After you have raised a hen from a day-old chick, you never take for granted the sustenance her life has given you. But when it is time to cull out the old biddies, being practical is important. My thinking is that our birds have been carefully tended, talked to, given lots of fresh air and sunlight and have had plenty of grain and green stuff. Those chickens had a wonderful carefree life and when I think about all of the meals I have had in my past, I am ashamed to admit, that had not often been the case for other animals.
Living close to the animals you raise, helps one to understand that it is a sacrifice that is meaningful to give you food to eat. Many people ask how I can have these animals and then eat them. One reason, is that they are our food and treated respectfully all their life but still, food, not pets. We know that if they were not butchered, they would die and need to be buried. They are given a quick painless, death without frightening them. They are never treated harshly and never have a want that is not granted to them, except my strawberries, maybe!
My husband put off butchering the older hens one year. When he would go out to feed them that winter, the old girls would get so excited to see him, they would fall over from a heart attack, one by one! We won’t mention the money spent in feeding the old hens. Lesson learned. We add a leg band to every other chick generation so we can keep track of how old they are. The old hens are stewed, deboned and then canned in the pressure cooker. The chicken is wonderful for soup, chicken and dumplings, and pot pies. It is so different from store bought chicken, raised in cramped quarters and never seeing sunlight. Our girls lived well, without antibiotics and hormones and the meat tells that story.As for fryers, they are the males that we have raised and butcher young, before they become roosters that crow all hours of the day. We raise two sets of them every year, so that we don’t risk the waste of having too many in the freezer if a power outage comes. The first set is butchered when the hens are butchered, in early summer, and the second set is put into the freezer in late fall. We also use them as small roasters. We don’t eat the skin so instead of plucking, we skin chicken the way we do the rabbits.
Having our little farm is enjoyable. We love watching the hens chasing a bug, scratching up seed, taking dust baths and enjoying their life. Almost every evening, after chores are done, we are out on our swing watching the chicken’s antics. Although butchering time is not something we look forward to, it is a part of what we do to live a sustainable life. Knowing how our livestock was raised and butchered is only really possible if we manage it ourselves.