A dramatic step was taken this week, changing our role—and mindset—as chicken keepers.
Of the four chicks that hatched this summer, three are hens. The fourth, a rooster (technically a cockerel), grew to be as large as his father, Featherfoot, and just as spectacular, if not more so, in plumage. Unlike Featherfoot, who is bowlegged and lame in one foot, Junior exuded health and vitality. Unfortunately, as he matured and became interested in mating, we discovered he was far too rough and had begun to terrorize three of the older hens. Once they were outside they didn’t want to come in, or they decided not to go out at all, remaining all day in the nesting boxes.
Our egg supply ceased. Chickens can stop laying when stressed, so we understood why three of them might not be producing. We speculated that the others simply couldn’t get into the nesting boxes and might be laying elsewhere—until Cherisse caught one of the RI Reds eating eggs. Exiled to the nesting box, she had become interested in them as a food source.
Last Sunday the Dominique hen spent the day far away from the others, dangerously close to the gaping hole the hurricane ripped in our deer fence. As darkness fell, she was the only one not in the coop, so I herded her back in twice—the first time Junior made a grab for her and she ran screeching back by the fence. The second time I shielded her until she nestled in next to Featherfoot on the perch.
We knew the situation was intolerable. Monday Cherisse spent time on chicken discussion boards to see what others had done in our situation. In the end we realized that we couldn’t give him away, nor segregate him on his own. Plus he just wasn’t nice.
In Barbara Kingsolver’s wonderful book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle her young daughter Lily raised laying hens and sold eggs. When she wanted to buy a horse, her mother said she needed to come up with half the money, thinking that would postpone the purchase for some time. Realizing that selling eggs wouldn’t achieve her goal, Lily calculated how much she could make from meat—something she had been loath to consider. Her rationale was that she would only kill “the mean ones.”
So we killed the mean one. In Providence, on Federal Hill, is a store called Antonelli’s Poultry Company. For decades they have sold the freshest possible meat, and for $5 they will “process” your own chickens. Cherisse got Junior in a big container, drove him in, and handed him over. After a short wait she was given a bag with more than 6 pounds of chicken parts. I received a text that said simply “It’s done.”
We have recognized the hypocrisy in not wanting to eat our own chickens while buying them from Pat’s Pastured. However, some of our own chickens have such distinct personalities that not only are we unable to contemplate eating them, we will be sad when they die. Junior terrorized the hens we cared about, and so we saw no option. With just a twinge of squeamishness, we ate him.