December 28, 2011
Dawn of the fourth day of Christmas brought cloud cover and warm weather to the valley. The warmth got me thinking about the second day of Christmas.
I had been putting off a job I find somewhat unpleasant for the last two months. By 9am Monday the temperature outside was 38 degrees and very warm compared to any day for the last two weeks, which made it seem now was as good as any time for the job.
Having laying hens wandering freely about the barn and pasture and providing us (and others) with fresh eggs is wonderful. What isn’t so wonderful is when they move beyond their productive egg laying years. Many people sell their hens off at this time for they do not want to engage in what naturally comes next—chicken dinner. We do not sell our hens for a couple of reasons. First, it seems unfair to raise a hen, have her provide years of eggs for my wellbeing, and then when it comes time to die, be carted off to a place that has never been home. Now folks can say what they want concerning chicken brains and their not having a clue to what is going on, but that has never seemed the case around the farm. Hens have outsmarted more than one person on the farm over the years! It is only right, therefore, if we are to benefit from a chickens life and its death, if we are going to have a feed and water in return for eggs relationship, we all should be present at death. Second, butchering chickens means we get to have chicken dinner with the ease of mind that comes from knowing where the chicken lived, how it was treated, what it ate, and maybe most importantly, how it died. I imagine I don’t have to say more than this, all anyone needs to do is go online (or watch Food Inc.) to learn about the life and death of most every bird one might buy in their local grocery store.
However, there is a problem. I really, really don’t like killing. I know the importance of it, in fact more than once I have said all folk who eat meat should go through the killing process at least once. Maybe not literally kill an animal himself or herself, but be in the same place at the same time when the animal they are going to eat dies. It is important to know life as sacrament. It is important to know that no one—vegetarians and vegans included—on this earth is going to eat without causing death. This is why I, who would do most anything to get out of killing an animal, have come to value one who butchers well. And we have been lucky when it comes to our large animals. The Dutch gentleman who arrives at the farm and butchers our large animals has a way about him that the animals act as if they know him and are comfortable in his presence. One can’t ask for more than that. However, when it comes to chickens we are on our own and that is why I put the job off for two months.
So, on the second day of Christmas, with warm weather and blue sky, friends and family came together and spent the better part of the day with chickens. The day is never as bad as I imagine it. However, it always leaves me with an ache. An ache for life that is no more, an ache arising from the reverence that comes from sacramental knowledge of one giving its life for another, and an ache that wishes all life given for supper tables might be so revered. I think it is an ache to embrace, for at the end of the day, with friends and family sitting around the supper table, we say grace and know more fully the sacrament before us, and that, yes that, makes for a supper that tastes wonderful.
© David B. Bell 2011
Dave, we raised chickens when I was a boy and the time came when I was old enough to kill the one we would be eating for dinner. Maybe I could still bring myself to do it. I was never required to dispatch rabbits which we also raised for home use. Your reflections strike me as being right on. Keith
Thanks Keith, It is interesting you bring up rabbits. As a boy, we raised chickens for only a moment. I think it had a lot to do with the thousands my folks raised as youth. However, we raised rabbits for much of my youth. My hope is one day, is to have a local neighbor for whom it is natural to raise eggs and chickens and we can support their vocation. Dave