Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The big one

Last night we had arroz con pollo (Spanish rice and chicken) for dinner. It was the final dinner in a week of delicious dinners with our most beautiful friends, Morag and Louisa and Huon, who had been camping on our land.
Arroz con pollo. Check out that super-long drumstick! And that little hand, belonging to a certain small person who was very eager to get a taste of "the big one".
The night before last night, Morag and I killed and prepared the rooster we used in the dinner. He'd just started to crow, so we knew it was time to eat him.
I've killed a few chickens before, but killing animals definitely doesn't come naturally to me. As a child, I spent my school holidays on my Oma and Opa's farm, and I knew they killed and prepared their own beef and pigs - I remember the very well stocked deep freeze, and have a vague recollection of a cow hanging in a tree, thought I don't know if this is real or imagined. On the other side of the coin though, my mum volunteered for Animal Welfare, and my Nana can't even watch an animal documentary in case she sees a lion killing and eating a zebra.
Pearl and I have both, at times, been vegetarian and vegan. In recent times, though, we've come to the conclusion that it's not humans eating meat per se that is the problem: it's the way our meat is 'produced', and the amount of meat we eat on account of the fact that we're totally divorced from the effort it takes to kill something and then prepare it for consumption. For the last few years we've become increasingly dedicated to finding ethical and sustainable (or even regenerative) sources of our food - meat and veg alike. For the most part this involves buying local and/or organic, buying direct from the producer, when we can, and growing as much of our own food as possible. We also don't eat a lot of meat. Maybe once a fortnight, and part of our holistic goal for living on/from the land is that we'll eventually produce all our own meat - grown, killed and processed right here.
First stop: chickens. 
The night before last night was an outrageously windy and rainy night. In all, not the best circumstances for killing and plucking a chook, but we'd committed to the home-grown arroz con pollo as the holiday's-end dinner with our friends, so we went through with it. Here's my thoughts/feelings about the experience:
1. It wasn't the best thing I've ever done. As I said - killing don't come natural to me - but I'm aware of the purely cultural relationship we have with life and the lives of the animals we live with, and I'm really up for challenging myself on this front. I'm also painfully aware of the disgustingly alienated relationship most people have with their 'meat'. It's too easy for us to ignore the life (the quality of their lived experience, and the events surrounding their death) of the animal when we're in the supermarket or butcher shop, and I know that if I am to eat meat, I need to reconnect with the lives and deaths of the animals I'm consuming.
2. In spite of all tis intellectualising and philosophising, immediately after killing the chook, Morag and I both thought we should probably become vegetarians.
3. Gutting the chook was very interesting, but we felt ashamed that we were so unaware of what all the 'bits' were. We've resolved to buy a book on it, so we can, in future, make better use of the whole animal.
4. That said, we did use the feet and unidentified giblets for stock. It was, without a doubt, the most insanely rich and fragrant stock I've ever experienced, albeit a little funny-lookin' to the uninitiated.
The stock. As I brushed the disembodied feet clean, in preparation for their addition to the stock, I  had the strange sensation that I was performing a really wrong kind of pedicure...
5. We need to get our knives sharpened.
6. I'm definitely not looking forward to the next time I kill one of our chooks, but I also know that the next time I eat a chook, I want it to be one we've raised ourselves. While the experience of killing/gutting/plucking etc is not awesome, the knowledge that we're following our ethics and taking responsibility for our food is. Last night's dinner solidified for me that this is what we need to be doing more of. I can guarantee most people would eat less meat if they were involved in the killing and preparation.
7. The last time I knocked off a chicken, I used an axe. But after having some discussions with various people who regularly kill animals of all kinds, I decided to give the broken neck approach a go. It's a little... intimate... and I think I'll be opting for the axe next time.
8. Preparing a chook takes a long time! This was definitely a result of our not-extremely-sharp knives, the rain, the wind, and the fact that we didn't really know what we were doing and hadn't really done it before. I'm hoping the whole thing get's quicker...
9. I don't know how I'd go killing a duck ( or any other animal, for that matter). They're very charming. I suppose chooks are charming too, in their own way, and I did have a hard time looking that rooster in the eye on the days leading up to his marriage with the rice, but ducks are something else. Why are some lives more 'valuable' than others? How are we taught to 'know' the value of one animal over another? How much does anthropomorphism come into it? 
10. The shape of a home-grown chook is pretty different to a shop-bought chook, who are often bred to be so lethargic they don't even move. They're also usually caged so that they couldn't move, even if they wanted to. Ours, on the other hand, had some pretty long drumsticks! We're thinking we'll probably invest in some chickens of a more meat-oriented breed, and maybe do a little pre-kill fattening next time.
Chicken-bits in the pan. The smell, at this stage, was something other-worldly, I assure you.
11. The taste? Super tasty! A few years ago my dad had an organic banana for the first time. For weeks afterwards he was telling anyone who'd listen that it tasted like "banana with banana essence poured on it". That was exactly what the chook was like. The whole dish - made with the chook, his giblets and feet, and all organic and/or home-grown veg - was goodness in a paella pan. We felt nourished to the max.

Tonight we're having zucchini soup, in an effort to get through the crazy number of zucchinis coming out of our garden at the moment. The recipe is from the Whole Larder Love book, with the addition of some fat hen. The stock is made from the bones from last night's dinner. So the cycle continues...

mountains of zucchini and tomatoes: the taste of summer...


  1. Restorative farming makes for restorative food makes for inspiring life. Because children do as children see, thanks for being inspiring.... xt

    1. Thanks so very much for your beautiful words x

  2. I just wanted to say a friend put me onto your blog a couple of months ago for a variety of reasons and I am slightly envious of your wonderful home environment. I definitely agree that people are so removed from the killing of meat they have no association of the animal to the plate.

    If you wanted watch a video on dispatching a chicken the Gourmet Farmer Matt Evans did so in season 1 episode 5 using a "killing cone". To be honest he made the process look quite quick and as painless as possible for the dispatcher and the chicken.

    Thanks for sharing little snippets of your live's it is truely a wonderful thing.

    1. Hi Naomi, thanks so much for taking the time to comment here. I'm looking forward to having a read of your blog. We love Gourmet Farmer very much and have indeed seen that episode (in fact we've seen them all!). Watching him make his smallgoods has been the inspiration for us to one day have pigs and make our own smallgoods and have them hanging in our very own cold store. That's a way's off, however.

      We're unsure about the cone method, having read that it causes some trauma for the chicken pre-despatch. However it's something we need to read, think and talk about a bit more so we may well end up coming round to this approach.

      Again, thanks for your input and thanks for reading.

      All the best

  3. Thank you for sharing your 'post killing' thoughts. Killing an animal doesn't come naturally to me either - I've yet to do it. I'd like to think i could do it one day soon. I'm thinking first up I might try quail. I'm naively thinking that they may be easier due to size (they apparently can be skinned instead of plucked) and I'm thinking I might be less attached to a quails character. Thanks for sharing :-)

    1. Thanks Tricia! We look forward to reading about your quail raising, killing, cooking and eating efforts... all the best

  4. Thanks so much for writing this. I've been various combinations of vegetarian/vegan for 19 years now, mostly because when I look at cows and sheep (and chickens and ducks) I see beings who enjoy lying in the sun and munching on grass and the presence of companions. The thought of these animals spending ANY time feeling scared, stressed, bored or in pain on my account feels unconscionable. On the other hand, I recognise that sustainable agriculture needs to include animals, that growing hectares of soybeans doesn't spare animals from suffering (they get shunted out of their habitat, and death by pesticide/baiting is surely one of the worst deaths going), and that we are healthier with some meat in our diet (about once a fortnight sounds about right, though). When people post photos of their living animals and caption them "nom nom stew nom", it encourages a view of the animal as nothing more than an assemblage of edible components, and there's far too much of that view already. What you've written here, though, is so far away from that: you've shown that yes, this chook was a chook, an actual real animal, and also that in killing this chook, you've made something nourishing and delicious. It's an important (if difficult) combination of thoughts, and it's heartening (if difficult) to read.

    And now onto the grisly business of killing ... do you have any thoughts about the Morrigan Farm humane poultry killer? I live with some laying hens, and if we let them do the mothering thing they sometimes need to do, we are at risk of having cockerels, and it makes sense to kill them and eat them, but I really, really, really don't want them to feel even a minute of panic. I've watched video of killing cones, and bleeding out, and I am a long way from convinced that this is painless for the bird.

    Thanks again. (And also: those zucchinis and tomati - phwooooooarrrrrr.)

    1. Hi Alexis, thanks so much for taking the time to write such thoughtful and smart words. We are mucho appreciative.... As for the humane poultry killer, hard to say. It sounds like it would be quick and simple. Possibly a good thing for suburban backyard chicken killing? We're in favour of less gadgets generally, but again, it's all about context and at 69 bucks, it's a steal! Give it a go I reckon... Again, thanks. And yep we are really enjoying the zucchini tomato fest at the mo' xx

  5. I've been a vegetarian for over 26yrs and I've killed chickens by wringing their necks. It's really, really fast and once you know how to do it well they don't have to be restrained (and therefore stressed) as they need to be when using an implement. You can pick them up, swing them around in a hard and fast arc and they have been twisted.

    I'd recommend watching a few being done at once and then doing it with an experienced person there to guide you. That's my two cents!

    Looks like it was well received! And that last photo of red and green looks delicious!

  6. Wow Cass, who knew you had this past as expert chicken killer? Amazing. Thanks so much for your two cents, super-helpful indeed. Hope you're well x