It can be tempting to start farming without realizing what you're getting into. A few chickens, maybe some ducks, even a goat or a couple of sheep - it's all fun until you see that the reality is: you are going to have to kill an animal at some point. Whether it's putting an ailing duck out of its misery, or killing an animal you raised for meat, or culling your older hens that are done with their laying cycle - death is part of life on the farm.
As I've watched the chicken trend take off, I've often wondered about the other side of it: what will all these folks who are enjoying the new idea of having fresh eggs and laying hens do when those hens stop producing eggs in about two years? Feed them grain for the next six years and wait to get new hens because they don't have more coop space? Or will they embrace putting their layers in the stewpot and get a fresh batch of baby chicks?
Novella Carpenter, an urban farmer in Oakland, California, recently taught a class in chicken slaughter and processing in Kansas City, the Kansas City Star reports. Would-be farmers, urban and suburban homesteaders alike got to learn how to humanely end the animal's lives and turn them into food for the table.
Last year we raised our first batch of meat chickens, and I posted an article with step-by-step details on processing them. This year, we repeated the process but with about ten of our spent laying hens who were three years old. Laying hens can be a bit tough - these aren't roasting chickens like the tender, young, seven-week-old meat birds. They're excellent for long-stewing recipes like coq au vin, and make amazing chicken stock (you can then pick the carcass and use it for meat for a soup made with the stock).
My advice? Embrace the cycle of life and death on the farm. It's part of being a farmer. When you connect with where your meat comes from, and make sure to honor the spirit of the animal as it gives its life to nourish you, it doesn't seem as horrifying as it might at first blush.