On chickens, and Winding Stair Farm’s approach to humanely raising animals …
My morning on Friday began with the discovery that our two original roosters – prized for their gentleness, genetics, and plumage – had a vicious fight. I steeled myself to the reality that these roosters were going to die and it was up to me to make it quick. I walked up to the house to sharpen our knife, and when I came back, Norbert walked out of the coop, leaving Rupert collapsed on the floor of the coop. It was sad to see him like that, compared with his former glory – in the picture above, Ezra is showing Rupert to our wedding photographer (July 2015). I carefully carried him to the killing cone to end his life as gently and swiftly as I could, thanking him for the lessons he has taught this newbie farmer, for taking care of our hens, and for giving us generations of beautiful chickens. I thought about the value of this bird’s life to us contrasted with the agricultural industry’s treatment of poultry. For years I have been observing these birds and what I have learned is incredible:
Chickens know their home. Ours never cross the perimeter fence (even though it is no different from the fences that they regularly cross to get from paddock to paddock). They always investigate something new and know where to seek shelter.
Chickens know each other. We have three coops on five acres, and the chickens from each group rarely interact. They stick with each other and move about peacefully across the pasture without problems with the other groups. They have a complex social hierarchy and that’s how they keep the peace. Sadly for Rupert, he injured his leg earlier this summer and never gained back his status.
Chickens have a large vocabulary. Chickens have different calls for alerts, announcing a food source, asserting dominance, laying eggs, and more. At night, they peacefully coo at each other inside the coop. One morning I was sitting in the pasture (this is the only way to recognize if there are problems) when a chicken made the alert that something dangerous was flying overhead. The call quickly spread across to the other end of the farm. It wasn’t until after the hawk flew past that I realized I had looked up immediately to the sky when the first chicken made the announcement. I’d begun to learn the language of chickens! Best. morning. ever.
Chickens deserve better. The meat from the roosters that we eat is far better than any chicken we’ve ever bought from the supermarket. What the industry has done to this bird makes me sick. It is flavorless and cheap, and so different from the birds that we raise here that I hardly recognize it.
This is why we work on this farm. Ethical rearing and humane slaughter ARE compatible with being a “practical farmer.” To look at an animal whose life I know I am going to take to feed myself tests my resolve every time, but a good death is a critical part of a good life. Other people choose to be vegetarians, but our long-term goal at Winding Stair Farm is to give “meat eaters” a humane option to feed their family the protein that their bodies need.
You should have chickens too. We can help if you have questions about raising chickens or want to buy incubated eggs or chicks from our flock. If more people have small backyard flocks of happy chickens, fewer birds will go through life in industrial agriculture.