I think my experience of life and death in food production is more like a seesaw of life than a “circle of life”.
In Barnward Irony, Gene Logsdon talks about his troubles trying to keep broilers alive in the heat – a problem we had at The Wallow in 2011, our first year raising broilers.
We are in a record-breaking heat wave as I write this, and as we are learning, these broilers have very little stamina in adversity. The first one to keel over from 98 degree heat we carried out into the airy woodland shade, dunked its head in water, sprinkled water all over it in fact, did what we could to lower its temperature… Seeing that it was going to die, we butchered the poor thing. Then we connived various ways to get more air into the coop. You might think that would be fairly simple, but we have no electricity to the barn (on purpose) and heat is not our only public enemy right now. Foxes have been carrying off hens regularly so I dare not open the coop doors and let everything run outdoors all the time like usual. Carol found an old screen door for the broiler side of the coop and on the other side I let the hens out in the afternoon despite fox danger. This resulted in a freer flow of air through the coop but it meant that I had to stand guard or make regular trips to the coop on fox patrol.
And then a friend points out that one day he’s putting all this great effort into keeping the chickens alive, and then the next day he’s killing the chickens. Meat production is like that. A back and forth between caring greatly about the lives of animals and then enjoying greatly their purposeful deaths.
I’m reminded of the two posts Joshua made after Jeebus died this summer, which are worth a re-read – Another Dead Animal and State of The Wallow Update: July 16, 2011 (FUCK IT ALL!) (no longer available).
We’re going into the winter now, where our relationship to the outside is much less hectic, nothing will die on purpose, and most likely no one will die on accident.
But it’s good to remember that it’s a seesaw.
Edit: I wrote this post last week and then scheduled it to post this week. I spoke too soon. Over the weekend, our silkie rooster was killed by (mostly likely) a hawk. It’s sad when an animal dies unexpectedly. I hope the rest of the chickens stay safe.
“The Silkie” was the neatest of all the 2011 chicks. He was a gift from our friend Kitty, and he seemed to have a personality. I loved watching him.
He was hesitant as he grew. This is the first day the chicks got let out of the coop to free-range, and he was the last to leave the coop. We didn’t know he was a rooster yet. It would be a few weeks still until he let out a cock-a-doodle-do and we knew for sure.
It’s been fun watching The Silkie run around the yard, run to keep up with the other chickens, try so hard to hop up on things, and crow so exuberantly in the mornings. I’m going to miss him.