Today we said goodbye to our chickens. They haven't been laying for a few months now...and they are 3 years old. It was their time, as time goes. Animals who don't carry their weight on the homestead don't generally get to stay too long, as the costs of their feed and general care become a burden.
I love my chickens, and somehow, this is the first time we've had to actually butcher them. Last winter was really hard on them, I think. We always keep the heat lamps going in the coop so they don't freeze to death, but the extra cold winter seemed to take a toll on them this time. Whatever the reason, the day came. I had to leave. I'm not proud of that, but seriously, my son and husband were better off without me here. I did take over the process once the deed was all done and they were brought into the house. All 7 of them are presently simmering away in my big roaster in the kitchen. Since they weren't young birds, I thought I'd cook them down and can the stock and the meat, if it's tender enough. We'll see. Once they didn't resemble my girls anymore, I was okay doing the cutting up and cooking. I did cry all the way to town, when I left them to take care of the butchering.
It's a little silly and a little not. We do eat meat. I know where food comes from. It's not anything except that I am so tenderhearted when it comes to my animals. I took good care of these girls for 3 years, and petted them and held them and was always delighted to see them come out of the coop every morning. Delighted to gather eggs. Delighted to watch them peck and scratch in the dirt and fuss with one another. Delighted in having chickens all the way around. Just not this part.
Like having to put a sick dog or a cat to sleep, this is one of the responsibilities you take on when you have animals. Chickens are a little different, but not as much as you'd think. We have had chickens killed by raccoons. That was horrible. We have had chickens get sick and die. That was bad enough. But to make a plan and follow through with it was another thing entirely. We have talked about raising meat birds before, and wondered if we could handle the butchering process. It seemed like maybe it would be easier to just be vegetarians, since we don't eat THAT much meat anyway. lol The price of feed has been going up and up and it almost isn't financially feasible to raise your own eggs if what you're looking for is a bargain. On the other hand, the eggs are SO much better than anything you can buy in the store that it is a choice you are willing to make. Or, at least, we are.
They are forecasting a winter even worse than last year for this part of the country. That was part of our decision. As the price of electricity keeps going up, that is another consideration. It's hard to keep a coop heated enough to be useful. The age of the chickens was another thing we had to think about. It doesn't get any easier the older they get. Our 9 year old coop is in need of repairs too--it needs a new roof and needs some insulating done. We knocked it together with materials we had on hand and frankly, I'm surprised it help up this long. And no eggs. That was the final point. For some reason they stopped laying completely.
In the spring, we will build a new coop. Enlarge the run and plant the entire floor of the chicken run with alfalfa grass or something. It needs to be dug out and leveled anyway...between chickens and erosion, I've nearly killed myself in there at night a couple of times. And when it rains, it's really bad. So, we'll renovate and get it ready for new chicks next spring. I think. I do like having chickens. I just have to remember that there is a circle of life in the world. It's in my world here at Honeysuckle Hill and it's at your house too. I knew the first time was going to be hard. Maybe it will get easier. Maybe it won't. I know it has affected us all, even though it was all carried out as humanely as possible. And I know it is a part of life...birth and death. All of us beings, animal and man, come to this world to carry out our purpose. Feeding others is the highest calling there can be, I am pretty sure. I feel that in my soul when I feed wild birds in winter, when I care for stray animals and now, when my chickens will feed me and my family. That's how I want to see this. That's how I feel when I share my garden bounty with others. Or when I teach or share my knowledge of raising or cooking food.
I am thankful. Thankful to the chickens who gave me eggs for breakfast for a long time and who now will give me stock for soups to help us through the long dark winter. Thankful for the opportunity to share my life with a couple of men who are loving and compassionate in their words and their actions. And who can do the things that I cannot do, when they need to be done.