Mug Shot

Bird Bullies

I have a theory. Meat birds are jerks! I think that’s why they became meat birds. Early food eaters were probably perfectly happy just eating eggs. Then, one of the birds had to go and be a jerk. It didn’t take long to figure out that somebody had to go. Yeah. Meat birds.

People shake their heads and smile when they see how great our animals get along. No joke. They hang out. They share. They even play together. Alpacas, chickens and ducks, in perfect harmony. And then. Meat birds.

Harmony

My egg birds and ducks are peaceful and friendly. I love the calm, quiet quacking, and the friendly clucking. If you think I’m being overly sentimental, you haven’t spent time on a farm. They’re perfectly happy to swim and peck and lounge in the sun. I can actually feel my blood pressure lowering when I’m around them. (Relaxing sigh.)

Ducks   Hens

By the time the meat chickens were ready to be processed, I was ready to see them go. First, most of them were males. Lots of testosterone, and they all wanted to be Big Bird. My peaceful barnyard was turning into a feather-flying peckfest. At least they were about the same size as the other chickens, so it was a level playing field.

Now, we have these turkeys. I’ll admit it. I don’t like them. I thought I would like them. I wanted to like them. When they were little, I DID like them. Not anymore. They’re mean. When they first moved in, I had to stand guard because they were using their beaks to pick up the smaller birds and shake them. Not cool. At first, I thought they would settle down once they settled in.

Gang

They aren’t quite as aggressive as they first were, but the ducks and hens try to stay away from them. The turkeys peck and chase and squawk at anything that gets too close. If we had another enclosure, they would be put in segregation.

The turkeys were supposed to be for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but at least a couple of them won’t make it that long. Next year, we’ll be doing things differently. There will be a separate enclosure, and all the meat birds will be in there. It will be like our own little juvenile hall. I nominate Charlie as Head Warden.

Meat Birds

I’m having a really hard time this week. Charlie and I caught and penned our meat birds last night because Charlie is going to be processing them tomorrow. (“Processing” is a nice word for butchering.)

I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle processing day, but I barely got through catching them. The idea of hurting anything, or even seeing something get hurt, has always upset me. I won’t watch boxing because the idea of hurting someone on purpose, for money, makes me want to cry. When Cookie was a puppy and broke her leg, I almost passed out at the vet’s office when the vet told us the details of the necessary surgery. I’m not queasy about blood or broken bones, but I couldn’t stand that she was hurting.

Now, meat birds are mean. They pick on the other birds. And they’re kind of stupid. And they eat a LOT. And we bought them as chicks so we could raise them for meat. We know what they’ve been fed, and that they haven’t been exposed to medications or hormones. We also know they’ve had a good life. They’ve had room to run, fresh air, and lots of veggie treats from the garden. And yet none of this makes it easier to know I’m sending them to their deaths.

Even harder than the meat birds, was pointing out which of the older egg birds had to go. One of the hard farm realities is there is no place for “freeloaders.” As egg birds get older, they stop laying, but they keep eating. If we kept every chicken we ever brought home, we’d soon have dozens of “pets”.  I have such a hard time with the idea that they’ve done nothing wrong, but they’ve outlived their usefulness, so it’s time to go. It seems heartless.

We have eliminated an attack rooster because it wasn’t safe to have him around the kids. We would also not hesitate to put down an animal if it were suffering. When Charlie hunts or fishes, we eat what is brought home. We don’t take animal lives for granted.

If I’m able to eat meat from the grocery store, I should be able to accept responsibility for their lives. No doubt I will share recipes and cooking adventures when I’m making 100% homegrown, natural meals. It’s the whole reason we’ve taken on meat birds. I’ll either learn to be OK with it, or will become a vegetarian.