We killed two of our Ixworth-Naked Neck cross cockerels that I hatched out back in May – see here and here. It isn’t an easy thing to do, but they had a good life messing around in the front garden and then living on the smallholding albeit in a slightly smaller space. We feed them different food to the layers so need to keep them separate.
Their space is larger than it seems, it is 4 metres by 4 metres and over 6 foot high and we feed them lots of vegetables as well to make up for the fact they have eaten lots of the grass. I would like to keep them in their own field but we have to find a way of keeping the sheep out of their food – sheep don’t tolerate gluten and I am pretty sure there is gluten in the chicken food, but now I think about it, I will have to check.
We chose two of the Ixworth-Naked Neck cross cockerels and took them to the place where we kill them.
I held their legs and he stunned them with this. I then cut their throats. Quick, calm and quiet.
I then plucked the chickens and took them inside to butcher them. I am getting a little more adept at doing this, but it still takes some time and this got me thinking about the real cost of chicken.
I see chicken for sale everywhere – chicken sandwiches, fried chicken, chicken on every pub and restaurant menu – chicken it seems is cheap. People choose it for a cheap dinner, but chicken isn’t cheap. The emotional, financial and time costs of rearing chickens are not negligible.
We hatched these birds from eggs in our incubator (a cost), we raised the chicks in our brooder (a cost) we then moved them to outside houses where they could pom about in our garden (a cost). We fed them organic food from family-owned, independent feed company (another cost). We took the time to catch them and kill them quietly and then time to process them.
So how come chicken is so cheap? I also came across these two articles this week concerning the horrific conditions that not only are chickens kept in, but that workers work in – see here and here. These articles talk about how migrant workers, particularly workers who have no residency rights are poorly paid, housed in appalling conditions and abused – all to bring us cheap chicken. They are employed to catch thousands of chickens an hour – I regularly catch chickens – it isn’t an easy job and to do it with minimum stress to the animal takes time, but that costs money and people want cheap chicken.
What I felt was particularly shocking was that while the media rants on and on about illegal immigrants and the supposed threat they pose to our country and economy, it seems the darker corners of our food industry rely on such workers – their illegal status is a benefit to such employers because it means they can pay and treat them poorly and they can’t complain. It is on this basis of the exploitation of people and animals that our cheap chicken sandwiches are produced, cabbages are picked from the fields, chickens and fish are gutted. When you buy cheap food you are benefiting from the exploitation of others and if that food is meat or a meat related product you are benefiting from the exploitation of animals and I am not even going to talk about the horrific conditions many farm animals live and die in.
Producing good food in a humane manner free from chemicals that damage our planet takes time and involves a cost. Surely it isn’t fair to expect animals and people to suffer and to bear that cost just so we can have cheap chicken?
We produce a reasonable amount of meat, we could eat meat everyday, but we don’t. Meat is something that is special, it comes with a cost. We see that cost for what it is. We will eat our chicken on a special occasion, with friends. We won’t eat it in a quickly grabbed lunchtime sandwich, we won’t eat it in a mid-week meal – we mainly eat vegan Mei Goreng, stir fry, curry and other cheaper vegetarian dishes for these meals. We don’t add chicken to stir-fries, we throw in cashew nuts or tofu.
We need to find out where our food comes from, how it is produced and know who grows or raises it. Increasingly there are more and more small farmers and producers in the UK and elsewhere who are making food in an environmentally sustainable, respectful way. Their food costs more than exploited food, but this is the true cost of food. Maybe next time grab a hummus sandwich for lunch or buy a chicken from a free-range, family farm such as Sutton Hoo chicken if you live around near us. Similarly, our bacon and sausages aren’t cheap, but they are good and the animals and workers (James and me) were treated well.
N.B. in the interests of not just painting a rosy picture of life – the two cockerels we killed had some kind of lice-type creature! I have never seen this before on any of our poultry. It was awful – not least because they crawled all over me – no really, all over me – ehhhhh. (I can only imagine the lice that chickens raised in cramped barns must have and thus the horrible job the chicken catchers have especially as they don’t generally have access to a nice bathroom and clean clothes). We will treat the others with diatomaceous earth and hope that helps.
See here for more thoughts on the ethics of chicken rearing for eggs and meat.