We did, in fact, get to eat chicken.
As you may remember, we have our own chickens for eggs and meat here, two flocks of sixty birds each. We raise three batches of twenty chicks a year, to replace any birds that have died of something or gotten too old to lay, or something like that. We keep the chicks needed to fill the "vacancies" and eat the rest, plus any older birds Sarah decided to cull out. But this past February, stray dogs killed almost forty birds, plus a few others have died from disease or whatever else, so I assumed we'd keep all the replacement chicks and not eat any until maybe the Fall.
But I'd forgotten about the males. Of course, nine out of the twenty chicks happened to be males and we only need the one new rooster. So, that's eight roosters to eat, plus three elderly hens and one injured one Sarah decided to slaughter, twelve birds in all. Each one gives us eight or nine servings of meat, plus stock for soup, so that makes basically one or two meals for every non-vegetarian on campus. Including me. We ate them last night.
I always feel kind of odd about this.
These are birds I knew, after all, not to recognize individually, but I saw them walking around campus and now there are definitely fewer chickens around. Also, I usually know when they're about to do it--kill the birds, I mean. Someone on the farm crew usually says something quite casually, like "welp, we're killing chickens tomorrow!" or "anybody seen my grubby clothes? I gotta help processes the chickens tomorrow." And then we all know.
There's nothing to hear, no avian screaming or anything. They do it quickly, no suffering, and the birds don't know they're about to die. You can't tell when it actually happens unless you go down to watch, which I never have. The crew discourages crowds. But I always wonder, on those days days--if I said, stop! the one I'd get to eat can live! would he be able to? Could I save one? Could I say something?
But could they all live? We'd have to grow more food for them and that means more forest cleared--other things would have to die. Charlie told me, and it makes sense, that we can't avoid killing, even by being vegetarian. The illusion that we can is maintained only by deciding that some lives are worth more than others, that some deaths don't count, and that is something he will not do and neither will I anymore. All we can do is be aware of and responsible for our actions and make good decisions about what we kill, or allow to be killed for us, and how and why.
And so I eat chicken. Two wings, roasted with rosemary.
We had the last of last year's potatoes, too, also roasted with rosemary and some sage--they were a bit rubbery after all this time, but now we won't get more potatoes until the new ones come in starting in August. By then, potatoes will seem like a holiday occasion.
And in a few weeks, the pullets (adolescent hens) will start laying. They won't do it all at once, and most of their eggs will probably be pretty weird at first--tiny round things with no yolk--until their bodies get the hang of it. They'll be a party for that, a little feast of tiny, weird eggs. And even when they start laying real eggs we'll still be short because we didn't have enough pullets to fill all the vacancies. But the new chicks should arrive from the hatchery tomorrow or the day after--they come by mail, little, mostly yellow balls of fluff that live in the barn for the first few weeks and peck and scamper and grow.
And life goes on.