Food: Raising chickens for the table
I took on a project this summer that has resulted in some serious rethinking about how meat is produced. In short, I will never take it for granted again.
All this personal learning came after last year’s long winter when a polar vortex and a blizzard left me housebound for five days. While I didn’t starve, it got me thinking about producing my own meat.
I vowed to save my money and purchase a chest freezer, (which I did) and then this spring I ordered 20 chicks with the intention of eventually filling that appliance with home grown chicken. When they arrived I vowed not to get attached and yet it dawned on me that all meat starts out this way, cute and innocent. But as I have come to learn, it’s the journey from this stage to the table that really matters.
My project was completed last weekend and I have to admit, it wasn’t easy physically, or psychologically.
I’ve never raised birds that were specifically bred to produce meat and the reigning breed for this is Cornish cross. I’m not exactly sure what breeds are used to produce this chicken, but let me assure you, they are the most dim-witted creatures on earth. In addition, I truly believe they are genetic freaks of nature.
I’ll never forget the day I opened their nursery pen to let them out into the big coop. They looked through the hole but didn’t move. I figured I’d give them a day or two but still they didn’t budge. In the end I had to pick up each bird and flip it through the hole and even then they huddled next to it for three days before they started exploring their new surroundings.
Perhaps the reason for this laziness is due to their genetic make-up. They can gain weight so fast that if left for any longer than 12 weeks they actually become crippled. Their legs and toes grow like thick stumps and their gait resembles that of a lumbering, overstuffed duck. They even laid down when they ate or drank water.
And the way they ate. Twice a day, I would open the coop door only to find them huddled next to it, waiting for their next meal. They consumed feed like piranhas and at an astonishing rate. These birds were always hungry, even attacking my shoelaces and ankles when I entered their domain.
But true to their freakish genetics, they gained weight at an alarming rate. They went from fuzzy chicks to feathered birds in less than three weeks and from there they morphed into their lumbering adult forms, always on the alert for the sound of the feed scoop entering the bag.
By the end of July, I knew the day of reckoning was fast approaching. I knew my mind would have to come to terms with the process that rendered a chicken from a live animal to table fare. That required some heavy duty contemplation for me; to take a life to sustain my own.
I am no newbie to butchering chickens. As a kid I was lucky enough to have access to the farming way of life and every fall my extended family would get together and butcher 50 to 70 birds. But with age I have mellowed, and the task looming before me hung heavy on my mind.
A couple of weeks ago I finally got myself psychologically ready for this event. I had given these animals a wonderful life. They spent most of their days lazing in the sun; they were never without good food and clean water and they were protected and cared for in the most respectful way. Even as their life was being taken I held each bird and silently thanked it for its contribution to my diet, but it was hard, harder than I ever thought.
The coop is empty now but my goal to fill that freezer has been accomplished and I feel good about that. And yet, the entire process has got me thinking about the complexities of the food chain. How, if you are a meat eater, some creature has to die to sustain you.
Will I ever raise chickens for meat again? I don’t know, but I’m glad the experience got me seriously thinking about the work and effort it takes to produce humanely raised meat. It was a good lesson.
Grilled Chicken Kabobs
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup ranch dressing
3 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbs. minced fresh rosemary
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste
1 Tbs. white sugar, or to taste
5 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch cubes
In a bowl mix together all the ingredients, except the chicken. Let stand for 5 minutes then place the chicken in the marinade for at least 30 minutes. Preheat grill to a medium heat and thread chicken onto skewers. Grill for 8 to 12 minutes or until juices run clear.