Saturday, October 22, 2016

We are what we eat: chicken!

Chicken dinner 2015 (feet go in the stock pot)
Let's talk about chicken.  It's a tasty meat with a mild flavor.  It can be roasted, baked, fried, sauteed, grilled, stewed, and more.  It tastes good with everything.  It makes an amazing curry or stir fry.  Then there's chicken soup:  a necessity during flu season.  Chicken bones make a fantastic stock.  We love chicken--it's delicious and versatile.

Chicken comes from a bird.  It comes from a chicken, of course.  A chicken that runs around, sleeps with its head under its wing, tips its head up to swallow a drink, clucks to get your attention.  Chicken comes from a curious, friendly, busy bird:  active and interested.  At least, our chicken does.

We hardly ever buy chicken meat any more, since it doesn't compare to our own chicken.  Why would it?  Supermarket chicken was raised in a closed barn, full of birds in cages.  Those chickens eat only chicken chow, and are bred to grow quickly;  usually by eight weeks old they're big enough to slaughter, and if they aren't killed soon after they might die of heart failure anyway.  They don't have much room to move around in, which is good because their legs can't really support all that weight very well. 

It's cheaper to raise chicken this way, and supermarket chicken is cheap.  Our chicken isn't cheap.  A chick costs us around £3.50-£5 when newly hatched;  chick feed is around £10 a bag, and growers feed is £12.  That's expensive chicken--at least twice as much as supermarket chicken.

But there's not just a big difference in price;  there's also a big difference in quality.  Our chicken is happy and healthy, able to act out its natural instincts and behavior, and every day is a good day--until the very last minute.  Our chicken tastes sweet.  It tastes intense and juicy.  Its giblets make a beautiful mild gravy.  Its skin is crispy but tender.  In short, it's the best chicken we've ever had.

Are our chickens our pets?  Do we eat our pets?  Well, no.  We treat them with respect and love, and we let them live as natural a life as possible:  they get to be chickens.  They are not our "feather babies" but animals in their own right.  It's hard to kill them, just as it was hard to take our 14 year old dog to be put to sleep at the vet.  We take responsibility for their lives and wellbeing, and we take responsibility for their deaths.  Everything dies, whether sooner or later.  And unlike our old dog, chickens are useful in death as well as life:  they allow us to go on living.  We give them good lives, and a good death.

We'll be killing Lavender*, our 6 month old Cream Legbar cockerel in a week.  I'll be sorry to kill him--though the six year old's not, as he's continued to be aggressive towards him.  But I won't be sorry to eat him.
*Our big black cockerel Winnie died unexpectedly overnight a few weeks ago;  we found him cold and stiff on the floor of the coop.  Tiny, our miniscule English Game cockerel, has a reprieve for now;  unless we get a complaint about his crowing, he gets to stay.

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