Tuesday, July 01, 2008

My First Chicken Slaughter.

As if my week wasn't made odd enough by having cremains tossed on me, I decided to commit to another level of surreality on Saturday. I have some friends who've recently returned from living abroad to become organic chicken farmers. They have seen me through my early years as an artist, and asked me if I'd be willing to photograph their first chicken slaughter. After thinking about it for about forty-five seconds, I eagerly accepted their offer. Hell, I eat chicken a lot... I prefer it to any other type of meat, so I might as well witness the ideal way of processing it. Still, after a night out at the bar, I didn't know what to expect early the next morning. But I woke up at 7AM and made my way out of the city to the rural paradise that my friends now inhabit.

I found out right away (to mild disappointment) that they had actually killed 120 fowl the previous Wednesday. That meant that they were already old hands by the time I arrived. Their schedule entailed snuffing 60 more birds by noon. The idea was to have them ready for their customers, who they would be inheriting from the family that was serving as their host and mentor. As far as I'm concerned, their clients have a good thing going. They get extraordinarily fresh meat with no chemicals for $2.50 a pound. As an ordinary consumer, I had no clue how these things got from their eggs on to my plate. I was about to find out. I got a quick tour of the facilities and smoked a last cigarette before show time.

All the equipment necessary for an operation of this scale fits on the bed of a small trailer- about the size you might use to tote a speedboat. There are a series of six stainless steel inverted cones into which you manhandle the future fryers into an upside down position. The heads poke out an opening at the bottom, and you simply grab their heads and slit them off with a sharp boning knife. As you've no doubt heard, they flap around for awhile afterwards, so you've got to hold them in place until they are relatively still. Their blood drips down into a gory trough at the bottom. Then they go into a hot tank of water to get scalded for about 45 seconds. That prepares them for the plucking machine, which looks a lot like a top-loaded washing machine.

After they are sans feathers they look as if they are ready to eat. But you still have to remove their innards, sparing the goodies like the gizzard and liver. This looks like the most time consuming part. It took a crew of four a bit more than two hours to transform all 60 chicken into food. It's a bit amazing when you think about it- these males go from cradle to freezer in only eight weeks. I guess you could feel bad for them after that reflection. They are just entering their prime, and they are abruptly beheaded and turned into an inert marketable product. Yet as a meat eater, I'd be a bit of a hypocrite to spend much time being bothered over the whole thing. After all, they are finger-lickin' good.

It would be interesting to have a look at how agribusiness does their processing. However there is zero chance that they'd let me step into their plants with a camera. You can access horror stories about the industry pretty easily elsewhere. I'm not going to dwell on those sordid details here. The important thing is that I have a deeper awareness than I had before. I honestly didn't know how I'd react to the inherent violence of chicken slaughter. I suppose having a camera in between me and the phenomenon helped me distance myself from any emotions that I may have had otherwise. I'll admit to being a bit glib about it while I was shooting. And although I had a bit of melancholy on my way home from the farm, I'm certainly not going to stop eating drumsticks.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

We have it on good authority that some of the more radicalized poultry have links to Al Qaeda.

10:48 PM  
Blogger FarmerfortheFuture said...

Hey - thanks for this! Hope you don't mind me linking to it:


9:14 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


I certainly don't mind. Thanks for reading!

11:37 PM  

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