Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Where do chickens go when they die?

Different chickens wind up in different places. Kinda depends on how they die.

If a chicken dies of unknown causes, perhaps some illness, I won't eat it. That's just common sense. Those birds usually end up in the maggot bucket (where I harvest maggots to feed to the still-living chickens) or incinerated in the firepit. The same fate usually awaits those who die before reaching eating size.

If one of my beloved favorite birds die, I won't eat it either. That's just me being a big soft girly-girl. They get buried in a little pet cemetery I started in the woods. But I have to really love the bird because it's a bitch to dig a hole in that forest floor.

Sometimes something else eats one of my chickens. The woods are full of animals that want to eat my birds - foxes, bobcats, possums, raccoons, hawks... In those cases, I may not find any remains. Perhaps a clump of feathers at the site of the attack. Those chickens wind up being shitted out on the forest floor where they help perpetuate the great circle of life. (Though, when a bird truly disappears without a trace, I prefer to think they ran off to join a traveling circus. I sleep better that way.)

But some chickens do find their way to my plate. Usually excess roosters and badly injured hens. I hate killing chickens but sometimes it must be done. And if you have to do it, it's stupid to throw away the meat.

If I kill a chicken and eat it, nothing goes to waste. Any parts I won't eat are greedily consumed by the cats. After I make stock from the bones, the cats strip them of every last trace of muscle and sinew. When my dog, Della, was still alive, she devoured the clean bones. These days, the bones are tossed into the firepit (and the ashes eventually added to the compost pile).

Any undigested food still in the bird's crop can be fed back to the other chickens. Cleaned skulls and dried feet are sent to Angela so she can turn them into art. She also gets rooster tailfeathers. The rest of the feathers were saved and set aside - until this week.

I finally sorted through and organized all the feathers I'd collected over the last couple years. It took 8 to 10 hours over the course of two days. I ended up with a garbage bag full of soft, downy feathers suitable for making either one big pillow or two smaller ones. All the feathers that didn't make the cut were used to line the hens' nests. My chickens now lay their eggs in the softest, warmest, cushiest nests in all of Dixie.


Unknown said...

Jack -

First happy birthday! Each one is a victory and a pointed finger at the system. Birthdays proclaim, "I'm still here!" Which may be the main point...

Your last post had me thinking of my own - accidental pet cemetery. The studio now has 2 cats (including the beloved Marley) and 3 dogs. Sometime soon (always relative, when you ask Bruce) Greta (his dog) will join the cemetery tribe.

Do you plant anything above your chickens? I've found planting trees good for the soul. A visual place holder. Something to thrive and feed over the loss. Somehow it puts the web of life and loss in perspective and over time I can begin to see the balance.

You probably don't need more trees like the studio compound needs trees. But there may be something that would be very cool and special in that part of the world. Better yet something you could harvest. Now there's the myth of transubstantiation performed in a new, personal way.

Jackie said...

Right now, the pet cemetery graves are marked only with small rock cairns. I would like to do a little landscaping in the cemetery someday but, sadly, it's pretty far down the priority totem pole.

Anonymous said...

I’m an expat American city boy living in rural New Zealand, and I just had my first chicken killing lesson. It wasn’t pretty. I always thought chickens were supposed to run around after getting their heads chopped off. Ours didn’t do that. It did back flips. No joke. Horrible!