Monday, February 7, 2011

Thoughts on Urban Meat Birds

Our egg-layers enjoying a stroll through the corn.

I love eating chicken. I have always loved meat and have never been a vegetarian. The older I get, the more conscientious I am of my choices at the grocery store. I know that with whatever I buy, I am encouraging some corporation to produce more. So I look for meats that were free range and/or organic, and I try to buy local meat at farmer’s markets.

There are a myriad of documentaries that show the horrible conditions in which animals are fattened and slaughtered. The environmental havoc that those systems cause is hard to condone, and the way in which life is turned into a commodity is hard to stomach. Knowledge of these things certainly makes consumers, such as me, think twice about what they purchase.

I have heard vegetarians say that the reason they don’t eat meat is that they could not butcher an animal, and so they cannot support a system that does. Their rejection is on moral grounds: life is sacred and it shouldn’t be taken away.

I do not have these moral objections when it comes to eating meat. But I am not ambivalent about the butchering of animals. I have helped in the butchering process (having grown up on an organic farm in the Snoqualmie Valley), and it is not enjoyable. It has given me a greater appreciation of life and death and exactly what it takes for meat to be on the dinner table. I know from experience that it is especially difficult to butcher animals that one has raised. That being said, I am still not ready to give up eating meat.

Chickens fall into four basic categories: Layers, Meat birds, Dual Purpose Birds and Ornamental. Most urban chicken farmers raise chickens for eggs or to maintain heritage breeds. Most people shy away from meat birds because the process of butchering is brutal and bloody; they also do feel confident enough to butcher a bird (or at least in their ability to do it safely and cleanly). I have read about people who raise two flocks a year and those flocks provide the household with meat for the year. Meat birds can be ready for butchering in less than two months. For these people, meat birds are a way to get meat for their families in a sustainable manner.

I believe that people who eat the birds they raise will treat the birds better. An attitude of respect informs how people treat animals. The issues that surround raising meat birds are complicated, and each person must sort them out for himself/herself.

That being said, Kristin & I made the choice to raise only egg-layers - we don't feel comfortable raising meat birds and butchering them at this point in our lives.

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