Remember when I said that I might be killing a chicken? Well, I did it.
As you know I was quite nervous about it in July, when I first mentioned it to you, and when Saturday 15th of November, 2014 arrived I was still quite nervous.
As instructed by Madelaine, the day before I prepared everything I needed for the day of killing. I got an eski to bring home the chickens in, I brought my apron (because, you know, for the blood), packed a few towels ( I guess for more blood?), sharpened my knife (Was this the knife I was going to kill the chickens? Was it sharp enough? How do I know if its sharp enough to kill a chicken? Should I test it on an orange?), and cooked a plate of omelette (the eggs were from Madelaine's hens) for lunch to share with the 16 other people who were also coming to the farm to learn how to slaughter chickens.
I took my first V/Line train at 9:36 am at Southern Cross Station. On the way I tried to get in the right mindset for the day, whatever that meant I still don't know. I arrived at Clarkefield Station at 10:18 am where Madelaine's mum picked me up.
As soon as I got off the train, I realised how much I missed being in the country. It was so quiet, the air was fresher, and the absence of city traffic was incredibly comforting. I needed some comforting.
From Clarkefield station we drove up to Hollyburton Park, where Madelaine and her family live and farm. Madelaine raises organic chickens, eggs, and veggies, her younger sister Hailey has guinea pigs and sheep, and her younger brother Arthur raises turkeys.
The farm was beautiful. I can't emphasise how beautiful it was. There were chickens and cows, and they had plenty of space to roam about and just be.
After getting acquainted with Madelaine and her family more people started arriving. Some from the country, some from the city. Some people came alone, like me, others came with a friend or with their family. All anxious on different scales. Some had never seen anything be slaughtered in real life never mind a kill a chicken, whilst some had their own chickens and had killed a few but they weren't sure if they were doing it in the best possible way. We were all there to learn more.
Theoretically, I was not worried about killing the chicken. I had seen sheep get slaughtered many times, and I have come to terms with eating meat a long time ago. However, that doesn't mean I was calm, cool, or relaxed about killing a chicken. I was extremely worried about doing it wrong and hurting the chicken beyond what was necessary. And, I was also worried what would happen in real life when I am actually faced with a chicken to kill. Just because I was okay with idea theoretically didn't mean I could pull through with it in practice.
So, I made a deal with myself. I told myself if I really couldn't do it or didn't want to do it, I could opt out. But, then I would have to become a vegetarian. I knew that I couldn't respect myself if I kept on eating meat when I didn't have the guts to kill the animal I was going to eat.
I paid close attention as Madelaine proceeded to demonstrate the process.
When it was our time to kill the chickens, I let many people go before me so I could watch and really get the technique right because I was not going to allow the chicken to be hurt more than it was necessary just because I was inadequate at killing a chicken.
We could choose between three different kinds of tools. A knife, pair of secateurs or an axe.
Madelaine showed us how to slaughter with the secateurs. She said for first timers the secateurs were the better choice, because you could cut off the whole head in one go, which meant you would know that the chicken was dead. Whereas, with a knife it would be much harder to know for sure. Why? Because even after cutting main veins the chicken would still be moving due to nerves and it would still have its head on and it look like its alive and suffering. The axe was just there for demonstrative purposes, because with an axe it could be real messy.
There was a man who went before me. He chose a knife. I am glad I went after him because I saw what not to do. He accidentally nicked the chicken before he cut the main veins. The chicken was in pain before it was supposed to be and so it knew it was going to die a while before. it suffered more than necessary and it was hard to watch. I didn't want that to happen to me or my chicken, so I went for the secateurs when it was my turn.
Rob, Madelaine's dad, told us that before they slaughtered their chickens they prayed to thank the animal, so they could express their gratitude for the animal. I did the same. I picked up my chicken and I ended up hugging it and praying for it for five minutes. I was grateful for this chicken that was soon to become my food. I made my thanks, and I promised that nothing was going to be wasted of this chicken.
Then I asked Colita, Madelaine's mum, to hold the chicken. We put her in the cone, I got the neck out, then put the secateurs around its neck, prayed once more and gripped the handle hard. My my eyes closed automatically, and before I knew it I was holding a chicken head in my head. For a moment I forgot what I was supposed to with the head, so I had to ask again. Someone told me it was to go in the 'head bucket'. The headless chicken, even though it is dead, still moves because the nerves are still moving. Which meant after putting the head in the 'head bucket' I had to hold the legs for a minute so, all whilst the blood drained into the bucket below.
(Don't scroll down if you are not ready to see a dead chicken head!)
I was just coming to terms with taking a life until all the other chickens started coming towards the bucket. And, oh gosh, I was not ready for what was to happen next.
They started eating the blood of the dead chicken!
I was ready to come to terms with death that day, but I was not ready for chicken cannibalism. I guess you learn something new and strange everyday.
I know chickens are smart, and I know these chickens knew exactly what they were doing because they know what other chickens look like enough to live with them, and mate with them. So, being the inexperienced city girl I am, I was very shocked. Fortunately or unfortunately, as shocked as I was, there was more work to be done so I couldn't just stand there looking stupid and shocked because the chicken wasn't going to pluck and gut itself.
What happens next after you kill a chicken is more work than killing the chicken. You have to bathe the headless chicken in hot water for about 30 seconds. This is done because the hot water makes it easier to pluck the chicken.
It took Madelaine approximately three minutes to pluck the chicken. It took me about 10 minutes. The plucking was relatively easy. The next part proved troublesome, though.
After plucking comes gutting. Gutting was/is difficult. You have to put your arm into a chicken's butt. And, its warm, which shocked me. It shouldn't have, because it was alive like 20 minutes ago.
It was alive, then I killed it, and now my hands were inside it.(SO MUCH confrontation of death in one day).
Then you have take out the heart, liver, lungs alongside some other organs that I had no idea what they were.
Once the gutting is done, the chicken needs to be washed and put into a cold brine for a day. For us it was until it was time to take it home with us.
That was it. No one fainted. No one vomited. All of us had seen where our food came from and most of us slaughtered a chicken or a two. For some it was easier, for some it was more difficult. Everyone is different.
All of us came from the experience with more awareness and more respect for the animals that die for us meat eaters. Oh, and we learnt that chickens, if the opportunity arises, are cannibals. Overall, I felt okay with the whole process. I didn't faint, and I didn't have to become a vegetarian. However, I don't know how I feel about chicken cannibalism though.
We then shared the plate of foods that each one of us brought from home. Amongst all the wonderful dishes, what caught my attention most were the homemade cheeses, and home churned butter that Madelaine's family made for us. They were delicious!
As a meat eating omnivore I feel at peace with my decision to kill an organic chicken. When and if I decide to raise chickens, I now know how to kill one without making a mess out of the whole experience. I think it is a good skill to have.
What about you, would you ever kill your own food? Are you shocked as I am about cannibalism in chickens? Let me know!
With love and simplicity,
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