On our little farm this was the most massive killing so far, so it feels like I should mention it here.
It's not easy to write about killing our chickens. It wasn't easy to kill them in the first place. I don't want to be cynical (our chickens deserve better) or moralistic (our readers deserve better.) And I can't write poetry, so there's only one option left: a dry factual account.
So, we killed 5 hens.
This is one of them, just before having her throat cut.
|This was the first and the last time in her life|
she was held by the wings like this.
(Getting ready for the throat-cutting position.)
Within minutes, the hen fainted and bled to death. Fast-forward twenty minutes, and this is what she (and her fellows) turned into:
When exactly does a living creature become food?
Hens were partly grilled, partly made into chicken soup.
|Removing tendons from meat before grilling.|
|Chicken soup (Chicken bones are boiling inside. |
Floating on the top are onions, potatoes and a carrot.)
|Meat had been soaked in sake (日本酒) for a few hours before grilling. |
Thanks to this magic trick it was tender enough and delicious.
(Meat from a two-year-old chicken is usually too tough for grilling.)
How did we kill the chickens?
By cutting their carotid artery (major blood vessel in the neck).
Our instructor was Mr Hiroyuki Tanaka (田中啓之さん), farmer from a neighboring town of Ishioka who raises about 200 chickens, sells eggs and sometimes organizes workshops where amateurs like me can learn how to kill, pluck, portion and cook a chicken (utilizing as much of it as possible.) We asked Tanaka-san to come to our place on this occasion.
Five chickens on the death row were separated from the flock the night before killing and their feed was withheld to clear their digestive track. It means they "fasted" for only about 12 hours and missed only one meal (breakfast). This, I believe, caused them almost no extra stress. (Some farmers recommend the no-feed period of 48 hours prior killing, others go for 24 hours. Cleaner intestines mean lower risk of 'spill-out' when butchering, but if you really care about chickens, the minimum of 12 hours should do.)
Why did we kill the chickens?
Born on April 28, 2015, our chickens are already two years old. Their biological lifetime is four or five times longer than that, but their lifetime as "agricultural animals" is normally less than two years. In Europe, laying hens are usually slaughtered at about 17 months of age, in Japan similarly at 17-18 months or, if forced molting, which is still allowed in Japan, is applied, at around 23-24 months. (There are small differences between farms.)
Pretty short, huh.
If we go by the most common 17-18 month benchmark, chickens on our farm (now 24 months old) are already enjoying extra months of life (without ever experiencing forced molting).
|Two eggs laid on the same day by two different hens from the same flock.|
The brownish egg on the left is okay. The whitish egg on the right
is not okay (too fragile shell.)
This change in both egg quality and quantity is natural, it comes with age and nothing can be done about it. Of course all hens are as happy-go-fluffy as ever, regardless of their egg productivity. But the economic consequences for the farm are all too clear.
So we had to make a decision: Are we going to keep our chickens as "pets" (and not kill them); or are we going to stick to the original plan and treat them as "farm animals" (and kill them).
Needless to say, these categories are purely arbitrary - the chickens are the same in both cases. My ability to freely switch between "companion animal" and "farm animal" categories is a classic example of doublethink and the amazing human ability to hold two conflicting concepts in mind without feeling inconsistent and contradictory. Except, I do feel inconsistent and contradictory. But I still can beat that feeling with 'rational thinking.'
The 'rational thinking' in this case involved asking myself a question:
Would the chickens be better off if they were treated as "farm animals" from the beginning (so that I could be 'consistent')?
(My) answer: I don't think so. Our chickens definitely benefited from our inconsistent doublethink approach. They enjoyed the "companion animal" privileges all their life. Then they turned into "farm animals" on the very last day. In the ideal world, they could have stayed "companion animals" until they die naturally, but if that is not possible in the real world (not yet in 21st century), then the second best deal for them was the one they got.
|Our chickens get Deal B.|
By the way, there are over 130 million laying hens in Japan at this moment (Japan Poultry Association 日本養鶏協会 → click 成鶏羽数の推移). After spending their life in a cage, they are transported and killed en masse in a slaughter house. Maybe a farm like ours is an important alternative to those. So I decided that I'm not going to feel bad about killing our chickens. At least I will try.