Final Journey

Like lambs to the slaughter — er, birds

We listened to David Bowie on the way, because what else would you want to listen to on your last fateful voyage?

Getting everyone “onboarded” into the transport cage was a hassle, but fortunately feed strewn liberally on the ground is too great of a temptation for these little guys to pass up. Boom, catch one — everybody freaks out and runs away. Wait a few seconds — everybody comes back.

The key to catching birds when you need to cage them is to move slowly and deliberately, until the moment you strike with lightning speed. Pin first to the ground, rather than trying to grab first. Then the rest is relatively easy. Depending on the species though, watch out for razor sharp claws — but that’s a lesson you tend to only need one time. It’s perfectly acceptable also (and doesn’t hurt most birds — pheasant one notable exception) to trap them by the feet. If you’ve got a good handle on both feet in one hand, and let the bird hang free, most of the time it will quiet the bird down. They may even stretch out their wings and crane their neck to look around — almost like they’re flying. You can add airplane noises if you want.

I arrived at the abattoir a few minutes early and hopped the line without asking, knowing I had to get into costume and having cleared it all ahead of time with the owners. The birds once in their cage were quiet and calm, with thoughts of Sufragette City dancing in their heads…

I long ago got over the gross-out factor working at the abattoir. My job typically is to cut off the heads and feet from the carcasses, and when we have ducks and geese to “saucer” them, which means to three times dip them in ice cold water, a vat of boiling paraffin wax, and back before letting the “wax jacket” harden in the ice water. Then you peel it off, taking hopefully most of the small under-layer of feathers with it (water fowl have this inner protective layer for their life aquatic). This step is not necessary for chickens though, as the mechanical plucker does most of that work for you.

I always liked animals — a lot — as a kid and of course never expected to take a job cleaning their carcasses growing up. Feeding ducks and geese at the park was always an immense pleasure, one which has become a bit more like a daily chore nowadays at my place, though it’s chickens and turkeys (and pigs) instead.

These 20 birds made fine small carcasses. Certainly smaller than their industrial counterparts, by perhaps several weeks of growth at this point. Just shy of two months, I will post photos when I get them back packaged and ready to go. I was nervous and a little sad for them when I knew it was them being put up on the line for their electric bath and bleeding out. They looked cute hanging there, even still. Before I took them, I told them thank you, that I loved them and that they were the best chickens.

I don’t feel guilty about any of this, especially not since I take such an integral part in not just their life but also their death. It takes all the fear and mystery out of the whole thing for me. And I know their life was a more or less good one.

I’m considering next year switching from Cornish Cross (variously, Cornish x) to Redbro/Sasso next year, a bird that is more bred for slow growth and living outside. But as I think is evident from this video of them seeing me come togive them food, it’s simply not true what people say about this breed. They aren’t naturally lazy, fat, sluggish, stupid and all the rest of the negative rumors. These guys are trying to fly!

I’ve even had one flappingly climb up out of the fence and run towards me excitedly — all the while not knowing he was exhibiting behavior most people say is impossible for his breed.

But then, that’s life: everyone, for some reason, always wants to impose their personal limitations on you. For me though, this is fine proof: that it’s possible to raise an “unnatural” breed in a natural way with great success. Just don’t expect the massive weights of their industrial cousins.