Last Friday was the end of our summer chores. Since mid June we have been looking after 50 meat birds. We bought them as day old chicks. We fed them in the brooder coop for a month or so to make sure they could handle the outside world. Baby chicks are very fragile creatures, even the Bonnie’s Heavy Reds we decided to get.
They don’t stay that way for long. Within the month they were big, beefy looking birds that did little else but eat. So they were moved outside to the pasture pens. Actually Tim coined them chicken schooners because they slowly drift across the lawn in the front and back yards.
This was the second batch of meat birds we have done, so in fact this has actually been going on since mid May. This batch was the larger of the two so there were more pens. We had to build them quickly to make sure we would have enough for the 50 odd birds that we had.
Every morning three chicken pens would be moved to fresh grass. The chickens were full of anticipation and moved willingly. It was great to see the birds pick at the tops of the dandelion leaves. They always went for these first. Feeders and waterers were refilled and adjustments were made to make sure they had enough shade, and rain protection. Each bird had 3 square feet to themselves.
We have one large pen that would only move around the front yard. It was very awkward to move even with the wheels. Every evening it would get moved to a clean grassy spot. All waterers would be checked again and if the grass was really messy the birds would be moved again.
This has been our routine all summer. It ended last Friday. It was processing day.
Now this is not new to us any more. We have done this a couple of times so have an idea what to expect. It was an early morning, up before sunrise. We also had a number of young roosters to catch as well as they always started early.
The routine is I catch the birds and Tim monitors the cage to make sure none get out. Meat birds don’t often try and break out, but the young roosters are full of energy and will break free if they can.
Next it is going into the pasture pens to catch the birds. These are only 2 feet tall so it is a bit difficult to move around in them. Plastic pants and wellington boots keep me clean. I get this job as I am the more flexible of the two of us. One to three birds are caught and placed into the borrowed chicken cages.
One by one they all end up in the cages. The borrowed trailer is lined with cardboard to help keep it clean. Chicken poop is not a nice thing to clean up. One layer of cages is placed in the trailer. Another layer of cardboard and another layer of cages. We only like to have around 7 or 8 in the cages so they birds can still move if they want to.
It was incredibly foggy that morning so the drive was slow. Not too bad as the birds had a lid on them and it was cool so they would be as comfortable as we could make them.
So Tim drove up to the processor in Wallenstein. For once there wasn’t a long line up. It was great. We were in and out within the hour. What a surprise! Neither of us like to be there when the chickens are killed, but we feel we owe it to them. For me it is a respect thing. I feel I should bear witness to their death as I did their life. I imagine Tim feels similar.
So we watched our birds be killed and then they disappear. I never like this part. I hate to watch the last moments of their lives. It is hard. The day before I killed 2 birds at home. It was much calmer, for both myself and the birds.
We packed up our cages and headed home to clean up.
Although we had just brought a number of birds in to be killed, we both felt an incredible gratitude for them. They would not be wasted. They would help keep others as well as us alive.
Much of the conversation on the way home was about the potential of a mobile abattoir. Imagine if no animal had to travel to their death, but could die at home. Isn’t that what many of us hope for?