Long Days and Short Years

just trying to pay attention so I don't miss my life


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Mama, You No Eat Animals!

Just in case you’ve already discussed the VP debate and the Steelers’ loss this morning, I thought that I would introduce a cheerier topic.

That would be–chicken butchering.

(See, don’t you feel cheerier already?)

No, silly, I’m not talking about my own chickens.  Didn’t you read my “Chicken Choices” post from a few weeks ago?  I am talking about chickens that I don’t know personally.  The ones that I eat.

My husband and I have an overly complicated relationship to meat that we are attempting to pass along to our children.  Depending on your perspective, you can think of us as thoughtful or hypocritical, but our basic premise is this–know the farmers, know that the animals were treated well, and enjoy the hamburger.

In practice, this requires two extra freezers and a host of dedicated farmers.  Our annual quarter-cow comes from a dairy farm in Williamsburg, Pa, we buy goats and lambs from teenagers at the Butler 4-H livestock auction, and chickens and pigs come from Lamppost Farm in Eastern, Ohio.  (No, we do not buy all these animals every year.) Lamppost even hosts chicken butchering/processing weekends that we have participated in.  Yes.  Me.  Killing a chicken.  Because you see, I have been eating chicken for three decades.

Our farm network is only one piece of our complicated relationship to meat, but probably the most noteworthy.  Noteworthy, but as it turns out, not at all impressive to our three-year-old.

Every early August we take our children to the Butler Farm Show and visit all the animals.  In the evening, after the girls have gone to Nana and Papa’s house, we return to the Farm Show to bid in the livestock auction.  We see this whole day as a learning experience for our children, and attempt to talk with them about all things related to farm animals.  We try to translate things like sustainable practices and ethical treatment into preschool language.  We meet farmers.  We ask questions.

All of this may have been a huge mistake.

It was the meat rabbits that got them.  Go figure… cute, fluffy creatures that figure heavily in children’s literature.  We were getting ready to leave when they brought the rabbits in for the auction, and I watched it all come together in our three-year old’s mind.  “Mama, you eat these bunnies?”

No, honey, we wouldn’t be eating these bunnies… I mean… rabbits, but… uh… I watched the storm clouds gather in her eyes…  somebody… uh… might eat them.  Cause, well…

Uh, oh.

And our dear, even-tempered, happy-go-lucky child lost it.  “Mama, you no eat animals!” she yelled at me.  “You NO eat animals.”  She was fuming.  She yelled at me all the way to her Nana and Papa’s house.  My well-reasoned thinking about “happy animal lives” was lost on her. Eventually, I just sat there and took it, tried to comfort her.  “Mama, you NO EAT ANIMALS!”

But I do.  And so, the conversation continues.

Just… please… don’t bring up the bunnies.

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Chicken Choices

There comes a moment in the life of every chicken owner when a crossroads is reached.  In this moment you must answer a question, and so set a trajectory in which lies the future of all your poultry-related endeavors.  The question is this:

Are your chickens farm animals or pets?

I will give you our answer in the form of a quiz.

One day, a peregrine falcon discovers a new protein source in our backyard.  He does his amazing diving-thing and soon has a mouthful of feathers.  The chicken is too big for him to pick up, but he digs his talons in until a neighbor alerts my husband and he comes running.  The falcon retreats to the porch roof, the chicken runs under the playhouse and the children run wild.  The chicken (once coaxed out of hiding) is discovered to be severely wounded with several gaping, bloody gashes.

Now the quiz.  Do we…

1)  Ignore the chicken, hope for the best and go out for curry.

2)  Decide sadly that the chicken is too far gone to save, and make it into chicken curry (not in front of the children)

3)  Run the chicken into the kitchen as if we were poultry paramedics, shouting things like “get the hydrogen peroxide!” and “where’s the sewing kit?”, and then proceed to spend TWO HOURS giving the chicken TWENTY-FIVE stitches, with breaks in which we hand-feed the chicken raisins.  Complete our task by applying liquid band-aid to all the suture spots, with a grand finale of blowing on the chicken’s rear-end for five minutes in order to dry the liquid band-aid goo.

I’m still a little winded.