[Warning to the sensitive, this post contains pictures of our recent rooster slaughter. I don't think they're any worse than a nitty-gritty farm-to-table cookbook, but there is some blood. If that sort of thing bothers you, please come back another time.]
The first time we did-in one of our roos, I did not take photos. It was too dark, for one, but also I wanted to mentally process it without thinking about the camera. This time I was much more involved, in general, but I decided to step back a few times to document too.
A few weeks ago, this article made the rounds on the internets. (Cliff's notes version: People are dumping chickens in shelters when they don't lay eggs anymore or end up growing into roosters.) Being "the chicken lady" I got it forwarded to me about five times.
And then, shortly after, I got into a conversation with a nice stranger about getting chickens. "I'd love to get some," she said, "But I'm worried about predators." I immediately launched into ways to make a coop secure, but she stopped me, "No, I'm worried about how my kids would deal with one dying."
I don't want to suggest that's not a valid concern. I think a predator attack is hard to watch at any age, and both the Kid and Sweet Sister decided to head inside to play when it came time to kill our own roosters. But what I wanted to ask the stranger next--but didn't, because I really try not to verbally attack well-intentioned strangers--is, "Does your family eat meat?" Because that's what I think it really comes down to.
I'm not saying you have to kill every cow yourself. (Yay for the modern age!) But I think--for me and mine, at least--it's important to at least acknowledge that chickens do not magically appear in shrink wrap at the grocery store. It's important to face the reality that there are far more male chickens born than anyone could sanely or humanely keep. Find a good home for your roosters if you can, to be sure, but dumping them at a shelter is not the same thing. Ultimately, if you're keeping chickens, you have to be prepared to eat one (or have one get eaten by predators), at least every now and then. If you've chosen an omnivorous lifestyle, it's just the way of things.
I know this is a bit soapbox-y, but it's important for me to say it. I post here with cute pictures of my hens and all their funny names. We do love our girls and want them to have good lives, but ultimately they walk a thin line between pets and food.
Which brings me back to this year's rooster slaughter.
We packed the three fellas up and took them to our friends' house in the country, because it's illegal to slaughter chickens in town. Perhaps oddly, this is the part that troubles me most--I hate that their last hour is a stressful one spent in the car.
Last time, Sweet Husband used a knife to slit the rooster's throat, but--based on that experience--he felt that an ax would be quicker and more humane. Using an old stump--the nails are to help hold the head still--the roosters were quickly dispatched. Even though I know it's just a reflex, it was disturbing to me to see them flap for several moments after. We left them to bleed out while we went inside to have dinner with our friends.
After some pizza and cold beers, it was time to begin plucking. Three of us each took a chicken and began pulling feathers, but after working at it awhile, we decided just to skin them after all. We kept the basic carcass--breast, leg, thighs, backs--but tossed the entrails out into our friends' woods to make a meal for the wild creatures that live there.
The roos were then rinsed, bagged, and frozen. We left the biggest--Mr. Barred Rock--for our friends, and took the scrawny two home ourselves. I'm not sure exactly what I'm going to make with them yet, but I'm still leaning towards tamales.