The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

R.I.P. Alfonso and Massimo. Could you eat your own chickens?

Photo: Superb Leghorn bantam cockerels

Photo: Superb Leghorn bantam cockerels and wife

Since we got the letter from our neighbour we have been dithering about how to deal with our cockerels. As in all small communities, other neighbours have come forward to say that they liked the sound of the cockerels. We considered rehousing them but they would have to stay together as they were such close chums, looking out for each other and chatting in a cockerelish sort of way when they found something tasty to eat.

No rehousing project coud promise this as most peoplewho welcome a cockerel just want the one stud. We tried, but nobody wanted them.

They were the leaders of the flock. Alberto being Prime Minister and the gentler Massimo was Deputy P.M.

Beautiful birds but if someone is losing sleep (as every torturer knows), the culprits need to be silenced.

Danny was also woken regularly at 4.30 and was not over keen on the raucous brothers.
“We have to do something about them quickly. It’s been weeks since we got that letter.”

We eventually decided that killing and eating them was probably the best answer. Finally we would taste meat that we (and Caroline and Kevin) had raised. In our journey to self sufficiency this had to be the answer. But both of us were worried about killing them.
What if they didn’t die immediately?
Would the rest of the flock be upset?

These were just excuses. To be quite honest we just didn’t have the guts to do it. My Aunt Pickles would have ben laughing from heaven. She kept a flock of at least a hundred on a meadow outside her back door. All except for the special named ones were earmarked for possible slaughter in the future. Unfortunately I never saw her kill or prepare a chicken for table. But I did enjoy many a delicious chicken based meal at her house.

Finally S generously offered to kill them on the understanding that we would definitely eat them. I agreed at once.
“Wait until they have settled properly for the night and then put them in a box and bring them up to me. They’ll be sleepy and then it’s easy to catch then.”
And they were. Popped into a hamper within seconds.

They spent the night in the barn and, for the first time ever, I woke at dawn to muffled crows. They were quickly dispatched by S later that morning.

I must admit that I wasn’t looking forward to preparing them for the table. I even gardened in the rain to avoid the task. I was fond of Massimo – how could I eat him? But when I gingerly opened the hamper, the birds, like all creatures that have died, had lost their sparkle. By the time they were gutted and skinned they had switched from being our cockerels to food.

Now I have to take the final step and learn how to kill my chickens in the future.

If push came to shove I would now be happy to raise chickens for meat. Well husbanded chickens must taste better than those that have taken several days to reach the shelves of butcher or supermarket.

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  1. Scarlett, I appreciate your concern but I suspect these laws were made to protect big business. There is no doubt in my mind that home reared food is cared for more humanely and live more naturally than anything factory farmed. Until we have a vegan utopia, I think this freedom should be encouraged.

  2. Scarlet O'Hara

    Following the huge number of ‘pats on your back’ you have received – I hate to be the one that tells you (and all the other people who have drawn attention to the fact they have killed the birds in their care) that all animals, including poultry should be despatched by a qualified and trained ‘individual.
    I’m pretty sure that ‘Aunt Pickles’ wasn’t either qualified or trained!

    I also feel that at this point I need to point out that in 2006 ‘The Animal Welfare Act’ was passed by parliament. The main points outlined below;-

    The act means pet owners are now legally obliged to care for their pet properly – which most owners already do – by providing these five basic needs:

    (1) somewhere suitable to live

    (2) a proper diet, including fresh water

    (3) the ability to express normal behaviour

    (4) for any need to be housed with, or apart from, other animals

    (5) protection from, and treatment of, illness and injury.

    It doesn’t take a genius to know that killing the animals in your care fall outside point number 5 outlined above – and the law doesn’t differentiate between a dog, cat or chicken.

    I do hope that the law eventually catches up with you all and that you are prosecuted to full extent of the courts reach.

    For the Animals who can’t speak for themselves


  3. Anne Wilson

    When we first started smallholding we made it a rule that if we were not prepared to kill it we would not keep it. It was hard killing the first time, a duck, and it hung in the barn looking like an angel, but it tasted good and had had a good life. We still don’t like dispatching, especially the rabbits,but we rear and kill with respect if that’s not a contradiction in terms.

  4. I understand your situation and have a lot of respect for the fact that the decision was a hard one to come to – it should have been, and it’s good that you investigated all options.

    I’m a vegetarian so gloriously free of such dilemmas. It does make me a little uncomfortable to hear people killing cockerels making ‘annoying’ noises (the cockerels wouldn’t be there if they hadn’t been brought in for human convenience – it seems something of a betrayal to then kill them for trying to act naturally!) but I would far sooner see happy chickens leading happy lives up until the point they’re killed than intensively farmed cheap meat.

  5. Shereen

    Well done the pair of you for passing a difficult milestone, and it sounds like you did a good job of it.

  6. Amanda

    I think I’d struggle with this too but I think you did the right thing.

    I was just laughing my socks off at the stinky fish story.

    Hope you’re both well.
    With love, Amanda x

  7. Here in rural Croatia everyone raises their own meat – to the extent that butchers’ shops are rare, and there is very little meat on sale in the supermarkets compared to in the UK. Within a few hundred yards of our house there are chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, rabbits, goats, sheep and pigs all being raised for the table, plus the odd milk cow here and there. I plan to have guinea fowl (to eat the ticks) and chickens when we move to our own place later this year, and I intend to kill birds for the table – but I have no experience of doing it. I’m sure my neighbours will be happy to show me what to do. I just hope I’m not too squeamish when it comes down to it.

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