Wednesday, September 25, 2013

love what you eat

Hello Autumn.  You are my fleeting love, my season marked by beauty, breath and change.  Life and death, and life again.  The circle.  I am so happy you're here.      

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A few days before the autumnal equinox, we said goodbye to some friends and the next morning had our first frost.  The frost part is *crazy* because in our country, you usually can't distinguish from a "last spring frost" and "first fall frost".  According to some websites, our consecutive frost-free season is negative 4 days.  But that's a bit extreme.  Last year I counted 72 consecutive frost-free days.  This year, it was 87.  (That's almost 90!!!)  That said, all the farmers around here will be quick to remind you of the year they had 27 consecutive frost-free days.  Oh, I have some things to say about my garden but will save it for a garden-specific post coming soon to a blog near you.
The friends we said goodbye to, well, they weren't supposed to be our friends.  They weren't supposed to be the ones who frolicked in the yard, who followed the kids around, who loitered in front of the door and tried to follow us inside.  
We never named them.  We called them the Red Rangers (their breed), or "the meat chickens".  These photos were taken one day before the end.  Don't take my sentimentality the wrong way: I'm glad they're in the freezer now.  I'm glad I'm down to 10 hens to care for; that we can check one box on the To-Do-Before-Winter list.      
In this one statement, Juniper pretty much sums up how we, as a family, feel about the meat we eat.  (Until now, that has mostly been game and fish that we've hunted and caught.)

Juniper: "This is the one I'm going to eat.  I love her so much."
I would be lying if I said I loved these chickens in the same way I love the graceful, wild lives of mule deer, elk, antelope, moose and trout.  I still prefer the meat of a grouse who grazed in a nearby forest than a chicken raised on Purina Start and Grow.  (At first I was hesitant to let the chickens roam loose in the yard--afraid they would demolish my unfenced garden--but the idea of eating Purina Start and Grow in meat form bothered me so much, I was willing to take the risk just to get some good ol' grass and bugs down their gullets.)  Still, those chickens gave us a face-to-face relationship.  We know those quirky little lives that will feed our own.  I am trying to teach my kids: life balances on the wheel of death.    
The next day, we went to swimming lessons and ran errands.  My husband and I are always (when appropriate) straight-up with our kids; she knew the plan.  When we came home, all that was left was their empty chicken coop and a chopping block with a few buff-colored feathers tacked to it.  Juniper asked, "But mama, what happened to the Red Rangers?"  I said, "Remember how we called them 'the meat chickens'?  Well, we turned them into meat.  They're in the freezer now."  She asked if dad killed them and if they had blood in their bodies.  I told her it's called "butchering" and yes, they had blood.
From the beginning, Juniper's opinion about eating the Red Rangers has been either: "But mama, I don't want to eat them!" Or, "I'm gonna eat them with bar-b-que sauce!!!"  We had clam chowder for dinner that night and pointing to a big chunk of clam she asked, "Is this our chickens?"  I said no, "But do you remember when we went clamming on the coast?"  I love that my kids know (and love!) the lives that feed them.
Juniper: "Do you wanna go see your friends? Here, get a drink first.  There you go, honey."
And then, "Thank you for the meat."
And I say: Thank you for the summer.  For being fun and funny.  For keeping the earwig population down.  For fertilizing our garden.  For being so docile and patient and friendly.  You didn't have to be; you were only meat chickens after all.  Thank you for your lives: thank you for the meat.  

P.S.  Details:

  • We raised "Red Rangers" because they were a breed known for their ability to free range, for their "livability", and their even breast-to-leg proportions (i.e. they look and act like a...chicken!).  Nearly everyone we talked to locally about raising meat chickens warned us against cornish crosses (the heavy-breasted bird you find in most grocery stores).  Old ranchers and backyard growers alike told us the cornish crosses are so heavy-breasted you will go out one day and find their legs collapsed underneath them.  Or that they've had a heart attack.  Or heat stroke.  The owner of the feed store told me she tried it one year and was so heartbroken and disgusted that by the time butchering day came, she didn't even want to eat them (or what was left of them).  I am happy to report that the Red Rangers were very healthy, free-ranging, vivacious chickens.      
  • Skinned-out (we didn't pluck any or leave them whole), each chicken gave us about 2.5 pounds of meat.  (I'll admit that even though the Red Rangers were known for their "livability", I was nervous about health problems and thus strictly controlled their grain diet.)  I didn't take rigid notes, but I think each chicken cost us about $9--not counting the materials and construction of the chicken tractor/coop.  
  • We probably won't raise meat chickens again.  At least not anytime soon.  They ate a lot ($$$) and drank a lot.  (And pooped a lot.  On our patio.)  They were a project and we have a lot of other projects we'd rather tend to in the coming summers.  But who knows?  We could change our minds after a winter of eating fresh, homegrown chicken.  
  • Now that they're gone, our hens--the future layers (expecting our first egg around Thanksgiving)--are getting a lot more attention and love : )        


  1. Thank you for the breakdown..I keep dreaming about my chickens but have wondered about what you end up paying for each, if it is really worth it money wise :)

  2. 'Thank you for your lives: thank you for the meat.' I'm so copying that. awesome post x


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