Why All Meat Eaters Should, at Least Once, Kill and Butcher an Animal
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Not only did the meat-birds grow fast physically, but other aspects of their development were expedited as well. At two weeks they were sheltering the older but smaller layer chicks under their wings like mama hens. At three weeks old, Marco Pollo was already giving them his chicken love, and they would shake exuberantly when he finished. It's good that there were 12 of them among which to spread his passion.
Fear has been bred out of the Cornish Cross breed. Typically, even the chickens that know you won't let you get too close. But the Cornish Crosses ran toward you, probably hoping for a snack.
Despite their gluttonous habits the meat birds were sweethearts, and killing them was going to be a lot harder than killing Rusty was. But there wasn't any choice. Cornish Cross birds aren't genetically programmed to handle old age. Their fragile bones break, their joints dislocate, and their hearts stop as they get bigger. At least their lack of fear makes it easier, when the time comes, to catch them. And at least they all look alike - bright white with big feet. Needless to say, they were not given names.
Since my farm days, I've referred to Gary Snyder's poem "The Hudsonian Curlew" (from his collection Turtle Island), for butchering guidance:
"...a transverse cut just below the sternum/the forefinger and middle finger/forced in and up, following the/curve of the rib cage./then fingers arched, drawn slowly down and back,/forcing all the insides up and out,/toward the palm and heel of the hand./firm organs, well-placed, hot. save the liver; finally scouring back, toward the vent, the last of the large intestine...."
If you already know a little about what you're doing, these stanzas could be helpful. But despite my affection for the poem, there are irreconcilable differences between wild Hudsonian Curlews and Cornish Cross chickens. These days I use Herrick Kimball's less elegant but more detailed advice at www.butcherachicken.blogspot.com. The site contains ten illustrated chapters on slaughtering and cleaning chickens, including one on removing the uropygial oil gland at the base of the tail.
The image Kimball provides of his young son singing Bible camp songs while slitting chicken throats is a bit creepy. But in fairness, it's rare to get through the process of "dressing out" a chicken without getting creeped out one way or another. And I think that's OK. This business of eating dead animals is a messy affair. It should make you uncomfortable, because it's a big deal. Which is why I believe all meat eaters should participate, at least once, in the real work of bringing it to the table.