It is Monday night at 7:30 pm we are to take our spent layers to be processed Tuesday morning. We will take the processed chicken to the soup kitchen with a big sign informing them that these birds need to be stewed in order to tenderize the meat, so that patrons can eat them.
What the note will not impart is the emotional and therefore physical and mental toll that their demise has caused us. I have no appetite or motivation. We have taken off of work this week in order to take the chickens up, celebrate two birthdays one 50 years and one 80 years.
So we have planned how we will get the birds in the cage and take them. We have selected the second flock and the rooster from flock four. We are taking eight chickens up to be processed. It has been awhile since I've had such a low point but I am emotionally drained and morally conflicted. Growing up in the city, decisions never had a life or death outcome. Who you would pick to field your side of a team was the biggest decision I had to make. Now we had to select those chickens that needed to be culled and their life ended.
I know hundreds of thousands if not millions of people process or get their chickens processed but, we have fought off this decision for six years. The anguish associated with it has been painfully documented on this forum. We are not profitable enough to keep spent layers for their natural life. As much as we tried, we are operating in the red when it comes to our layers. The business side of this is very plain, the emotional and anthropomorphized association is stronger yet intellect has to rule over emotions in this equation.
Say what you will, think what you will; we have gotten too emotionally close to these birds. We need to temper or navigate a better relationship but make sure we stay as a humane farm, and at the same time keep the hearts we had when we first started in animal husbandry.
It is 6:45 am, Tuesday morning and we are gathering strength to go out and pack the birds up. I can not take flock one. There are three left of the original six and they lay about a dozen eggs a week, but more importantly when you approach any of these chickens they kind of squat down and let you pick them up. They trust us enough to stop what they are doing and position themselves to be easily scooped up in your arms. I cannot take these birds when they show so much trust and security in us like that. I am not going to easily pick them up, put them in a cage and send them off to their demise. I just cannot do it.
I have been fighting tears, depression, and low motivation and down rite malaise. Like everything on a farm we must learn how to be stewards, humane and sustainable. Last night we discussed stopping the practice of using chickens in our nutrient and pest management practices and let the rest of the flocks run their course. We will have to see after today how that discussion plays out. For now I have to get going in order to make our appointment in Pennsylvania.
We got the birds and placed them in the carrier. The hardest one was the youngest rooster. He was chosen because he was an unknown. The current rooster is predictable, not aggressive and crows loudly so having people on the farm with a rooster that does not attack is a good thing.
The drive out was okay, I still have know appetite and I'm in this daze almost like I'm in my body but I don't have control of my body. I'm an automaton, driving a package to be delivered and I need to wait to take the package to the soup kitchen.
We get there and we do not know what to do, "take the cage around to the dock," an Amish woman in full length dress and bonnet tells us. I walk it around and there are about ten cages with various birds in them. I place our cage down and I wait. A young Amish man comes out, he's blood spattered from head to toe and he asks me about them. I can't really hear him, I just tell him we need them processed for the soup kitchen.
I think he might have asked it we wanted any of the innards. I said just the chickens please and that was it he was gone. I walked back to the truck and we placed the cooler in the front of the store. We walked outside found a shaded place to sit and started reading my bug book. As time slowly ticket by I was painfully aware of every sound coming from the back of the building. Time past and they called us, "Your cooler is very dirty, do you have bags or do you want us to put them in anyway".
We thought they would bag them for us but they didn't. Luckily I had brought bags with us that I had intended to use in order to leave them at the soup kitchen. We placed them in the bags, threw some ice on top and took the cooler out to the truck.
I'm sorry to be cliché but it was surreal, I only knew what I was suppose to say, which was either "yes, no, you have to ask my wife". Then the woman said something that woke me up. She said "all of these chickens were sick", "What do you mean sick?" I asked. "They stunk inside and their livers were diseased. There still good for soup though" she added at the end.
It was at those words that my mood, outlook responsibilities and culpability in their demise came full circle. They were sick. By divine intervention we forced ourselves to make an emotionally steeped decision to the benefit of the birds and to the people they will feed. The deed has been done and lessons have been learned.
Some farmer I make, it is what it is, you can take the boy out of the city but so far the city has not come out of the boy.