Chicken Guilt

I look like I’ve been squatting over seedlings in the sun all day — dirty fingernails, red neck, and a bit of a limp.  We’re headed out on our evening walk with Ruby, and right away two unknown cars are coming slowly down our mile-long dead-end dirt road.  We sit Ruby and wave at the cars as they pass.

I hope I don’t look too seedy.  The road looks great, though.  We just filled the potholes and have been clipping back the encroaching salal — which the goats love.  The passing cars are newish and clean and I peg them as realtors.

One of the biggest houses on our road is up for sale.  The sign went in this week.  It calls our road “a quiet country lane,” which is true even with the barking dogs and crowing roosters and a couple of four-wheelers that roar by on beautiful days.  We are a motley crew, all colors and ages and politics, and like most neighborhoods, we work at getting along.  Except on beautiful spring evenings like this, when it comes easy.

We wait for the road dust to settle.  “Oh,” says the Bearded One, “I saw Momma Goose this morning on the road.”

We’re walking again and the air is soft and fragrant with cottonwood, the evening birds twittering.  I prompt the conversation.  “Uh,” I say, “so what did you talk about?”

“Chicken guilt.”

I laugh and know exactly what he’s talking about.  He’s just so succinct.  I have O.D.’d us both this week — Omnivore’s Dilemma‘d us, that is — on the question of killing sentient creatures because I want something to eat.  And raising them solely for that purpose.  And buying chicks that have been vigorously and unnaturally bred to grow big and meaty fast.

“She says to tell you she’s with you.  Jonah does the killing, not her.  She says the whole thing only works as a big family or neighborhood production, with everyone helping, doing whatever part they can.”

Which is what Michael Pollan says, too, in his chapter on slaughter.  He writes that slaughtering animals every day of the week is dehumanizing, and that to manage our moral dilemma we should process poultry with other people, having conversation, working carefully and humanely.

Our 30 all white, straight run (mixed pullets and cockerels) Cornish Rock chicks will arrive on June 16 and will live out their 8 weeks of life on the ground, growing very fast, and by the end, eating two 50 pound sacks of feed every week.  I want their lives to be good.  I also want to eat chicken soup.

Here are some Cornish broilers at, shown here with the blogger's kind permission.

The Bearded One is designing the coops to be movable for cleanliness purposes, and he’s tripled the size of the pen from our first plan.  There will be plenty of scratching and pecking space.

Looking down the hill from the upper goat and chicken pasture, past the barn on the left. The Bearded One is in the middle of the planned meat chicken pen, which will extend down toward the hoophouse. He's using a 10'x20' piece of leftover hoophouse plastic to cover half of the upper pen area.

“Car,” I say.  Ruby is snuffling in the blackberries by the side of the road and takes her sweet time coming.  The husband of Momma Goose pulls up in his little red car.  He is a big man who works as a jailhouse guard and has seen it all.  “How’s it goin’?” he says with a smile.

I tell him everything, as if he’s a priest and I’m in confession.  I ask him if he knows that the use of growth hormones on chickens has been illegal in the U.S. since the 1950s?  That it’s the breeding that’s responsible for the fast growth.  It galls me, I say, that chicken marketing screams “No Hormones” to draw attention away from the antibiotics and miserable conditions of factory farms.

“It’s what made America great,” the Bearded One chimes in, and Momma Goose’s husband laughs.

“Hey, a guy at work saw me reading the blog and he sees your drawings and says, ‘Is that a GOAT?'”

The Bearded One and Momma Goose’s husband hoot and holler at that.  The stick goats have an audience.  I laugh, too, but am really thinking about how cool it is that he shares a neighbor’s blog with other guards.

We are in the home stretch of our walk — just three more realtors or lookers waved at — when Hansel and Gretel come racing down the road toward us on their bikes.  Batman is still further up the hill, sitting atop his dad’s shoulders, who rides his bike behind the kids.  We sit Ruby and wave.

Hansel stops and Gretel almost rear ends him.  They are breathless, their cheeks are pink and Gretel’s hair swirls as she laughs in the face of the near crash.  They can hardly say hi they are breathing so hard.

Then Batman and his dad sail on by, waving, Batman shouting, “BYE BYE!!”

We laugh and yell out to Batman’s dad, “Watch out for the realtors!”


4 responses to “Chicken Guilt

  1. I just discoverd your blog earlier this week when looking for ideas for our sustainable landscape design. We live on 4 acres in Norther Tasmania Australia and are trying to carve a sustainable pathway through what was previously weed infested wilderness. It’s really great to take a peek at someone elses life and blogs allow us to do that without the poster even realising that we are peeking through their windows. Never let it be said that I peeked without saying hello :). Your post talked directly to my guilt valve. I don’t eat meat but my husband does and recently we have been culling our rooster population. We have 30 something chooks (Aussie word for chickens) on our property ranging from 3 week old Blue laced Wyandottes to goodness only knows what that we bought as fertile eggs. We had to face up to the responsiblity of dealing with our excess roosters and had to learn to kill them a couple of weeks ago. Most of our hens will live out there lives here laying eggs or not as they see fit, but the roosters are now a valuable resource to be harvested and stored as part of our new ideals. Living in the country certainly takes away a persons preconceived ideas about the world and its machinations. We learn something new every day and its usually about our own characters or where we fit in the world. We tend not to fit very well to be honest but one day we will feel part of the fringes where humans and nature can exist if not in harmony, at least in a degree of acceptance. Love your blog and will share the stick deer with my dogs later on. They are American Staffies so despite never seeing a deer in real life, they should at least see a stick one to be aware of their natural heritage 😉

    • Hi! Thanks for your wonderful comment and I’ll have to clean my windows! We’ll see how I do with these meat birds; it’s so great to have a friend across the road to follow the first time through it. I’m looking forward to reading more of your Road to Serendipity blog, too…. I LOVE that you live in Australia. Truly on the other side of the planet, but we are clearly heart friends. Blessings! Christi

  2. Christine Widman

    The reality that across the globe others are pondering…attempting sustainable living and a kind of across vast ocean connection gives me hope for humanity. I feel it when I read your blog. I experience it here with our kind, appreciative, insightful guests.
    All humans are a “motley crew” it seems to me and I am heartened by the questions, concerns and curiosities about our Omnivore nature, agreeing with you and your Australian friend in the hope that humans and nature can exist “in a degree of acceptance.”
    I hope I will be able to sit at your kitchen table talking over a bowl of your home-grown chicken soup before this year ends.

  3. Thanks for the comment, as usual, Christine, and I feel the hopefulness, too. My Australian friend is so funny and articulate. Her blog is Hugs to you, my dear friend and your loving, beautiful, nurturing Desert Downton Abbey. 🙂

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