Monday, June 6, 2016

When Your Pullets Turn Out to Be Roosters: Coming to Terms with Eating My Home-Grown Animals

Food has been a topic of my deeper pondering for years now. The more I learn, the more the way we eat in our home has become a matter of spiritual importance to me. I have come to the conclusion that the necessary, consistent, and routine matter of eating presents a wonderful opportunity to practice spiritual awareness. That we have been instructed through scripture to pray before we eat, is confirmation of that to me. Also relevant, is the command from God that we fast (prayerfully abstaining for food or drink) from time to time as a means of drawing closer to Him.

I have thought a lot about the instruction given in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 89, called, “The Word of Wisdom.” Anyone who knows even a hint about members of The Church of JesusChrist of Latter-Day Saints are aware that we don’t take recreational drugs, smoke, or drink alcoholic beverages, coffee, or any tea containing black or green tea leaves - the reason being the counsel offered in both this section of our scripture, and further clarifying statements from later prophets and church leaders. The Word of Wisdom, doesn’t however, just offer counsel on what we abstain from, but also gives insight into the dietary code we should follow.

Here is a portion of it (vs.10-17), with emphasis added on the scriptures I will be discussing more today:

And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man—Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving.
Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly; And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.
All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life, not only for man but for the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth;
And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.
All grain is good for the food of man; as also the fruit of the vine; that which yieldeth fruit, whether in the ground or above the ground—Nevertheless, wheat for man, and corn for the ox, and oats for the horse, and rye for the fowls and for swine, and for all beasts of the field, and barley for all useful animals, and for mild drinks, as also other grain.

In return for following this code, we are promised increased health, and spiritual wisdom. 

As we have studied this and other counsel offered on the subject, we have decided to drastically cut down our meat intake as a family. We are not vegetarian, but we are conscious and careful - often using one pound or a half a pound to feed our entire family a meal that can feed us 2-3 times, about once a week, and we are working to cut out more. 

One way I have helped us cut back on our meat intake, is to only buy meat that was raised humanely on excellent natural non-GMO, usually organic, feed or grass. We choose beef that is grass-fed and finished during it’s life, pastured pork, and organic chicken. I try to buy our birds whole when possible so I can stew them for broth so that not even their bones are wasted.  Buying meat that is substantially more expensive makes it so that we really can't afford to eat much meat!

Part of our attempt at healthier and more ethical eating has also included purchasing eggs from a local. The birds only eat organic feed, but mostly they forage around the fantastically wild yard in which they live. The eggs have the darkest orange yolk I have ever seen, and they are by far the best tasting eggs I have ever eaten. Purchasing eggs this way is expensive – as you might imagine. $3 a dozen to be precise, which is actually a really fair deal. But with our ever growing family with ever growing appetites, we need to be producing our own eggs. 

In an attempt to cut our egg bill, as well as increase our self-sufficiency and animal husbandry skills, we purchased chicks from our local C-A-L Ranch back in April. My first choice was to purchase from a small-scale local breeder. Large poultry operations hire professionals who can sex the birds at hatching. They have 90% accuracy. They do however, throw any chicks they believe to be roosters into a grinder to be killed immediately. I hated the idea of supporting such waste, but the breeder I selected was too popular and I hadn’t planned my breed purchases early enough. Additionally, the cost was substantially higher for each bird purchased, with no guarantee at all as to the sex of the chickens. I justified, that if I did end up with a rooster in my bunch, they certainly would not be wasted, and that any chicken under my stewardship would be offered a really, really good life. Not perhaps as free-wheeling as a life in the jungle, but a good life – complete with fresh grass and bug and worm forage galore. (Side note: Strictly vegetarian feed for chickens?! THAT is poultry abuse IMO!) 
So we got some chicks, and we got them in three installments. 
First two Buff Orpingtons (Penny and Opal), and a Silver-laced Wyndotte (Betty).
Next two Rhode Island Reds (Wilma and Lily) and an Araucana (Joan).
Finally, a Black Austrolorp (Nellie) and a Barred Rock (Dot).

We have loved growing our chicks. First inside a Rubbermaid tote in our basement. Then in a large kiddie pool in our basement and then the garage, and finally in a home-built, moveable coop. 

  Out of our 8 beautiful birds, it turns out we have two roosters.



Lincoln and Atley are feeding Dot rollie pollies and grit.
Our kids have spent time lovingly holding each one of our birds this way.

As it turns out . . .

Opal is really an Olaf.
Lily is really a Lucas.

For weeks I have struggled about this internally. I hoped the striking red comb was just a figment of my imagination. Maybe there weren’t really roosters?! There’s variation even amongst hens, right?  

Some have suggested that I give my roosters to someone else to raise or cull them. But that didn’t feel right. Part of why I am homesteading is that I want to be more connected to my food. And if I give my birds to someone else to kill because it bothers me that much – should I even be eating meat at all? I would posit, that there is an ethical disconnect there. 

I don’t think you can get much more ethically-raised meat than by the means of home-grown animals with organic and natural forage and a whole lot of love and daily care – and a name. (Or two names, in the case of our roosters.) 
Some like to boast of the meat they take in from hunting or that they eat with great abandon. My feelings have always and especially more recently match the feelings expressed by Gary Paulsen in his novel, Dogsong, a coming-of-age story of an Eskimo boy, which contains many beautiful reflections on life, death and our connection to nature:

They took meat from the bear, as much as Russel thought they could carry, but had to leave the hide, the beautiful hide, because it was too heavy. He took the skin from the front legs to make pants, but the rest had to stay.

She brightened when they reached the dead bear. “You did this,” she whispered. “With a spear you did this?”

He looked away. “And with the dogs. A man does not kill a bear alone. The dogs helped.”

“Still. It is a huge thing, is it not?”

And now he chose not to answer. The dead bear made him sad, doubly so because they had to leave so much behind. It seemed wrong to talk of it as being a big thing – killing the bear with the lance. He did not wish to speak cheaply of it, or brag of it. (pg. 168-169)

I don’t wish to speak cheaply of eating my roosters, or brag of their future culling - or of any meat that I choose to eat. I do not wish to waste any animal, nor do I want any animal under my stewardship to go out of the world without all the sincerity of heart and appreciation they deserve, either. This post is part of that expression of my love for them. Look at them! Aren’t they beautiful birds?

This is Olaf, formerly Opal.
This is Lucas, formerly Lily.

I had felt there was a kernel of spiritual wisdom for me to find that would help me make sense of all of this, but I didn't find it until this weekend. On Saturday, Squire had a rare day off, and we spent the morning at the Farmer’s Market getting a few more plant starts for our garden, and then at a Wild Hare Estate Sale, where everything was 50% off. I found a copy of Kalil Gibran’s, The Prophet - a fantastic book of poetry - for $1! That book coincidentally (are there any coincidences?) contains a poem that helped me process another encounter with death several years ago. This time though, it contained wisdom on the death of my food. It was exactly the message I needed to find comfort in it all:

Then an old man, a keeper of an inn, said,

Speak to us of Eating and Drinking.

And he said:

Would that you could live on the fragrance of the earth, and like an air plant be sustained by the light.

But since you must kill to eat, and rob the newly born of its mother’s milk to quench your thirst, let it then be an act of worship.

And let your board stand an altar on which the pure and the innocent of forest and plain are sacrificed for that which is purer and still more innocent in man.

When you kill a beast say to him in your heart,

“By the same power that slays you, I too am slain; and I too shall be consumed.

For the law that delivered you into my hand shall deliver me into a mightier hand.

Your blood and my blood is naught but the sap that feeds the tree of heaven.”

And when you crush an apple with your

teeth, say to it in your heart,

“Your seeds shall live in my body,

And the buds of your tomorrow shall blossom in my heart,

And your fragrance shall be my breath,

And together we shall rejoice through all the seasons.”

And in the autumn, when you gather

the grapes of your vineyards for the winepress, say in your heart,

“I too am a vineyard, and my fruit shall be gathered for the winepress,

And like new wine I shall be kept in eternal vessels.”

And in winter, when you draw the wine,

let there be in your heart a song for each cup;

And let there be in the song a remembrance for the autumn days, and for the vineyard, and for the winepress.

(pg.23-24 in Kahlil Gibran’s, The Prophet)

What more can I add? Perhaps only Deuteronomy 15:14:

Thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the Lord thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him.

Have you had to process eating animals up close and personal before? What did you learn? 
Did it influence your relationship with your food and with God?


  1. I don't have any experience with this. I just wanted to ask if those are new glasses, I'm loving them.

    1. Thanks, Amanda! They are new. I call them Grandma chic. Haha! Can't wait to see you!

  2. Is there a way to tell when the hens start laying eggs if they are fertilized or not?

    1. Hens start to lay around 5 months old. A good rooster can effectively fertilize all the eggs of 12-15 hens! So, if you have a rooster living with your hens, you can feel pretty confident the eggs were fertilized.



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