What a weekend. Since Friday I have buried my favorite rooster, harvested my least favorite turkey & canned lots of okra, cukes, onions, peppers & garlic from my very own garden. Yes, I would have to say this place is feeling more & more like an authentic, functioning hobby farm every single day.
As much as I like to believe we walk a path lined with roses around here, the truth of the matter is that many a thorn snags our ankles along the way. Friday was a bad day. As a matter of fact, Friday was unequivocally the worst day we’ve had since moving to the homestead. We lost Pedro.
If you are not familiar with Pedro from reading the blog, he was our family favorite. The flock is much different without his kind presence. He was the sweetest we’ve known, so far. A Barred Rock roo with the most vivid crimson comb & silky sleek feathers, eyes as clear as Crater Lake, heart as wide as the Atlantic, & a spirit as gentle as a balmy Summer breeze. It’s strange to eulogize a chicken. I’m sure it’s even stranger to read a chicken’s eulogy. Even stranger is to admit that a tear trickles as I put these words to the page. Who would have thought when we started this homesteading venture that we’d ever grow so attached, or experience such pangs of sorrow as the result of losing a bird?
Certainly what hurts more than anything is watching our Teagan work through the loss personally, in her own head & heart. We all loved Pedro, but Teagan had a special bond with him from the beginning. He was one-of-a-kind, with a sense of wisdom so deep, so palpable it could not be denied. It’s possible he found us just as peculiar & fascinating as we found him. In the mornings, all of the other chickens & ducks & turkeys can barely wait for the pellets to pour before they begin pecking anxiously at their feeding pans. Not Pedro. While all of the other poultry steps on one another & scuffles over pecking order, feverishly inhaling their rations, Pedro hangs in the shadows & follows me to the garden, or to the blueberry bushes instead. He often sat quietly in Teagan’s embrace & relished in the adoration of his human. He wasn’t a push over in the pasture, but he wasn’t particularly the ruler of the roost by any means either. Sometimes when the hen house got too noisy or one of the other roos got a little too spirited for his liking, he’d lay down the law. He was mostly easy going though & everyone in the flock seemed to like him well enough.
I knew something was wrong the moment I walked out of the house on Friday morning. The ducks were quacking frantically, the turkeys were strutting in an unusual fashion & Shanti – our Barred Rock hen – along with Mr. Darcey were on top of the coop. Those two are never on top of the coop. Ever. When I found Pedro, lifeless in the scratch yard my heart sunk. As far as I can tell, based on my novice sleuth skills, all signs point to the Toms. I’m almost 100 percent sure those turkeys were the culprit & I’m certain – whether it was purposeful or not – their aggression lead to Pedro’s demise. They get fired up quickly. I’ve seen them bully the hens & ducks. Itching to pick fights daily, even our male dachshund Fig, has taken a beating from them a time or two. I’ve had to break up quite a few sparring matches between them as of late. Really, I blame myself for letting the situation get out of control. I knew things were getting dicey out there. I waited too long. I have lived & I have learned. I won’t make the same mistake twice.
Initially we assumed we’d keep the turkeys until this fall & butcher them right before the holidays. However, they are not a heritage breed & that’s not a good thing. These two Toms are commercial birds that cannot reproduce on their own. They are bred to grow incredibly fast. They were part of a ‘package deal’ when my chicken loving friend (aka: Poultry Guru) Chanda purchased a bulk shipment of birds back in the spring. Typically we’d never agree to purchase birds like this as they put on the pounds so very fast that they can easily break a leg or have trouble even getting around on their own after reaching a certain size. They are strictly meant to sit in an itty, bitty, tiny, disgusting space among thousands of other sickly, tortured birds & do nothing but get fatter & fatter & fatter before they endure a horrendous, agonizing slaughter. A horrible life & a heinous demise, yep that’s how we carnivores put dinner on the table America! Sounds great, huh? No. It’s unthinkable. And that’s one of the driving forces as to why my family & I are trying to make a shift from the cyclical horror that accompanies carnivorous consumerism in this country. But as I’ve stated in numerous other posts, that’s a different blog for a different day.
So I called my Dad after I buried Pedro on Friday afternoon. He never fails to help me look at things from a better, more logical perspective. He helped me realize that although this is not the best-case scenario, it does offer up the faintest of silver linings. This particular circumstance thrust me into the right headspace to endure the inevitable fate that lies ahead for the Toms. But more importantly, it helped Teagan get into the right frame of mind too! I’ve desperately needed to find a way to shift my mindset, to wrap my brain around the fact that the turkey’s days were numbered here on earth & that their existence would inexorably cease at some point in the very near future. Losing Pedro by no means made the process of harvesting my first bird any less painful for me. I’ve dreaded it beyond words for months on end. I’ve been completely unprepared for it up to this point. But this terribly unfortunate experience forced me to accept that it is time & it pushed me to ultimately carry out the process. I needed that push.
It was nothing like what I expected. Mostly that is due to the fact that my dear, knowledgeable & “jack of all trades” friend Chanda, walked me through the entire process with much precision. Chanda is a smart, confident, successful real estate agent by day here in Hampton Roads. Her down-to-business, practical & “can do” attitude carried me through the largest real estate transaction of my life this past winter. On Saturday, that same “can do” attitude carried me through the most raw, primitive (outside of childbirth) organic experience of my life. She taught me the “kosher” way to harvest poultry & it was quiet, calm & much less traumatic than I anticipated. Needless to say, she is quite the mentor. She has talked me down from ‘the ledge’ on more than one occasion during the short friendship we have built over the past year. Josh & I are proud & blessed to call her our friend.
I know the months of psychological torture & anxiety that I’ve put upon myself dreading the process of butchering was perfectly normal. After all, it’s a fear of the unknown & in my opinion that is often the worst kind. Plus, I’ve never hurt a flea in my life. I pretty much catch spiders & set them free in the backyard because I feel guilty if I step on them. If I kill a wasp in the house, I say a prayer & apologize. So the idea of fulfilling my dream of raising & slaughtering my own poultry (as you can imagine) has been a real debacle in my brain. It’s a conundrum.
One thing I’ve been holding onto through all of this is the belief that humans are animals & we are part of the food chain on planet earth. I for one, choose to participate in that food chain. It is (in & of itself) a naturally occurring process on our planet. I want to separate myself as much as possible from the shocking, terrifying manipulation of this process that we as humans have willingly adopted as the norm in our modern day society. I have a desire on my part to spread as much joy & love & compassion & freedom as possible to the very creatures I’m consuming. Does this sound contradictory? I guess it depends on whom you ask. So, how does one coddle one’s dinner? That is the question. After this weekend, the answer to that question has become slightly clearer to me. Eventually the poultry we raise will (hopefully) play a significant role in sustaining a healthy existence for my family & I in this life. What better gift or bigger sacrifice could we ask of another breathing, living creature? We must give preemptive gratitude to these animals. We must treat them like gold. (They are feeding the ones I love most, after all.) To say my outlook on my poultry has changed is an understatement. Some will provide eggs, some will provide meat, & all will provide nutrients.
Are we blessed, or what?
I’ve been reflecting a lot on my roots. I come from the foothills of Appalachia where hunting deer, rabbit, wild turkey, etc, etc. is very much a way of life. My Gram & Papa Joe once made soup from a turtle they caught in their pond for Pete’s sake! I’ve personally never been hunting or field dressed any animals in my entire life. However, you’d be hard pressed as a teenager to grow up in Jackson County without feasting on deer jerky during lunch hour on a cold winter’s day in the back of the high school parking lot. (I’m pretty sure it was a right of passage.) I’ve drawn strength & encouragement just knowing that I come from an area where many, many folks harvest, process & consume animals they have physically hunted as a supplement to their family’s nutrition. Somehow, this thought actually brought me peace & comfort before, during & after the turkey harvest this weekend. Knowing that you all can do THAT, somehow made me know that I could do THIS. I’m forever grateful to my southern Ohio friends & family for the encouragement you never realized you were sending my way. You all are one of the many contributors as to why & how I walked away from this very first harvest with gratitude & peace in my heart, two things I wasn’t sure I would feel after it was all said & done.
I want to leave you all with something to ponder….
I used to love the lyrics of this one particular song & I’ve been hearing it echo through my mind lately, playing again & again like a mantra….
“We’ll make great pets, we’ll make great pets”….
It sounds wild & it’s certainly hard to imagine, but humor me for a moment & tap into your 7-year-old self. Think about how you would want to be treated if you were a pet. What if humans were no longer the reigning head of the food chain on this planet? Imagine that some great society of powerful beings from some other faraway galaxy took over our planet & we (humans) fell a rung or two down the ladder. What if we became pets? Well, I’m here to tell ya… I would prayerfully hope for a keeper who would feed me ripe, warm blueberries off the vine & allow me to breathe fresh, clean air all day & night. I’d wish for the freedom to take long, meandering walks through the woods & to snooze in the warm, evening sunset anytime I wish. I would hope that after a leisurely, calm day spent exploring nature’s goodness, enjoying clean, cool water & dining on healthy, tasty sustenance, I’d be provided with a soft, cozy bed to lay my head. But more importantly, I’d pray that when my time comes to a close on this earth, it would be as gentle, humane, brief & dignified of an ending as possible.
This wasn’t easy for me. Every new task in this new life does not happen on cloud 9. But I’m truly living my bliss in the love-light of a grateful heart & a life we have created & would not trade for anything under the sun.
ABOVE: My precious Teagan, mourning the loss of Pedro. We decided to spend the day at the beach. Sometimes ya just need the salty sea to wash away your salty tears.
ABOVE: Teagan & I spent most of Sunday canning our garden goodies. Therapeutic & delicious!
ABOVE: My sweet friend in Hawaii shared this fab, healthy salsa recipe idea! Blueberries, jalapeno, red onion, cilantro & salt! Thanks Linds! ALOHA!
ABOVE: I realize I do look evil in this photo, but I’m truly joyful to know we are harvesting the right way, with the right heart. I’m a softy… Promise.
ABOVE: Dunking prior to feather removal.
ABOVE: Chanda & I finishing my first harvest.