“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated” ~Gandhi (1869-1948).
Dorsey Barger and Susan Hausman bought, Hausbar Farms their East Austin property several years ago, a run down plot of land in East Austin, on which sat decrepit buildings being utilized as crack houses. Through their hard work and care, the property is now their home, a working sustainable farm, and a burgeoning business. The farm in also inhabited by my two favorite donkeys, a goat or two, rabbits and chickens.
The focus of this post is the chickens. I learned a couple of weeks ago that Hausbar had started making their chickens available for sale at Boggy Creek Farm. I had already been buying a chicken a week, from the farmer’s market, which I typically roast on Sunday night. One chicken provides several meals throughout the week.
In my ongoing efforts to evolve as an aware and compassionate eater, I accepted an invitation from my friend Cecilia to visit Hausbar Farms, on a day that they would be slaughtering chickens. (Also attending was my new friend Mike Sutter. ) In my mind, I danced around the word “slaughtering”, but have come to accept that this is the appropriate term. I don’t believe that you have to kill your own food to appreciate it, but I have felt for some time, that in order to truly honor the food that I eat, I should at least understand how it comes to transition from living farm animal, to sustenance for me. I did not relish the idea, but hoped that it would be a fulfilling experience.
Hausbar has both laying hens and meat birds, which is fairly self explanatory. The meat birds are heritage chicken breeds raised for meat, the laying hens are for eggs. The chickens are purchased just hatched, before they have eaten any food. Hausbar feeds them organic feed, and allows them to roam around and forage for worms, bugs and whatever else chickens forage for. They lead happy lives, filled with sunshine and shenanigans, as do the other farm animals. (A stark contrast to commercially raised chickens who never see the light of day and routinely have their beaks removed so they can’t harm one another in close confinement.)
The farm employs a beloved woman named Lola, who tends to the chickens on a daily basis, feeding them, collecting eggs, and nursing them back to health when problems arise. One of the chickens on this day, had lived in Lola’s home while she treated its injured foot, so that the other chickens did not bully it. It seemed fitting, that Lola, the person the chickens are used to and comfortable with, would carry out the final procedure. I have edited, deleted and added to this part for several days now, partly wanting to share the entire experience, partly not wanting to be too macabre with pictures and partly wanting to keep it to myself and those who were there with me.
The chickens come to their end in the most peaceful, humane, quiet, quick, non-violent and respectful manner that I could ever imagine. And that’s all I will write about that.
They are then placed into scalding water to loosen their feathers, then into a device I can only think to call a chicken spinner, to de-feather them.
Once featherless, Lola begins the task of removing the organs. By this point in the day, I felt like I had seen what I had come to witness, so I was utterly surprised at the incredible science lessons to come next. Dorsey began explaining the anatomy of the chicken with so much excitement, that I immediately got excited too. The first chicken contained one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen – its reproductive tract, filled with yolks, awaiting their turn in the ovaduct, wherein they form their shell. This chicken had an unlaid egg, fully formed at the end of its ovaduct, as well. Underneath those big yolks, were smaller to tiny little yolks all waiting their turn to travel through the ovaduct. It was amazing.
As Lola continued cleaning the birds, Dorsey explained that every part of the bird (with exception of the beak and spleen) is either used by them, or sold to a local restaurant. Kome, a new Japanese restaurant in town takes the entire ovaduct for a dish they serve on their menu. We watched as the liver was removed, then how the gizzard was cleaned of its rocks. (Chickens eat rocks which aid in the digestion of their food, as they do not have a stomach.) Lola carefully cleaned the intestines, in a manner passed down to her by generations of Mexican heritage, emptying them of their contents, thoroughly rinsing with water, then further cleaning them with lime juice and salt.
As a treat for the guests, Dorsey asked Lola to prepare the intestines, which she did simply by cooking in a skillet.
Once crisp and ready to eat, we each took a turn taking a bite. They tasted like chicken, with hints of salt and lime and with a texture not unlike calamari. Susan then brought out beers for us, and the afternoon quickly evolved in to a celebration. We were celebrating the amazing chicken, which we had come to revere and respect, having witnessed what we had. It felt like such an honor to eat this chicken. And I feel so grateful for the experience. This was a special day, in a way that is difficult to put into words. I felt so totally connected to my food, Dorsey, Susan, Lola, Cecilia and Mike, who I shared this day and this experience with. Again, it is hard to explain.
We each were given an unexpected gift of half a chicken, upon our departure. Tonight, as I ate my roasted chicken, I felt grateful again, connected again and so very fortunate that we have food available to us, through our amazing local farmers, that does not devalue the life of the food animal, but respects it. Food really is love.