Monday, July 20, 2009

Chickening out on slaugtering chickens

We have a feral chicken problem. We have always had wild and semi domesticated chickens in West Huntly. As I mulch in the summer when bugs etc are at a low point due to dryness, my soil nicely protected by a layer of wood chips becomes a attraction to them. I have turned a blind eye in the past as the destruction of seedlings and plants was minimal. Plus I am sure they eat bad bugs, like caterpillars etc.

However this winter they have become a real problem. First population is up, with at least 3 if not four distinct flocks, numbers in the 9-12 range. I think this is a combination of breeding success and escaping/being released from other cages.

Secondly in winter when the is a food shortage they are attracted to our chicken cage where they can stand on the outside of the cage and peck through the mesh to the feed inside. After eating at the cage they then lay into my gardens. They had demolished loads of seedlings which is especially annoying at growth at the moment is very low. And otherwise made a big mess of them.

So I have been catching them in a possum cage. This is done by putting food inside the cage and hiding round the corner and waiting to set the trap off. I have tired putting them in with our chickens (only the hens). This doesn't work - they get pecked badly by existing hens, and they find ways to escape as they are smaller (and more motivated) than ours.

So I have taken to slaughtering them. Now you should know that:
  1. I love animals.
  2. I don't want to
  3. That I make it as quick and painless as possible (though it is hard to tell what is moving due to being alive, and to do with death!)
  4. I cover the cage with a towel once the chicken is inside. Thus reducing stress for the chicken as they cannot see me, nor what is going on until they met their fate
  5. If I don't slaughter immediately, I supply food and water
  6. I feel very guilty about slaughtering them, so I skin them and put all in the freezer, thus pretending that their life was worthwhile
  7. As I want to maximize their life I also keep the heart(s), hopefully I will find something I can do with them.
  8. It seems wrong not to use the feathers. Can't think of any use, but there are some wonderful colors and softness - suggestions?
  9. A rooster I slaughtered the other day (very much like one below), after waiting two days while it was in the cage wracking my brains about what I could do. While on of its hens spent the whole day, and the next wandering around where the cage had been, and where I had killed and dressed it. Clearly it could smell its mate (and made me feel stink

I have also found that:
  1. I hate killing the chickens
  2. I feel very guilty about doing it
  3. That skinning is relatively easy to do (I'm getting better with practice)
  4. That I don't mind dealing with cold meat but when the meat still feels warm it just feels wrong
  5. That gutting a chicken on an empty stomach produces nausea
  6. That smell of blood in guts is gross. I have been around slaughter houses and forget how bad they smell
  7. That biology / atonimany lessons are far more interesting when you have the real deal in front of you. Yes the kids have watched at least one gutting. I tried not to let my revolution come to the surface.
It has made me realize how far removed we are from the growing and harvesting of our food, especially our meat. I am sure even 50 years ago most people would have killed chickens for dinner, or have watched it. Thank goodness for the internet otherwise I would have more trouble skinning them. I will blog at a later date about the differences between these chickens and store purchased ones.

If anyone has any other options for feral (eg not tame) chickens I am very open to suggestions.


  1. Nice david. My only comment is dont feel guilty. I had a very time agnostic rooster which despite a range of re-education attempts persisted in crowing at all hours be it dawn or otherwise. After some soul searching I relieved it of its obvious mental issues (and its head) and peace returned to the neighbourhood. There comes a time when being given dominion over creation must be exercised :-)

  2. You are more than welcome to come and exercise dominion over our pesky chickens. Maybe you could demonstrate to your children what a real man you are by allowing them to be chased by headless chickens. :)