Hard, hard, hard

Listening to instructions about the process

Listening to instructions about the process

I don’t mean to sound overly melodramatic, but I feel like everything in my life will be either remembered as before I killed an animal or after. Anything before I stood outside yesterday, sweat flowing freely down my arms, hands shaking almost comically, if it weren’t so deadly serious, as I prepared to slash my knife and take the life of a chicken, anything before that seems like a different life.

I knew this would be hard. I had nightmares and bad vivid daydreams about a killing yard. I really didn’t want to cry and have a huge emotional reaction in front of people, but it was completely out of my control. From the moment Tom, the farmer at RiverSong Farm, began to kindly and calmly explain the process I began to bite my lips and try to fight it off. Nobody else was crying, but I suppose we were all there for different reasons. I’ve spent a lot of words in recent posts explaining why I need to know where the animals come from that I eat, but standing there in the brutal sun, feeling like the earth was tilting under my feet and hearing a strange roar in my ears I questioned why this was so important.  I felt quite as if I may pass out or possibly throw up at any moment, so why subject myself to this? I wish I could explain eloquently but I can’t. I only knew that if I’m going to eat meat, this was something I had to do. If animals can lose their lives for my dinner, I just needed to feel that I paid my own price, that of  feeling the pain of taking one’s life.

I never wanted to hug Brian so much in my life as when he stepped next to me and told me he wouldn’t want me to be any other way than the way I was at that moment. I’m glad he’s ok with such a crier.

So I gulped ice cold water and took lots of deep breaths, and watched up close as Tom hung a chicken from its feet from the “killing tree” and demonstrated how to circle your left thumb and forefinger around its neck, beak against the palm of your hand, and quickly make the deadly cut. I wanted more than anything to close my eyes or look away but I watched. For one, I had to know how to do it myself, but I also remember someone telling me years ago that if you close your eyes in the scary part of the movie you’ll have bad dreams. Watching it was awful. Knowing I had to do it was worse.

The killing tree

The killing tree

Tom and his partner Sarah killed two, and showed the group of us there at the workshop how to scald, chill, pluck and gut them next. And then people started taking their turns. I wanted to go first to get it over with but then realized everyone would be watching. If I passed out I didn’t want to do it in front of an audience. Brian went before I did, and made a perfectly clean cut in two swipes. Some of the other people were blood-spattered from head to toe, but Brian didn’t have a drop on him.

I went last, while everyone was busy processing their chickens. Tom stood right next to me. He is a good soul, and so is Sarah, incredibly patient and empathetic, they never made me feel ridiculous for my reaction. Trying not to sound like I was about to completely lose it, I asked him to take the knife if I couldn’t do it right away — I didn’t want to cause any more pain than I had to.

My hands shook so badly I didn’t know if I could physically do it. Holding that chicken’s warm, pulsing neck in my hand, knowing I was about to take its life was the saddest and most horrible feeling I’ve ever had. I felt like this creature trusted me as I held his life in my hands. But I did it. It took three swipes and the head was off and in the bucket. Tom had to remind me to step back because it was shortly going to begin flopping.

I hadn’t cried while I did it but I couldn’t stop the tears or the shaking now. It took me several moments, along with a cold, wet towel to my face to even remotely regain composure. My hands shook so badly I could hardly remove the chicken from the tree. I then took the steps to transform what was two minutes ago a living animal into meat — I scalded and cooled, then plucked it.

At the last table I had trouble after removing the tail reaching in and removing the organs. I’d done work like that on a duck in France but that duck was cold, and I hadn’t killed it myself. In the end I couldn’t deal with the warm interior of the chicken and asked Brian to remove everything. That was it. We washed it, dropped it in a ziploc bag and put it on ice.

The lane at RiverSong Farm

Free ranging chickens

Now we have two chickens to eat. They will literally be the first chickens I’ve cooked, so as horribly hard as it was, I do have some pride that  I killed my own first chicken. It lived a good life, so far as chickens go, roaming around eating whatever it liked, and I think I gave it as quick and painless of a death as I could.

But now that I’ve done it I have no wish to do it again. In some weird way I feel I’ve paid my dues and I can eat meat — when it comes from farms like this and Jim Fiedler‘s — with as clear a conscience as I can.

5 responses to “Hard, hard, hard

  1. My dear Dana,
    It is with deep emotion and tears in my eyes that I finished to read this… woah…
    I begin on Facebook and wanted to continue and it’s written so intense, and so good like you were there.
    Thank you for sharing this so closely, so deeply with us.
    Merci mon amie. You are very talented and I will say
    “je tire ma reverence a l’ecrivain” Bravo Madame!”

    I wish I could write this in French to express myself better.
    Felicitations Dana

  2. You have such great courage, I admire that greatly. Thanks for giving all of us a glimpse into where our food comes from and how it comes to be food. This is such a wonderful heartfelt article and I am sure it will get people thinking a bit more, at least I hope it does. You may have been crying when you killed a chicken, but I am all teary and choked up myself just reading your article.

  3. Wow. After reading the second paragraph, I felt like I was standing right beside you at the farm, trying to prevent my nerves from getting the best of me. I got choked up as well while reading this.

    I admire you so much for ultimately going through with this painful task and facing your fears. I agree wholeheartedly with Michelle; this was a tenderhearted, yet thoughtful post about your experience.

  4. Hello. I found this post through the article at the Courier-Journal. I attended this workshop this afternoon (July 10, 2010). I did not think about it a lot beforehand. I knew it would be hard, but I grew up around animals and I understand this has to be done. I had no idea how hard it would be. It was physically difficult, and I didn’t think I could go through with it. When I killed the bird, I just stood there and sobbed. It took a while to get my composure back. I am glad that I had the experience, but it may take a while to feel normal again.

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