This spring we decided to get a few new hens to replace the two from the original flock that never laid very many eggs after the dog attack that killed three of their sisters. While we were at it, we thought it would be a good idea to get some extras to raise over the summer just for meat. We didn’t like the idea of getting broilers, the chickens that are bred to put on weight so fast that their legs can’t support them so they end up immobilized. So, we got some black Sexlink roosters instead. By the time they start to crow, they’d be full grown, and we could put them in the freezer.
In late April,we got 3 fuzzy black hen chicks and 5 fuzzy black rooster chicks with their tell-tale white dot on the forehead. They chowed down on their food like crazy and quickly outgrew their brooder box. When it was warm enough they graduated to the chicken tractor. Matt built the chicken tractor a few years ago as the temporary summer home for the chickens while we could get their permanent coop/greenhouse built. Since then we have found it comes in handy for raising new chicks until they are big enough to introduce to the flock as well as a controlled way to put the chickens in the garden to eat garden debris and slug eggs. It is like a mini coop/run on wheels with a house for them to stay at night and an outdoor area for the daytime.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t really designed for eight chickens. Their food and water had to be filled twice a day (until we got a larger waterer) and the tractor had to be moved at least as often to keep them from completely destroying the bit of lawn it was over. Luckily, our neighbor who had just moved in across the street was a bird-lover. She would come over twice a day just to hang out with the chicks, taking them out of the tractor, and even convincing our dog, Levi, that he didn’t want to eat them. I have no idea how she did it, but she had a real magic touch. Robin helped us fill their food dish and even brought them treats like bread and cracked corn. We added one more to our flock when a friend dropped by a rooster that was supposed to be a hen.
So, finally the day came at the end of July when we heard the first adolescent rooster crow. It is a unique sound if you’ve never heard it before.. a bit like a dying cat. Each day it got stronger and stronger until it was unmistakably a rooster crow. Now, of course, roosters aren’t legal in Anchorage. The quaint sound of a far-off rooster crowing in the country is downright obnoxious in the city. And, as luck would have it, the increased crowing came between Matt’s very successful dip-netting and our vacation to the East Coast. We tried, but we just couldn’t get to the rooster before we left. Thank goodness our neighbors are all very tolerant, because nobody complained, and we still had 6 roosters when we returned.
Matt set about the butchering process the day after we got back. The first step was to tell Robin, the chicken whisperer. Not an easy task. She knew from the beginning that they were meat birds, but she still got very attached to them. It was a bit like killing her pets. The second step was to get all set up, the pot of water hot, etc. That was the easy part. Then the time came to get the first bird. The extra rooster, the crower, went first. He was an Orpington, a big bird. I held him upside down by his legs while Matt tied a noose around them. The rooster was strangely calm. More calm, perhaps, than we were.
Matt had butchered the hens our friend’s dog killed last year, but he had never done the killing himself. Killing is never an easy thing. Yes, it is a natural part of life, but respect for every living thing means that you cannot wield the knife or the gun lightly. I suppose that is one reason we have relegated most of the animal-killing in this nation to the large factory-farms, where we don’t have to deal with it or even think about it. The chicken nuggets don’t have a head or a tail or even bear any resemblance to where they come from.
But there we were, in the driveway with a chicken hanging upside down that bore no resemblance to a chicken nugget. Matt took a deep breath and did the deed that neither of us wanted to do, but one of us had to. We waited together as he bled out and finally fluttered as his heart stopped. I helped pluck the feathers and then Matt butchered him. We only got through one more bird before calling it quits for the day. We were both emotionally drained. The rest of the roosters weren’t crowing yet, they could wait for another day. The next morning we woke to a chorus of adolescent crows….