Killing Them Softly – The Kitchen Rag

The Killing

Two days ago I witnessed the slaughtering of some of our chickens on the ranch. They were the meat chickens we’ve taken care of since we started living on the Spencer Shadow Ranch. Although I’m usually a mama bear to all of our animals, here I was wearing a red apron over my faded jeans and thick muck boots, ready to slit the throats of my very own birds. I had been emotionally preparing myself for this event for the last two days. I felt it was my duty to do the killing since I was going to eat one of them for dinner. But when our friend and owner of the ranch, Doug, told me he was planning to do it, I breathed a sigh of relief and quickly walked over to the eviscerating station so I wouldn’t have to watch.

This was a different method than the one I grew up with. In Moldova, we use a sharp axe and a wood stump to completely severe the head of the bird. With one hand you hold on tight to the bird, and with the other one you chop away. Here, Doug placed the chickens in a cone and slit the main artery with a knife.

“Bleeding out allows the chicken to fall asleep while the heart pumps blood from their body. It’s a gentle way to kill them.“ our friend Joseph explained to me when he saw the look of shock on my face. I nodded and gave a weak smile.

My mama told me the same thing about severing their head. “You must to do it fast. So they don’t know what’s happening.” she said to me once. “Clean kill.” she explained to me proudly.

When I asked her how she killed her first chicken, she chuckled and told me the story:

“Your father was gone for the week for some military training and I was left alone at home with your five year old brother. I wanted to make a chicken soup because he had gotten sick but that meant I had to kill a chicken. I didn’t want to do it, and after I caught the bird I held her in my arms and cried on our front porch. Meanwhile, next door a fight broke out and our neighbours began screaming horrible things to each other. I tried to keep my head down so they wouldn’t see me but they seemed too busy with their shouting. Pretty soon the husband was chasing the wife with an axe and threatening to kill her. I was very disturbed by the scene, and suddenly I realized: my chickens had a better life than some humans. No one ever hurt them while they lived, roamed free on the pastures all day long. So I wiped my tears, gave my bird another hug, and cut her head off. To this day I squeeze my birds tight to my chest before I kill them. Oh and I did learn later that our neighbors were very dramatic when imbibing with a few too many glasses of wine, but they never actually hurt each other physically.”

Although Moldovan and American farmers might be butchering their birds differently, they have one thing in common: trying to give their animals a humane death. And for that I am grateful.

The Eating

After we cleaned up and washed the birds, I gently placed the valuable meat to sit for two days in the fridge. Doug told me this allows the meat to age and mellow out. Otherwise it tends to be chewy. News to me! We never did this step growing up, but I am always up for learning new things.

Last night I slow roasted one of the chickens with some ghee, salt, and pepper. We really wanted to taste the meat without other herbs or spices to distract us, as we were testing this batch of chickens. I served both Clayton and myself a big old helping of mashed potatoes, steamed spinach, and a chicken thigh covered in the buttery drippings. (See my recipe for bone broth and roasted chicken.)

It was different eating a chicken we raised ourselves. We cut into the meat gingerly, eating it slowly, conscious of the sacrifice that had taken place for us to have the meal. Roasted chicken is one of my favorite meals, and usually I go overboard stuffing my face. Not this time! This time I ate less — not because it wasn’t delicious; the meat was tender and full of flavor. It was simply a matter of awareness. I ate slower, I chewed longer, I valued it more. I knew how much work went into raising this chicken. They are pastured birds, raised in “chicken tractors” that my husband and I move to fresh grass every day. They’ve been a healthy vibrant flock. We are so proud to have been part of the team who raised them.

Animals you’ve raised with your own hands taste different. I’ve always told my husband that the meat I grew up with on the farm in Moldova tasted better. Last night I was transported back to my childhood while I enjoyed our first chicken. I think some of it has to do with the fact that it was raised outside in the sunshine, eating plenty of grass and bugs just like the birds we raised at home, but it also it had to do with my awareness, causing me to slow down, to enjoy it, and to give thanks.

Spread the Word

Here at Spencer Shadow Ranch we raise animals in an environment that ensures they are treated with care, respect, and love, unlike the inhumane CAFO facilities in this country. This summer we are selling a few batches of our pastured meat chickens. We wake up every morning at 6 am to move the chicken tractors to fresh pasture, ensuring that our chickens always have access to fresh grass and bugs, and we minimize feeding them grain so they fill on on wild forage instead.

If you would like to support us, like us on facebook, come visit us, and sign up to buy a chicken for our next processing on August 14th. You can pick up your bird and get a tour. The piggies are always interested in meeting new faces!