My husband and I didn't plan on processing chickens when we went to bed last night. And yet, by 9:30am we had one in the stock pot and two in the freezer.
**This is not going to be a pretty story, so if you're prone to get queasy you might not want to keep going**
About a month ago we got a new puppy. He's adorable, and sweet, but hyper and.... Took up the hobby of chasing the chickens and ducks. I'm not okay with this. For one thing, if ducks run too fast they can break a leg. And the other being... Umm, don't attack my poultry.
For the past week or so we've been woken up every morning to the duck alarm. Mellow (the male) quacking at the top of his lungs as he's being chased around the yard by Frank (the dog). Quieter, louder, quieter, louder, around and around as they circle the yard toward our room and then away. Usually one good yell of "Frank! NO!" and maybe throw a ball for him and he would stop.
Up until this point, the ducks have just been loose in our yard. They don't roost like chickens and they had taken to sleeping under the hammock before Frank arrived, so we just let them be. But then we noticed that Frank was getting worse, and seemed to lose his hearing when we tried to stop him. Funny how he suddenly doesn't speak English. This wasn't working.
We have a low fence that encircles our chicken coop, left from when we had tried using that corner as our garden before the chickens came. We usually leave the gate open, but Saturday night we decided to move the duck's kiddie pool into the yard and lock them in there despite the fact that the ducks and chickens aren't too fond of each other. Barnyard politics are ridiculous. They'll deal. It's that or be chased. This fence has the standard 4" stiles, so we thought that everything would be fine.
But yesterday we were yet again woken up to poor Mellow yelling as Frank chased him and then, horribly, slithered through the fence and caught up (the duck is unharmed, but was shaken up). Obviously, our plan didn't work.
So Ben went to the hardware store to acquire yet more chicken wire. We have this stuff dotted all over the yard as we try to protect plants and sprinklers from curious and hungry (and bored) creatures. We lined the entire fence with the chicken wire and closed up any gaps at the ends with pieces of wood. Ta-da! Duck & chicken safety. We thought... again. (Apparently we aren't very good at thinking.)
Since the chicken area was now dog-proof and they wouldn't be able to get out, we opened the coop door and left it open for everyone to mingle and walk about. We don't have any predators around here (well... aside from the DOG), that would get in the coop at night, so we left it open. The ducks and chickens learned to deal with each other, and everyone was good.
Except chickens can jump.
Last night we watched one particular Barred Rock jump up onto the top of the wire, and off into the grass. Then a little while later she jumped back, then out again, then in again. Apparently this morning she remembered her new sense of freedom and jumped out while we were still in bed.
We woke up to the dogs (we have another one) growling and fighting with each other. Looking out to see what was going on, Ben sees a chicken stuck in the corner of the yard, with Frank standing over her and Honey trying to fight Frank off. The chicken is not moving. He yells, Frank leaves. He brushes his teeth and starts getting dressed to go inspect, but while he's doing this Frank returns to the scene. Ben yells out the window again. Then again. Then I hear the kids yelling at him from the kitchen window. I realize it must be serious since Frank won't stop, Ben is stuck trying to spit out his toothpaste as fast as he can, and I get out of bed and go running outside in my shirt and underwear to pull Frank away and then I see exactly why he won't leave her alone.
Frank has not only caught the chicken in a corner, this chicken's neck feathers and skin are pretty much gone. She is open. He's tasted blood and has been using this chicken as a chew stick for who knows how long before Honey got involved. This poor chicken is alive, but completely in shock. I get the dog away and pick her up as Ben comes over. She is breathing lightly, but her eyes are pained. My heart breaks and I literally have visions of shooting the dog. I'm somewhere between crying ugly tears and blind rage and I can't even speak. There is no saving her. It's amazing she's still alive. Ben says he'll take care of her, and I tell him to let me get dressed and I will help.
We've processed chickens once before, but it was on our terms. We had time to think about it and prepare. This wasn't the same. This was something we now had to do, this moment, without being able to mentally gird ourselves. But because we've done it before though, we know what to do, and I'm glad there was no fear or lack of knowledge. We just get to work.
We silently and methodically prepare. He sets out the table, I get the freezer paper to cover it. He hangs the hooks from the tree, I set the pot to boiling. He gets the gloves and the knife, I get the towels and cutting board. We have a brief discussion about doing a few more chickens that we needed to cull while we have everything out, but other than that we're quiet.
The twins want to watch. We look at each other. Ok, but your little brothers can not. As we work, we explain what we are doing. We explain that we are doing this because the chicken is going to die soon anyways, and we want to quickly take her life rather than let her suffer. We explain that she will become dinner because we do not waste what God has given us. We explain that we don't take life arbitrarily, that we are thankful for what we've been given, and it's always for a reason never for sport.
They understand, and they learn. We clean up, and we move on. And we realize, we've now taken another step in our journey.