To Kill a Roasting Bird

I walked down the dirt road to the processing room with camera in pocket, eager to document our first experience of transforming a living animal into something recognizable as "dinner". I love taking pictures and envisioned shooting beautiful and arresting images of the process. They would be respectful of the animals giving their lives to feed us, while at the same time, unflinchingly direct and honest. 

Err...right. When all was said and done, that camera didn’t come out of my pocket until the very end of the day, after I had washed all of the blood from the killing station and taken a good reflective break in the brisk air outside. The photos I took were rushed and sheepish - some even frantically blurred. With the camera in my hand, I suddenly felt like a voyeur, cheapening the solemnity of the act we had just participated in. I was embarrassed to even pull the camera up to my eye and shot blindly at the machinery, deciding that would be sufficient.

Of course I should have seen right through my plans. In retrospect it’s easy to look at my enthusiasm and see it as the the padded vest I had puffed up to protect me from the reality that I would actually be killing an animal. I love chickens (and do a pretty good impression of a laying hen if I say so myself) and had tried to wash out the fear out of my reaction with bubbling excitement. Excitement about walking the walk and proving to myself that I have the stomach for an essential skill we’ll use countless times on our own farm. Somehow the challenge of staring down blood and guts through a lens while debating composition seemed to be a way to prove this to myself... Although cocky and misguided in retrospect, the idea was enough to distract me from the gory reality of what would be taking place. 

What actually happened in lieu of photo documentation was intense introspection. When I picked the chickens up by the legs, I placed my hand on their chest which calmed them down and stopped them from flapping their wings. I couldn’t stop myself from murmuring inane untruths to these birds as I carried them over to the cones. Things like “it’ll be ok little lady” came out of my mouth while a little voice in my head snipped, “Shit! You can’t say that!”. When it came time to cut my first throat I was nervous. I cooed what I thought were relaxing words as I tried to stroke the bird’s head with my thumb while slightly stretching out her neck. As I reached in to make my first cut, I silently thanked the chicken. She didn’t squawk or pull away when I brought the knife back to finish the job.

Somehow, the wave of sadness and horror that I had expected to hit me never came. Other than the hot gush of blood over my hands, and the nervous rush it brought with it, I felt only startled shock that it was so easy. This concerned me - was I missing something? I’m a very sensitive and empathetic person. It’s hard for me not to cry when I see someone else’s pain, but killing chickens hadn’t evoked those emotions. Somehow, shortly after the knife came out, the chicken stopped being a beautiful bird and became dinner.