Saturday, May 14, 2011


We are a family that enjoys protein. And tomorrow we shall harvest some. Tonight I am about to don the head torch and catch three slumbering, young roosters. We've had the good fortune of two late Summer clutches of chicks, all hatched under broody mothers, all with access to plenty of pasture, warm mash on cold mornings and plenty of tasty weeds. With a life like this we don't lose chicks to disease. Of our 11 chicks, 4 are boys, 3 of whom are destined for the chopping block tomorrow. The lucky one will be moving down the road to our friends place, where he will look after a whole new harem of lovely chook ladies. At this stage we're not eating any female birds while we build up our laying flock.

After breakfast we'll head to another lovely neighbour's place to do the deed. They have a few roosters as well. The kids will come along, and I'm quite sure there will be tears, but last time the tears at the demise of Sunny the Evil Rooster were replaced by shouts of "Yummy!" when his plucked body made its way back inside. In some ancient pattern of labour distribution the blokes will dispatch the birds while we light a fire and boil a big pot of water ready for plucking, and prepare a pot of icy cold water for chilling them. I'll line up bowls, this time I intend to try and cook every edible part, one bowl each for livers, hearts, gizzards, feet and combs. We'll dig a hole where a Winter planted fruit tree is to go, ready for the bits we can't eat.

We've been completely responsible for the quality of life these birds have enjoyed. We know exactly what has been consumed by them. We will be responsible for their end. We will take care to use every scrap of their flesh, and make stocks from their delicious bones.

Our aim is to build up a flock that can supply us with at least one bird for the pot a fortnight. Free range birds available commercially are from heavy, industrially bred meat birds that are slaughtered at 6 weeks, if they are left any longer they can develop stress fractures as they grow too fast to support their own bulk. Our birds are 16 weeks old and have had a wonderful mixed diet. They have run on their legs, scratched with their claws, so their bones will be strong, muscles lean and full of flavour. And if we're to eat eggs we need to hatch chicks, and half of what we hatch will be male birds.There are loads of feral roosters in the forests around Hobart, doing untold damage to the bush by digging up young plants and disturbing the soil. And too many roosters with not enough hens is cruel to the whole flock.

So, for me it's off into the cold night to catch our dinner. I'm feeling an odd mix of emotions, the birds are beautiful, we watched them hatch and grow, but now they're beginning to fight. Killing is hard, as is plucking and gutting a creature you've raised. But I've got some bread dough rising so that we can have livers and hearts fried in sagey butter on toast after our work is done. I've got some tips on how to prepare chicken feet from a fantastic chef friend. And is it wrong that I gave them their last meal of warm mash tonight laced with loads of garlic and thyme....?


  1. Hi Paulette,

    Thanks for this post... what timing!

    We just killed and butchered a couple of our chooks two nights ago. First time. I helped with the plucking,etc., my husband did the killing - still working up to that. It was amazing to see the difference in meat on these chooks, compared to what you see in shops.I knew this in theory, but this made the knowledge solid. Mostly muscle, very lean.

    We made a chicken and seasonal vege stew and fed 18 of our friends - served with homemade bread, green tomato pickles and preserved green figs, elderberry wine and elderflower mead fizz (that we all helped to make last year).

    it was a fine feast.
    hope to get down to the market next week and say hello!

  2. Hey Bridget, that sounds like a truly amazing feast. Friends, fizz, figs...must've been great to share it with so many friends. It has become easier for me each time, but I'm still yet to kill one, the emotion of the death doesn't go away, but the practical part, the squeamishness, has eased for me. The texture and flavour are a revelation!

    Unfortunately we got sick, so our roosters got a reprieve, perhaps not so unfortunate for them.

    I just read your blog, I love your writing!

  3. A really great post Paulette. Thoughfully written. I'm working up to killing my own birds, but need to build up the flock first.

  4. Thanks Michelle, it is something we think about a lot, in Maggie Beer's words, a good life and a respectful death, is what we want for animals we eat. It sounds like you are getting eggs though, I'm hoping we'll start getting more after the solstice...I feel a bit dirty buying eggs!