Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Life of a Carnivore

Back when we got the chicks we'd said We're only keeping one rooster even if it turns out that we've got more than one male.

Now what we were going to do with other males remained to be seen. We knew enough about roosters to know that having more than one would lead to fights, stress out the hens (perhaps hampering their laying), and serious increase the noise level.

Evidently, projecting that they were all girls, and thus labeling them with superimposed graphics, doesn't influence their genetic makeup.

Fortunately, of the 10 chicks we got, only two of them ended up being roosters. And they got named: Camillo & Grey Legs. (Mistake #1. But seriously, how do you talk about a think without having something to refer to it by?) So, that meant it really was a cockfight... fighting to the death... but a fight of a rather different nature.

Barbara Kingsolver, in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle helped us (as painful as it was for the kids) to determine qualities to look for: First, which crow is more pleasing to the ear? Grey Legs wins that one with a clear-throated sound that is not raspy and harsh -- as Camillo's is. Second, which rooster protects the hens? In several instances, like when our part-Lab (part-border-collie) dog chased the hens, Grey Legs would take off after the dog while Camillo idly watched the commotion from a safe distance.

On a side note about the dog: It's pretty amazing that while the chickens are in the yard, the dog is content to leave the birds alone. (The border-collie nature wins.) She has even, on occasion, calmly herded them out of the front yard and into the back/side yard where we'd prefer them to stay. But all that's when they're on the mown grass. In the event that one of the chickens should squawk while in the tall boggy area of our drained pond, her Lab genetics take over and nothing, not the children wailing, me yelling, or lightning, can keep her from chasing them--bounding through the tall grasses, floppy ears perked... lookin' for the bird, lookin' for the bird, I was born to find the bird...
See! Evidence I didn't know I had.
There's the white rooster, Camillo, trying to outrun the hens.

Back to the roosters.
Third, is the rooster kind? "Kind?" you're thinking. "How would you even begin to determine if a rooster is kind?" Well, spend some time watching chickens -- which is a lot of fun -- and you'll soon see. Camillo always pushed his way to the front to eat scratch out of our hands. Grey Legs waited and let the ladies eat first. Neither one of them attacked us -- so that's good. But I have, several times, seen Grey Legs pull a worm or grub from the ground and give it to one of the hens. Kindness.

You're getting the picture: Camillo's getting the axe. Tomorrow, in fact. But here's the thing: We can't just kill him & leave him for the foxes & coyotes. We've never been hunters and have never butchered before. Shoot. I've never even gutted a fish. So how do we even do the thing that's most responsible?

Fortunately, we have friends. Friends who, on our request, are inviting us over when they butcher their chickens and will teach me/us. I'm determined to be responsibly involved in process... the whole process of being a carnivore: raising the animal, protecting it from predators, feeding it, killing it, preparing it, and eating it.

I keep telling my kids (who are still refusing to eat the bird) that this is the trade we're making: We gave Camillo a healthy, happy life. In return, he will make our lives healthier and happier. It is a partnership. It is a reasonable trade and we will not be wasteful of his life. We will prepare the meat and make stock from the bones... if there are scraps on our plate, we will give them to the dog. We will use everything he give to us. (Or that we take from him -- however you want to look at it.)

I think this is a very valuable lesson for me to appreciate the amount of meat I've eaten in my life. It is sobering to think of how flippantly I treat the life of a agri-buisness caged-for-short-life chicken that ended up a gross Burger King chicken tender. I am woefully overdue for this dose of reality/responsibility.

Tomorrow, I may be woefully ill. But maybe I need to be. And I'm determined to do this. I'm even leaving the camera in my husband's hands to document how green I turn in this effort to be greener.


Susan Woodring said...

Good for you, Britt. You're a lot braver than I am. But, you have given me a lot to think about...

Looking forward to reading more!

Guest Reader said...

It makes the process a lot easier when the rooster is really mean like ours was. He made us want to kill him! And then the kids requested him for their birthday supper! But I was not brave enough to watch any of it. - Maria

Wendi said...

Good for you! I've thought about raising some meat birds - but I don't really LIKE chicken. The only meat I miss as a vegetarian is pork and I'm not about to raise a pig. :-)

Robin said...

This *is* an interesting theory :) It's one I wish every meat-eater would follow. I became a vegetarian a few years ago, but not because I don't like meat. I really like it actually, especially bacon. Mmm. My reason for quitting wasn't for taste reasons or even health reasons, but for psychological/ideological ones. Basically, the idea of doing what you're doing, killing the animal for food, freaked me out and made me sad, specifically from a mass market perspective (can there really be trucks roaming our highways crammed with chickens...and they do *what* to cows?!?) And I always think to myself that in a perfect world, eating wouldn't involve death. BUT, I also get that there's a cycle in nature and that if I didn't get so freaked out by it, my stance on eating meat might be more like that of the person you're talking about--a responsible one. If we must live in a world where some animals stay alive by killing other animals and eating them, then at least let them be aware of what that means for all parties. Have you read much about the practices of early indigenous cultures? about respectful..

:) Hope you survived the day!!