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a very fine roast chicken

On Monday, we killed a chicken.

I suppose slaughtered would be the correct term, but let me back up a bit. Here on the farm we have around 75 chickens, the majority of which are mature, egg-laying birds that share the pasture with our goats. The smaller coop down by the garden is reserved for the youngsters—chicks left over from chicken-keeping classes that are raised in isolation until they are big enough to join their peers without getting picked on. Another reason for keeping the babies separate? You may order hens, but it takes several months to determine whether one of your fluffy girls is actually a boy.

A few weeks ago, we began to suspect. Nascent crows could occasionally be heard from the small coop, and one of the birds had the beginnings of long, arched tail feathers and a comb. Up at the cottage we’d often talked about slaughtering an animal, a practice that few carnivores do today but that defines a farmer’s relationship with his meat. When it became clear that our suspect was in fact a rooster, we approached Cynthia and Daniel and received the go-ahead.

On Monday afternoon we assembled, the five of us (plus one lucky prospective apprentice) hushed with concentrated activity. Everyone had some sort of preparation for the event: Ross killed a duck in culinary school, Christine witnessed the slaughter of a cow, Adam heard stories of his Mamaw’s neck-twisting techniques, and Phillip watched youtube videos and sharpened his machete. I, on the other hand, have fainted not just at the sight of blood, but at the thought of it (end result: a concussion and trip to the emergency room, driven by my friend with the bleeding finger). I was not prepared, but I was determined to watch.

Well, watch behind a camera. Of course this meant that if I passed out the camera would be going down with me, but that was strong incentive to remain standing. And when it actually happened, I was shocked at how unassuming it all was—there was no struggle, no squawking, no horror-movie cascade of squirting blood. It wasn’t cruel, and it wasn’t overly sentimental. I suppose when you know what you’re doing, killing a farm animal for its meat can be a part of life.

But for eating an animal to be ritual, you have to eat all of it. So last night that’s what we did, piece by piece: from the heart (Ross: “I’m a man now!”) to the wings, neck, and deliciously tender breast. When the night was over there was only a carcass left, and with Thanksgiving coming up, we’re starting to eye the wild turkeys as they amble down the drive.

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