Thursday, August 13, 2009

Life, Death, and Roosters

I caught my first rooster this morning as Mari, Laura, and I rounded up 25 of our birds that were on their way to slaughter. It sounds so awful, I know- slaughter. It brings up this gruesome image of a fearful and messy death, an image that does not match with the love and care that we have given the roosters since they first came to us this spring. Death is a delicate thing on a farm; you can spend months doing nothing but nurture an animal and it may still get a diseased hoof or a high parasite load. Plants, too, may get decimated by a hailstorm or drowned out by a rainy summer. If something unexpected doesn’t happen, the day will still come when the chickens or pigs are ready to go, and the vegetables are begging to be picked.

So how does a farmer find balance? For one to live, another must always die. For the peas to prosper, the weeds that crowd them must be torn out of the soil (though I must admit there are days when I get tired of weeding and want to shout: stop pulling it out! Stop this uprooting, stop this wearisome chore that hurts my back and dries my hands).

A farmer puts all of her energy into creating food, which allows people to live. She joyfully watches vegetables grow, she comes to love the animals she raises, and she must recognize that the only way to say goodbye is to integrate herself into the cycle. Kale is cut and eaten and provides the body with iron; pigs turn to pork which turns to protein; strawberries are plucked and their sweetness brings sugar to bodies. There is always an end and a beginning, and on the farm we have the blessing to be present for both: the birth of piglets, the raising of chicks to chickens, the planting and harvesting of crops—it is a miraculous thing to watch it all grow and to intimately know the energy it takes to make it happen.

I played a part in this cycle today when I said goodbye to the roosters this morning and ate one for dinner tonight. It is the freshest chicken I have ever eaten, and though some people say they couldn’t eat an animal they knew, I find that it brings greater appreciation for the meal. When I sat down to dinner with my mom after roasting the chicken in a maple glaze for an hour, I thanked the bird once again for its life and for the nourishment it was bringing me. Maybe it was the glaze, maybe the company, maybe the countless days of feeding the roosters, or maybe it was all of this, but whatever went into this bird, it was delicious!

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