At the end of the original Community Chickens Project in 2009, headed up by the editors of Grit and Mother Earth News magazines, Grit editor, Hank Will invited several project contributors to his Osage County Kansas farm to teach them how to humanely clean and package the poultry raisued during the project. They were on hand to kill and clean approximately 30 commercial-type broilers raised on range for almost 12 weeks.
This event gathered together an unlikely group: editors, spouses, a teacher, a librarian, advertising sales people and a medical intern. Most of these people had never killed a warm-blooded animal with their own hands.
Many of them had never been that close to the animals whose lives help sustain us.
Mother Earth News Senior Associate Editor Troy Griepentrog and I raised the birds. We supplemented their normal diet of bugs and clover with a natural grower ration.
The broilers were kept enclosed and safe from predators by using electric net fences and portable fence chargers.
Over time, commercial broilers have had most of the normal chicken behavior bred out of them. Even so, ours were more mobile than experts suggested and were able to scratch and jump for seed.
They grew quickly, but none of these chickens died of heart attacks or exhibited any tendon or joint problems. We had zero losses.
Killing an animal with your own hands is never easy Ė especially when you donít do it very often. First, I showed our gathered group a humane way to cut a birdís jugular, using killing cones to restrain the bird. There was a notable hush in the audience as folks thought about what it means to take a life and acknowledge the animalís gift of sustenance.
When the bleeding began, some faces turned away.
My daughter, Alaina, admitted that she thought she was going to cry. I agree with those who say that it isnít wise to kill chickens very often because you face the possibility of becoming desensitized and taking their lives for granted.
That certainly was not the situation at my farm on that day.
It was encouraging to witness committed people helping each other struggle with the discomfort and uncertainty of this process Ė from the actual killing to the scalding, plucking, evisceration, cooling and packaging operations.
People supported and coached one another. Some who had never experienced killing before looked for insight and guidance from those experienced at this task Ė stressing the importance that they didnít want the chicken to suffer. Those who had never been around the insides of any animal sought guidance from those who had previously handled innards still warm from the animal.
The uneasiness experienced by some participants reminds us that consuming meat comes with a price Ė a price that is sacred to me.
As upsetting as this process can be, it created a bond between our group participants and ensured that those 30 birds were not taken for granted.
I know I will continue to raise and kill chickens for meat. I hope that it will be in the midst of equally committed and thoughtful people as it was this year.
To read more about the history of Community Chickens and how it all began and ended, read "Processing Broiler Chickens" at Grit.