So the author, Michael Pollan, has purchased a steer in an effort to track a chuck of beef. He is not allowed to see his steer slaughtered. He does give a watered down explanation of what goes down on the Killing Floor and As a farm girl, I concur…it is a sanitized account of what goes on.
Michael also spends some time at Polyfaced Farm, which is sort of a natural grass farm. (the kind I grew up on and sort of the kind I actually have, sans the turkeys, although I am thinking that maybe I’ll get a couple of turkey HENS, since I was never chased around the yard by any hen turkey).
During his time at Polyfaced Farm, he does a turn butchering chickens.
I’ve killed and dressed my own chickens that I have hand raised and cooked them and shared that chicken soup with Brandy (it creeped her out. I think I hadn’t given her enough information prior to popping that particular piece of info on her. Sometimes I forget everyone isn’t me.) It’s a chore I like less than weeding but even weeding has a purpose. I do it quick and clean and think about the good little chickeny life this particular hen had. I take no joy in it, anymore than I take any joy in washing the dishes.
My chickens have the run of my backyard–about 3/4 of an acre. I will fence them up into my vegetable garden next week, right after I weed it and before I set out my plants and plant the corn. Some weeks, I’ll fence them up on the hill when it gets weedy. They have a run that is open all day long where they have a coop and water and lots of shade. At night, after dinner, I take out my little kitchen bowl of vegetable scraps ans hoo them into their coop, where I’ll pick up their eggs the next day. They are by turns silly and goofy and funny and exasperating and incredibly stupid. I get my sexed chicks at the feedstore and I get two of every kind they have. This year I’ll get a goose and two turkey hens, too. These babies go into my dove cage until they are old enough to free range.
Pollan got the fresh egg description exactly right. There are April eggs and August eggs and I have recipes for every month in between. We have more eggs than we can eat, so I give them away to my neighbors. I freeze some, so I always have enough on hand for quiche or zip locks omelets but usually, I have two dozen fresh eggs and two dozen hard boiled ones, all the time. They look nothing like the ones you buy at the market.
When I was growing up, my mother would mention to my father that we were running low on meat and he needed to put up a steer. He’d take a look at the steers we had out on pasture and we’d cut a likely looking one out of the herd and pen him up for oh, maybe six weeks. He got his own little piece of pasture and own fresh water and more room than a lot of people have to turn around on. He also was fed Steer Mix (some kind of grain and molasses)-a bucket three times a day. We’d feed him hay with some kind of black sticky molasses stuff we’d dump on it. A couple of times a week, he’s get sugar beet tops, too. (We grew sugar beets and baled the tops). The plan was to fatten up This One so that his little Black Angus self would be both sweet and marbled.
Then our butcher would come out the the house and I’d get my cane out and coax This One out into a pen on the other side of the barn. The butcher didn’t stun This One. He shot him right in his forehead. Then I’d perch on the fence and he’d dress out This One and explain what he was doing and show me pieces and parts and it was beyond interesting and natural. We’d have fresh liver that night. My mother would strip and brine and pickle the tongue. We’d have barbecued heart. We’d have sweetbreads and brains. The butcher would take This One back to the locker so he could hang and age and then he’d get cut up and we’d go get a truck full of wrapped meat. We never managed to get enough ground meat and right before it was time to put up another steer, we were forced to eat steaks and roasts.
Until I went to college, I never ate boughten meat. I had no idea how awful it was. I never ate grocery store eggs either and the first time I used one, I thought that maybe….well, I knew for a fact that there was something not right with that egg.
So I have a garden and chickens. I have a lamb (This One), who keeps the weeds down. He has a date with Jake, the butcher, in the near future. I probably will keep some rabbits next year (it is too hot here to keep them in the summer). I have this idea that I can put their cages over my garden boxes, along with my red wigglers, my compost and the chickens.
And to stretch out my own garden, I’m going to go to the Thursday Night Marketplace here in town and buy produce i don;t grow myself. When I’m in Morro Bay, I’ll go to the one they have on Saturday afternoons. Between the two, I think I’ll be able to deal with this dilemma.
My dad was right. Bigger isn’t always better. More isn’t better. Better is better and he was a master of growing good food. I miss him every day.