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For Better or Worse...

I'm actually not talking about my marriage.  I'm talking about my choice of lifestyles.  I'm having a difficult time lately.  And further complicating my mood, I even hate to complain about it because none of my challenges has been particularly terrible.  90% of it has simply been a weirdly hormonal bad mood I can't seem to kick that may be due to the changing season (already, though???).  But I've had a series of several small setbacks with my chickens.  I talked about the series of deaths I had with the chicks.  Then I had an epidemic of vitamin deficiency in the younger batch- at one point I had 11 chicks inside who couldn't walk.  All but one have recovered completely, and one is struggling but still hanging in there.  Then my roosters were fighting.  Like bad fighting.  My two top roosters (I have three total, but the third is kind of a scrawny non-threat and they pretty much ignore him) have grown up together and always gotten along, other than a few blood free scuffles around 11 or 12 weeks that established the original pecking order.  Last week Lunch (the Buff Orpington rooster) decided that, since he has gotten bigger than Dinner (the Wyandotte rooster and the Alpha), he needs to challenge his rule.  It lasted for about 4 days, there was quite bit of blood (although all were fairly superficial injuries, and anytime one seemed more severely injured or injured in a way that put them at a disadvantage I separated them... for example, one day Dinner had a swollen eye), but they have worked it out and there is peace again.  The first couple days it seemed like Dinner was going to be unseated- he is smaller by a little and seemed to bear the brunt of the injuries in the first few days.  But he prevailed and is still the top roo.

But that brought up another conundrum for me- I want to selectively breed for larger, meatier chickens that still lay a respectable number of eggs with the end goal of having a relatively self sustaining flock.  So I should be breeding my biggest rooster to my meatiest layers.  There are things I really like about Dinner- he's calm, non-aggressive, obviously superior in SOME way to Lunch (since he won the battle).  He's a peace maker when one of the other roos is being too rough with the hens.  And I just prefer him, generally.  But he's not as big and doesn't have as much breadth in the breast as I would like to develop in my future generations.  So I don't know if I should get over my attachment for him and process him or keep him.  And I need to decide by October 9th.

And now I have the one chick I mentioned who is still struggling (and who I didn't think would make it through last night, but did and is walking now, so we'll see...), and one of my older batch, who hasn't given me any drama for a while, has developed a purplish comb, which is a sure sign of impending flip (ie chicken heart attack).  And I'm freaking out first because I have my chickens on a super strict feed regimen that is specifically meant to prevent premature death due to flip, and because I don't want to kill another chicken after my previous experience.  I do all the things one is supposed to do to seperate oneself from one's food- I don't name them, I don't develop attachments to them.  My reaction, however, has nothing to do with sadness at killing a pet.  It's a primitive feeling that I can't exactly explain- I get all prepapred to make the kill, but once I get the bird and get set up I begin to have a very difficult to explain panic attack that makes me super shakey.   I dread having to go through that again.

I didn't finish this post the other day, and I'm kind of glad I didn't.  Almost immediately after writing it my mood improved drastically- I took a mental health day on Friday, only doing the most important and un-skippable of my daily chores (feeding and watering the chickens, moving the tractors, and gathering eggs).  I spent a majority of the afternoon reading (I'm not kidding, be prepared to either laugh or at least make fun of me) the wikipedia entries for various characters from One Life to Live.  Because, you see, in a previous life I was a huge Soap fan- most notably a fan of All My Children, and then when they did a few episodes the overlapped (and mostly because of John-Paul Lavoisier) I started watching One Life to Live.  And most of you probably don't know this because I make assume most of my readers eschew television or at least trashy soaps, but both of these soaps have recently been canceled, with All My Children's last episode airing this past Friday and One Life to Live ending in December or January.  I haven't regularly watched soaps probably since I lived in Ohio (2005), and even then I don't remember watching regularly.  But I'm not gonna lie- I recorded every episode this week.  And even since not watching regularly I wave tuned in often enough to know what was going on (thanks to the internet, this happened probably once every 3 months or so), and I feel like a significant part of my life (a past life, but still) is ending.

I know, I watch too much TV.  Anyway, digression over...

So after loosing myself for an entire afternoon in Daytime TV nonsense while Oliver slept peacfully and Izzy painted in the other room, I had a new outlook.  I still had the same problems- one young chick still struggling and one in the older batch still needing to be processed soon- but I wasn't all doom and gloom about it (I mean, it's not like my 11th husband just died or something).

Yesterday morning my problems all reached a head- when I checked on the younger chicks the struggling one was dead (probably for the best- the poor thing looked miserable all the time) and the purple combed chicken didn't get up when everyone else ran to the feeders.  So, when I went into the house to cook breakfast for the kids I also put a large pot of water on to boil.  I fed the kids, ate my own breakfast, and then set up my processing gear in the driveway.  This time I kept my equipment much more simpler.  And I used a different killing method- a big and very sharp pair of limb lopers- the kind that have a curved metal bit and a very sharp blade to deal with larger limbs.  That way I could position the neck then look away and push as hard as I could- less room for error.  It still wasn't a 100% clean kill because I STILL managed to dislocate the poor chickens wing before I killed it, but it was much faster than the last one.  And a little less traumatic for me.

It was really a relief to have both problems reach their apex- I don't have to worry about either of those chickens anymore, at least.  Of course, yesterday was miserable in another respect.  For the second time in three weeks, my coffee pot broke.  And it always seems to happen on the worst possible day (the other time was on Izzy's first day of kindergarten).  But the other time I made myself some black tea instead- yesterday I was busy and never got around to ingesting any sort of caffeine.  By bedtime I had some serious sympathy for drug addicts- I had the worst migraine of my life along with nausea, chills, sweating, and the shakes.

But this morning I feel amazing.  I am working on getting my house caught back up as it's been neglected due to all the outdoor work I've had to do lately.  Any job is going to have it's ups and downs- my "job" as a chicken farmer (or whatever you want to call me) is no different.  I still have a lot to do this fall, and odds are good I won't get it all done.  But I'll get the most important stuff done.  And in 6 weeks the broilers will all be done and sent off the freezer camp, and I'll only have my layers to deal with.  As they say, "life goes on."

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Anna said...

In our early days of butchering chickens, my husband did all of it without so much as a peek from the rest of us, while he was killing them. He tried a whole lot of things and actually managed to get somewhat traumatized by it. (This is saying a lot for my long-time hunter, manly man.) We happened to meet Joel Salatin (we didn't have any idea who he was, at the time) at our State Fair and he told us how he kills chickens. It has totally changed things for us. We have invited people to join us for the event and even our kids do the killing, now. I admit, that with so many others to do the job, I've never actually done it myself, but I haven't had any trouble with watching the process. (This is saying a lot for the catch-and-release-spiders-don't-kill-anything-for-any-reason girl that I had been.)

Anyway, we use killing cones, which we made out of traffic cones. We cut off the small end so that the chicken's head can come all the way down and out of it. You put the bird in there head first, which totally eliminated the problem of them breaking their wings in the flapping process. You let them chill there until they practically go to sleep (they get really calm) then, holding onto their head, with a sharp knife, cut into their jugular (just below the jaw) and let them bleed out. You get way more blood out of their joints and stuff this way and they hardly seem to notice what's going on. Very un-traumatic. When they are dead, you remove them from the cone and go on to plucking, eviscerating, etc. I am so thankful to have found out this way, because we have done this with up to 75+ birds at a time and we wouldn't have been able to do that without this method. It would have been way too disturbing...

Hope this is helpful to you.

Brandislee said...

You met Joel Salatin? How neat! Oh the questions I could ask that man...

I've tried that way, minus the cone. The cone would have probably helped, but the problem has nothing to do with the flapping (my problem- I'm sure the cone would help me NOT dislocate the poor chicken's wing for once). I can't push the knife down. It's a very adrenal reaction- not emotional at all- which I guess is good in a way, but it's even harder to get over a primal adrenal reaction than to get past an emotional one. I, too, have always been a "don't kill anything for no reason" person, and I think mentally killing is just harder for people like us, no matter how we do it the ACT is hard.

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