The skies were gray and oppressive this evening as I changed from khakis into work jeans, pulled on my battered old Birkenstocks with the hole in the bottom, and headed outside to find out whether I had enough love to sacrifice one hen for the safety of the rest of the flock.
Ron moved the work table from the deck to the yard while I went back to the garden to collect our little inmate from our avian version of Ellis Unit One, where she’d been serving two days in solitary confinement for attacking another hen and attempting to instigate a riot in the chicken tractor. I felt a little pang of guilt when I saw that for the second day in a row, she’d laid an egg in her lonely prison cell.
I’d modified an old pair of pantyhose to serve as a sort of makeshift straitjacket to keep Honey from beating her wings and flailing about in panic as she finished this phase of her journey. The restraint seemed to calm her, and I held her as gently as I could and spoke to her softly as I took her to the table, trying to keep the experience from being more traumatic for her than it had to be.
Tiny pellets of ice bounced off my jacket as I began dressing the bird, with Ron reading step-by-step instructions from a book on farming while I worked.
The kill itself was neither as clean nor as quick as I’d intended — certainly Honey knew what was going on, which I didn’t want, and I’m afraid she may have felt pain for a few seconds — but I daresay I did a better job than the mass-scale processors sometimes do, and I know my hen had a longer and much happier life here than she would have on a factory farm, which I hope makes up for my clumsiness at the very end.
The whole experience was much less disturbing than I expected. I don’t know whether that’s a good thing, but at least I know now that I can kill my own supper, and I know I can do whatever it takes to protect my animals from harm. And that, I think, is valuable.