucking and scratching and preening themselves until their moment of fate also comes. Perhaps they unconsciously understand their fate. The variety of chicken that Chandler, Caitlin and Roby choose are bread specifically as meat birds. Instead of maturing in several months, they mature in several weeks, and their breasts are significantly larger and juicier, though they’re significantly more lethargic and sedentary. They choose this chicken for several reasons. Because the farm is on an island, the price of imported inputs such as grains is significantly higher. Though the wild, “chicken-like” quality of the bird is sacrificed, killing the birds in a few weeks rather than a few months cuts down significantly on its cost per pound. It’s a decision that is challenging to make.
The killing process is a fascinating, emotional, gruesome spiritual experience. Chandler grabs two birds by their gangly feet as they frantically thrash about, and puts them upside down in a traffic cone like structure nestled in the crotch of a tree. He pulls the head taut through the cone so the neck and jugular are exposed. In a humble act of gratitude, he ceremonially thanks the bird for giving life and nourishment. With a sharp metal blade, he slits the jugular. Bright, neon red blood pulses into white waiting buckets. It bleeds for a minute, then with a sharper and bigger knife, he saws off the head and drops it in the bucket. The bird is dead, but it thrashes violently in the cone, its muscles and nerves continuing to shoot adrenaline through its rigid body. About 15 birds are killed this way. We watch like children, as if seeing death for the first time. People hold each others hands, squeezing harder at the moment of death and violence. Eyes close, blink, and tears work their ways down cold cheeks. Our minds our blank, dull, and numb. All we can do is stare, and feel a little more grown up with each moment, with each death. There is a sense of awe and silence.
The dead body is extracted, instantly dipped into scalding water to loosen the feathers, and then put into a machine that de-feather’s the bird by bouncing it around with rubber suckers. It is hard to imagine that a few moments earlier, this pale yellow piece of meat was a living, feeling, clucking, scratching being. What the machine does not take off, an eager team of volunteers plucks by hand. At a nearby table people stand with sharp knifes extracting livers, gizzards, hearts, and kidneys, for soups and stalks.
The experience of the chicken deaths lives imprinted on my mind for the rest of day, and the weeks following. I feel I have earned my right to eat this meat. This meat holds no lies. Its life and death is not a hidden secret that lies buried, invisible in dark cramped warehouses of shit and stink. It lived fully until its moment of death, offering its metabolism to produce nitrate rich compost, its body to nourish, its death to educate, and its revenue to help sustain the farm.