Diary of a New Urban Farmer

Dear Diary,

I don’t know if I’m cut out for this.

This morning, I watched this You Tube video of a soft spoken, peaceful-looking woman humanely killing an old laying hen. Lying in my bed, with my laptop on my belly and the covers pulled up to my chin, I watched with hesitation as she put the hen in her lap, petted and tapped its head to calm it down, slit its throat and then broke its neck and ripped its head off. The hen looked like a Rhode Island Red, like Lucy, and all I could do was imagine myself taking those same steps with her in my lap, wiping blood and feathers off my red Hunter boots.

Alexa, this farmer lady, who admittedly teared up while she slaughtered the chicken in the video, said she doesn’t get attached to her chickens. But how does she do it? I know people say not to name them, but seriously, even without names, how do I not get attached to my close-knit flock of four? I mean, really, even if they didn’t have names, I’d still probably talk to them. How do I not get attached to the first chickens I raised from balls of fluffy down in my bathtub?

Sometimes I feel like Fern, from Charlotte’s Web. Like as a 32 year old, I’m going through the motions of a little girl that is just realizing what it takes to get that everyday food we eat to our table. The toughening up has to come sometime for a girl that grew up thinking that chicken came from the meat aisle of the grocery store in a shrink-wrapped Styrofoam package. I guess that time is now.

I suppose I have a choice. A choice to avoid the tough process altogether or get someone else to do the deed, but that feels like a cop out. That feels like choosing the route of disconnectedness, the route I’ve been avoiding with my daily food choices over the past three years.

I could choose, of course, to forgo eating meat altogether, which would also mean forgoing some of the delicious food experiences I enjoy so much. Bacon and pulled pork would be sincerely missed. You’ve heard me say before that if I couldn’t kill my chickens myself, I would be vegetarian again. A statement, not meant to be extreme, but rather to show my respect for the animals I eat and the courage it takes to be part of the process that transforms them into food. A commitment to eating animals that have been treated and processed with as much respect as I would be willing to demonstrate with my own animals.

So today I sit, prematurely (it won’t be time for awhile still), thinking about what mental strength it will take to harvest my birds and wonder if I really have what it takes. I wonder if what I’ll really need is to have a little patience and compassion with myself, knowing that the first time won’t be easy and that tear up I most definitely will. But that I’ll cowgirl up and will have enough pluck (pun intended) to be with my girls until the end. And I’ll earn my title as urban farmer with the best of them.

Thoughtfully yours,

Stacy

*Photos by Jenn Ireland

9 thoughts on “Diary of a New Urban Farmer

  1. Brittney

    Stacy, I wonder the same thing. We have three chickens we’ve raised from chicks and this spring they will be three years old. They are still productive, but one of the first questions people ask is: what will you do when they stop laying? It’s hard to imagine culling Rosemary, Olive or Penelope. It’s even harder to think about eating them. They are our first chickens! But if we Craigslist them or given them to someone else to cull, it seems like a cop out. Our intention was to get backyard chickens for the eggs, but the reality of what comes next is something we haven’t figured out.

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  2. Grace

    I found that it is supremely helpful to have a friend with you. I attended the Seattle Farm Coop chicken butchering workshop with my first roo and a hen, and then followed up by helping at a 4H workshop the following week. It isn’t easy, but with like-minded friends, it is a lot easier.

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  3. Sustainable Eats

    Stacey, I went to Alexa’s to meet her. There was another person there today who was also at Joshua’s slaughter and said she felt like it was so methodical there and matter of fact that she couldn’t kill a chicken. Today she killed not just any chicken but one of her favorite old hens. She was teary but so grateful to have a different kind of experience. You might contact Alexa and ask to attend her next session. She’s quite compassionate, an amazing guide and so respectful. I bet you will be able to do it. I agree completely with Grace that it helps to have support there. Doing it by yourself is just too hard, no matter how many times you’ve witnessed it. So file this away in the back of your mind for when the time comes. Respect for the life you have taken is a wonderful thing that too many are lacking these days.

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  4. meg

    I don’t plan on killing mine. I’ll happily donate most of them to someone that wants to humanely slaughter and eat them when it is time. But since having chickens I can’t stomach really eating chicken. I was pretty squeamish about beforehand though. I will eat it, but it is very, very rare.
    Some I’ll keep around just as pets as I’m too attached to them =)

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