Chicken Matters

It was not a dark and stormy night, giving me any sense of foreboding.  It was not even a bright sunny morning, creating a need to change up the plans.  It was just a normal day, a little on the gray side perhaps, but normal.  Get some writing done, get some work done, let the chickens out for a few hours, take a walk, get the chickens in, make dinner, enjoy family, etc.  This was a typical normal day.  Normal days flow by nicely, too quickly perhaps, but nicely just the same.  Until that is, I went to take a shower and looked, as I always do, out the bay window at my girls.  A large, beautiful hawk had landed in my garden.  No! A large, beautiful hawk was standing on one of my chickens!  I reacted very quickly.  I think the scream was something like, “A hawk got one of the chickens!” as I raced downstairs and out to the garden.  I did not even take time to put shoes on, which is unusual if you know how hard it is for me to walk around without shoes.  As I got to the garden gate, the hawk took off, my chicken in its talons for a second, and then he dropped her and was gone.

Her neck was cut and bleeding and feathers were already torn from her shoulder.  There were so many feathers lying about. Were the other girls OK?  Chris and Mauri had joined me by now.  Chris found one chicken in the coop and I spotted the last two under a chair in the corner of the garden.  I gently returned them to the coop and locked them in.

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With misty eyes, I stared at this chicken, which had been so alive just a short time ago, recalling how her antics made me laugh, how she clucked and chased after her sisters.  I think our conversation went something like this:

Me:  We should bury her.

Chris:  The dogs might dig her up.

Mauri: Bury her in the garden.

Me:  I need shoes.  I’ll get the shovel.

Shovel in hand, shoes on feet, I returned to the kill site.  Chris said to me, “We should eat her.  It would be a waste not to.”

There was a brief Google search via iPad to find out if one could eat a hawk-killed chicken, but all we found was that it was illegal to eat a chicken hawk.  This provided a little comic relief, but the question hung in the air, should we eat her?

Many people have asked me if we are going to eat the chickens.  People have strong feelings about this.  These feelings range across a spectrum from no way to it’s the only way.  And within those sentiments are various reasons for or against:  “I couldn’t eat a pet; I’d become a vegetarian before I’d kill an animal; I’ve done it before and I just don’t like the messy process; it’s not a big deal, I used to help my grandmother; and, I want to know where my food is coming from.”

I am not here to judge anyone’s decision about this.  I have thought a lot about it and I personally admire the camp that wants to know where their food comes from.  This camp cares for the animal while it is alive and does not take its death lightly.  While I did not plan on eating my chickens – I want their eggs for many years – I do dream of raising goats for brush control and meat.  If I could not process and eat this chicken, how would I ever handle a goat?  In other words, did I have the guts to do this?

So I found myself saying, “OK, if you help me.”

I had watched a You-tube video on killing and processing chickens once because I was curious.  A suburban girl before moving to Halcyon, I had no real sense of how it was done.  So I knew the scalding and removing of feathers came before the evisceration.  I removed the feathers and Chris gutted her, while Mauri read instructions from the iPad.  I imagined experienced farmers shaking their heads at our lack of skill and knowledge.  Seriously, you had to look it up on your iPad?  But I think we did pretty well for the first time.  When we were done she looked like a chicken I would buy at our local butcher’s shop with her pale creamy skin and cold, headless body.  Only a few broken feathers, stuck in their follicles, reminded me of the warm, black-feathered body she was earlier that day.

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And I thought:  I didn’t actually kill her.  This was easier because of that.  Do I thank the hawk for this initiation?

While my nice, normal day had certainly been interrupted, I would not call my chicken’s death a nightmare – for me at least.  I was sad about it.  I am sad about it.  However, a couple of weeks ago I was reminded how quickly the flow of normal days, of normal life, can become real nightmares when I received a call from Mauri.  She was calling from the side of the New Jersey Turnpike. While traveling home for winter break with two other students, they were hit by two tractor-trailers – it was the fault of the first truck driver who did not stop.  It does not matter the details now, except to say that it was a serious accident, one that could have resulted in serious injury or death.  What matters is that she suffered only some understandable emotional trauma and a stiff neck, which is responding nicely to exercises.  What matters is three college students are alive and well and went home to their families.

Her accident gave me a perspective reset.  All the things I had wanted to do for the holidays that I did not get to, that might make me crabby, did not matter.  All that mud the dogs keep bringing in does not matter.  There are constant reminders all over our house of renovations still needed.  They do not matter.  Even our lagging energy over the holidays because of catching the flu on top of a stomach virus does not matter.  The holidays are a perfect time to not take family and friends for granted.  That’s what holidays are about.  They are not about how perfectly our house is decorated, or if all the meals are perfect.

And so, yes, I am sad about my chicken.  I will think of her every time I see the other three.  I will wonder if they miss her.  I will think about how we ate her flesh, about how her body grew from a one-day old chick to the large bird she was five months later.  I will think about how much I loved her living in my garden.  I may always get a little misty-eyed.  I am realizing that perspectives also range along a spectrum.  How do I think about my chicken when my daughter’s accident is still so present in my mind?  Yet, I can’t just lump the loss of my chicken with my dog’s muddy paw prints. So where does my chicken fall on this perspective spectrum?  I’m not sure.  But I just can’t bring myself to say it doesn’t matter.

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18 thoughts on “Chicken Matters

  1. I’m sad, too…for you and for the other chickens. No sympathy for the hawk, though I know it needs to eat, too.
    Sorry to hear about Mauri’s accident, but happy to know they’re okay.
    What an emotional post!

    • I actually have no anger toward the hawk. It is just doing what it needs to do and I provided some food. I blame myself for losing a bird. I should have been more careful because the hawk had been around, presumably scoping out its chances!

  2. Sorry about that chicken. I read the post to Abby and she wanted to know if it was the one that looked like a penguin. Today we had an interesting experience with hawks. We pulled into the drive and saw a hawk chase a flicker. He caught and it brought it down into the field. He was trying to kill it. I was looking through a small pair of binoculars to see what kind of hawk it was. I ran inside to grab another pair of binos. By the time I got outside Kevin and Abby related the rest of the story. A red-tailed hawk swooped down and chased off the sharp-shinned hawk and the flicker took off, must not have been too hurt, the red-tailed flew up, grabbed the flicker and took off to the woods with it. I missed all the excitement. As I watched the first hawk take down the flicker, it upset me, even though I know that it is part of nature and the hawk needed it to survive. I tend to be softhearted in this way.

  3. Hi Laurie,

    I love Abby’s question. I wanted to talk about honoring which chicken was killed, but I am very sad that I cannot/have not been able to tell them apart for the last few months. All their coloration is the same now. The one that looked like a penguin was Poppy.

    Your hawk incident is fascinating. I agree that it is hard to watch any animal being killed. I guess in your case, I would just feel blessed to have had a chance to see nature even when it seems ruthless.

    How did Abby feel about seeing the flicker taken?

    • Thanks Dawn. It taste good flavor-wise, but I over cooked it a bit. I was cooking another chicken with it and mine was smaller and I should have taken it out earlier. I will make soup with the rest.

  4. I’m right there with you, sister. Although Cat and Peter haven’t yet called me with something as serious as a traffic accident, I know exactly how you feel about your dear, sweet hen.

  5. As your moments at Halcyon have increased since deciding not to teach, a new world of observation is open to you. A good lesson to us all. The Red Tail is a beautiful but shy bird and your encounter certainly produced mixed emotions. I wonder if a nest is planned in your woods somewhere. Nest building will happen late February into March. Maybe there is old nest nearby, a chance for more encounters and new perspectives. The magic and horror of Nature…..

    • One of my goals is to increase my own observation skills, which meant increasing my moments at Halcyon, so yes, it has been great. I do plan to look for a nest.

  6. Your best piece yet. Excellent use of photos with your elegant words. So glad you did not shy away from using explicit photos. It all worked together to make a powerful piece.

  7. wow! That is a scary story about Mauri! I’m glad she is ok. How is her neck now?
    Sorry about the hen but it was a pretty exciting story.

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