Tonight’s dinner wasn’t easy. We cooked two of the roosters we had raised from chicks two summers ago. Six-year-old daughter took two bites and then swore off chicken forever.
The roosters have been hidden in the freezer since September of 2008. That summer we decided to jump into raising chickens, with a little bit of book knowledge and a lot of willingness to learn by experience. We paid $15 for six tiny chicks from a friend in the country. The big uncertainty was their sex – they were too small for our friend to tell which were hens and which were roosters. No problem, we thought, whichever ones start crowing must be the roosters, and we’ll just give them away to farmers (we were interested in eggs, not meat).
Give away a rooster? Right.
The chicks were so sweet, and they all became pets, birdie family members, who had no problems being picked up, held, pulled by the kids in their wagon, taken for rides in the girl’s bike basket. Since we brought them home at such a young age and the kids played with them often, they never ran from us.
Then the crowing began. And we sent out e-mails, made phone calls, even appealed to a “chicken rescue” website, trying to find homes for our FOUR roosters. Only two of our six chicks turned out to be hens.
All four roosters were just getting more beautiful – the colorful iridescent feathers, the fancy spurs – but also much more noisy and a bit feisty. We found a home for one rooster, who is still doing well today. But the three others took a ride to the country where a friend who grew up on a farm helped Nathan do the undesirable task of butchering, back in the windbreak, while I kept the kids out in the apple trees. They knew what we were there to do, but they didn’t need to see it.
When the job was done, we had three “processed” chickens in Ziploc bags, covered from view in a white plastic shopping bag, which I quietly slipped into the freezer. That season, as I added bags of green beans and zucchini to the freezer, my fingers involuntarily jumped when they passed over the bag of chickens. I tried to forget the names we had given them, their distinct personalities, their lusty crows and colorful feathers.
I got to the bottom of the freezer this week and decided it could be put off no longer. I had forgotten most of those details, and none of us could remember who was who – or which was which. It was strange but not as strange as I had expected it to be. I was surprised that I could eat, but it felt a bit more like a religious ceremony than Tuesday night dinner.
I tasted a note of accomplishment – we had raised this meat in our own backyard – and it was enough to make it palatable (truly, it was much better-tasting chicken than the standard grocery-store bird).
But I preferred the taste and feeling of eating this morning’s pancakes made with black walnuts from our backyard tree. After all, the tree is still living out there in the yard, happy and whole.