I don’t know where to start. I want to tell you my side of the story but I know some of you will read this with preconceived bias, you’ll be judgmental and maybe even rude… I beg of you to please just listen to what I have to say for a few minutes and be open minded…. (I promise it’s not something you will regret reading)
When I began as a Real Food Blogger, I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep the fact that we raise our own chickens & turkeys a secret… And up until this point, everything I’ve shared with you has been unicorns and rainbows.
“We have chickens, they lay eggs, look how pretty they are!”
“Turkey Poults have arrived! Look how cute they are!!”
Well, there’s a dark side to all of those colorful eggs, handsome roosters, and lovable turkey poults. It’s called saying goodbye.
Today I’m facing one of my biggest fears as a blogger, sharing the honest-to-god truth of what we do and why we do it. I’m putting myself “out there” in a very vulnerable way. I didn’t grow up on a farm. This isn’t something “normal” for me. Our dog sleeps in our bed with us, he licks our faces and our plates. We have 2 cats that live in our house, sleep on our laps and scratch the furniture… I’m an animal lover, pet owner and am just like you. We just also raise our own poultry.
I know to those of you who choose to not eat meat for ethical reasons and those of you whom are far removed from where your food comes from, this is something you may think is barbaric and cruel. I assure you it is not. No cruelness occurs, nothing is barbaric or unkind. Those ideas can’t be further from the truth.
Now, I want you to understand… because I can so plainly tell you about the birds we’re saying goodbye to today, doesn’t mean that it’s not without a very heavy heart. Ray and I decided initially to raise our own chickens so that we had a reliable supply of healthy eggs. Chickens only lay eggs consistently for a few years then you’re basically keeping them as pets and that wasn’t something we had space, time and money for…. through the years we’ve transitioned to a place where we were ready to be completely chicken-self sufficient. These chickens will provide us meat for an entire year (along with a few more goodbyes in November).
Sometimes saying goodbye is planned and sometimes it’s not. Neither way is any easier than the other. This past year we have been plagued with goodbyes, more than all the years we’ve raised poultry combined. Hawk attacks, 50 chicks lost in the mail, turkey poults dying, chicks pecking each other, chickens hurt by rooster spurs and our favorite/only “pet” chicken going missing… There were days that were filled with such heart break and sadness, the kind that you can’t control, the kind that made us seriously rethink what we are doing.
But alas, the sun continues to rise. We’re blessed with more chickens right now than I can even try to count, somewhere around 100 and 8 of the cutest turkeys. But today we’ll have to say goodbye to a couple old friends and 50 freedom rangers.
I love roosters and I enjoy having them in our flock, however sometimes it’s too much for the hens. Amongst our laying hens we currently have 4 adult roosters and we can’t continue to keep that many in the long run…. 2 must go for the safety and happiness of our hens 🙁
And this year is the first time we’ve raised exclusively “meat” chickens. Freedom Rangers grow slower than typical production birds, yet faster than old fashioned heritage breed chickens. Your typical production bird is a cornish cross hybrid that matures in 6-7 weeks, where as a heritage breed chicken matures in about 18-20 weeks.. I’m sure you can imagine there is a huge difference in the feed cost to raise the 2.. and understand why the fast growing breed is desirable for farmers’ bottom line. However fast growing production birds are not without problems, they tend to have leg issues since their bodies grow so fast with unnatural breast size.. and in most cases these birds if left to live after the 6-7 weeks will just die 🙁
Freedom rangers are generally regarded as an in-between of the 2 types of chickens. Our experience with them so far has been pleasant. They are friendly, fat, lazy birds. All chickens are constantly looking for food, but these birds are pre-programed to eat, eat, eat…. I call them the Friendly Rangers and Lazy Rangers, at just over 11 weeks old the roosters are larger than any other chicken we have (our biggest weighing about 8.5 pounds live weight!) and just as lovable.
We raise each and every chicken/turkey with true love and kindness. We hug and kiss them. We cuddle and carry them around. They come to us for treats and eat out of our hands, they come when we call them.
Go ahead and ask, everyone does…..”How can you do THAT, eating your own chickens?”
Here is my reply…. “More importantly how can you do what you do? Who raises the chicken you eat? How is it treated? Are you giving money to farmers/corporations when buying chicken from the grocery store that’s lead a life of sadness, illness and abuse? That’s much more troubling than loving a chicken that ends up on my dinner table. I am not the problem”
These 50 Freedom Rangers we are saying goodbye to today, we’ve PROUDLY raised with love. I know that every day they have been here with us, we’ve done all that we can to ensure their health and happiness. They were in the grass, with sunshine, and fresh water… they had a secure and safe house and enjoyed life just as a chicken should. Just because an animal is being raised for food, does not mean that they don’t deserve to be loved. I tend to think of these birds in terms of karma, the way we raise them and the nourishment they provide for us, I want it all to include love and compassion. When your food comes from unhappy and unhealthy animals don’t you think it can effect you??
I will shoulder the burden. I will take the pain of looking a chicken in the eyes and saying goodbye so that they don’t have to live a life of pain and suffering at the hands of a corporations bottom line. I am strong and these animals deserve someone’s love and respect, no matter what. We’ve become so far detached from the reality of our food, children today have no concept of how fruits and vegetables grow or that chicken “nugget” isn’t actual part of a chicken.
If I am going to eat meat, I must know that the animal was raised appropriately.
This morning, maybe right now as you are reading this, I’m saying my final goodbyes. It’s a routine we’ve followed for years and today is no exception. It always starts with a shot of whiskey to calm our nerves, though it’s never enough.
I carry each bird in my arms while walking from the chicken coop to the garage, all the while kissing it on the head and telling it how appreciative I am for everything it’s providing for us. I tell each one how much we love them and that we’ve done the best we could.. and not to be scared.. I cry and cry and cry. Until I hand each one off to my husband who’s got the toughest job of them all today. It is as quick and painless as possible.
As I return to the coop for another bird and repeat my routine for each and every bird we’ve lovingly raised until the coop is empty.
Today will be a lot of hard work. We do everything ourselves, here at home (our friend Phil helps!! Thank you Phil!) When the birds are plucked they are back to being my responsibility… dressing the bird isn’t nearly as bad as the walk from the coop to the house, I can assure you.
If you want to say harsh and mean things to me because of what we do, that’s up to you. But again, I beg of you to really understand what we’ve set out to accomplish and respect how much love we give to our animals. Respect the burden we’re shouldering.
When we sit down to eat one of the chickens we’ve raised we know the sacrifice that had to be made… the chicken that’s on our table didn’t just come from the store, it wasn’t on “sale”… there aren’t any question marks around how it was raised. We will smile and be proud that we did it the right way and have no regrets.