As faithful readers know, this spring, we finally built ourselves a chicken coop. As we put the final touches on it we started imagining the happy day we’d have when we brought home our new flock. It was not unlike the anticipation of Christmas. (“Happy Chicken Day,” we said to each other when we woke up that morning.)
Well, holidays can be more complicated than one expects. (If you are quite tender-hearted, stop reading now.) We drove over to our friends’ farm, admired their flock of hundreds, then watched while four pullets—our chickens!—got rounded up and put into a bag for transport.
Half an hour later, we were home and standing at the door of our coop, untying the bag. Two chickens came out looking perky. Two didn’t. One of these seemed to recover when we gave her some water and encouraging words.
And the other—how do I say this?—died.
Understand: In all our years of chicken-anticipation we had had many delicate, speculative discussions about whether we could, someday far in the future, raise chickens for meat. The question was unresolved, but we’d agreed that for now, our flock was to provide eggs only. Now, less than 10 minutes into chicken-keeping, we had a dead bird on our hands.
What to do? We could bury her like a pet. Or we could very suddenly get on board with the truth that chickens equal food.
We took our copy of Encyclopedia of Country Living outside, along with an ax, two knives and a big bowl of water. (Tender-hearted? Really, stop.) My husband set to the task with a matter-of-factness I found incredible. Off with the skin. Off with the head. Feathers dotted the grass and innards dropped into a bucket. In a short time, we had something that looked just like what you’d buy at the supermarket: a clean, pink piece of meat. And—magically—a perfect brown egg, which my husband coaxed from inside the bird’s body into my waiting hands.
We ate that chicken for dinner. And just like that, an entire series of connections between us and our food snapped neatly into place. Cleaning the chicken was both a very big deal—because we learned we could do it—and completely ordinary. Every chicken ever eaten has been cleaned by someone.
Meanwhile, the world keeps turning. Our three remaining birds had begun to figure out their new home, pecking in the grass and trying out the ladder up into the coop. And they gave us two more eggs by day’s end.