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And now for something completely different: today, I learned how to kill and process a chicken from start to finish (in other words, from feathered friend poking through the dirt to wrapped-in-freezer-paper carcass in my fridge ready for dinner). It was a strangely amazing, empowering experience, and I really think anyone who eats meat should learn what we learned today.

Distelrath Farms put on the workshop, and I am a new huge fan of the place and the people. Seriously, I want to work for them. Andrew taught and demonstrated and guided with humor, respect, and expertise, while Rachel snapped photos and offered good company and words of encouragement. However, the really cool thing for me about the place, which launched in February, is their passion for education and bringing young kids out in the dirt. It reminded me of my days working for the park service and non-profits in the Bay area, teaching kids about the animals and ecosystems right in front of their noses. This is going to be a place to watch in the coming years, Indianapolis – heck, I know I will be. And they have a “rescued” potbellied pig named Pat (after the SNL character) and Jill, the nicest donkey I’ve ever met, so what’s not to love?

summer 2002. this kid was rad. i was giving her some tough questions before she got her official jr. ranger badge.

Ten years ago, my second summer as a ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park.

There were eight of us attending the workshop, and we established a certain camaraderie early on just by the very nature of what we were about to do, I think. Some had laying hens or home flocks, one fellow was looking into buying a farm in Kentucky and starting a pastured broiler operation, another was a member of the farm. When we first called to register, Andrew’s response was, “Cool! [Long pause]… So, are you ready for this?” I think my response was an uncertain, “Ummm… I *think* so!”

And, frankly, I still wasn’t certain I was ready for it as I stood under the trees holding a very sharp knife, standing next to a calm chicken hanging from his feet, one hand looped gently around my Rhode Island Red’s beak and comb, preparing to cut his jugular vein on both sides. The anxiety of NOT MESSING UP was strong. Usually when you mess something up, you fix it or it sucks for a while until the pain wears off or it ends up not being nearly as big of a deal as you thought. With this, though, I wanted very much to dispatch this creature as kindly and humanely as I could. I missed the jugular on one side but managed to get it without much of a problem on the other side. Andrew referred to the otherwise lovely spot under the trees as “the dungeon.”

It is true that chickens’ nervous systems kick in when they die, which is where the “running around like a chicken with its head cut off” thing comes from. I didn’t realize, however, that you have about 20-30 seconds after severing the jugular before that occurs. I held the chicken’s head gently to help the blood drain for a bit before flapping occurred. Then we let them bleed out while we got the rest of the processing stuff ready to go (basically, a knife, a table, a water source, and a bucket).

Next up: processing the birds. I’m going to wait, though, until Rachel uploads some photos to share more. For now, I am so glad that I took part in this. I think if more people were exposed to learning events like this, they would slowly begin re-thinking how they live, how they eat, and what their relationships are or should be with the rest of the living creatures in this world. I also feel a little like I can conquer the world, too – or at least someday maybe have a broiler operation of my own.

20120728. Distelrath Farms' chicken processing workshop: Chris' chicken.

Chris’ chicken, which was a male Leghorn. We’re trying beer can chicken, then I’ll turn the leftovers into probably the best broth ever.

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