Facebook's "On This Day" featured informed me today that two years ago today, we had our first births here on our mini-farm. Our female rabbit, Juliet, gave birth to 11 kits.
Last year on Father's Day weekend, we had our first home-grown hatchlings. The eggs were laid by a collection of hens, three hens sat, and one hen took the two successfully hatched chicks and raised them.
This year, I may have gone a bit overboard. I ordered 25 chicks from Murray McMurray Hatchery. Fifteen are meat birds (Red Rangers) and ten are hens of varying sorts. I also received one free exotic breed chick with my order (I'm going to guess it will be a rooster). I also ordered an incubator. I put 12 eggs in the incubator. As of this moment, four eggs have hatched. One was not fertilized and never developed. There are seven still in the incubator, but no further signs of life. Given that I had some trouble with the humidity sensor, I'm pretty pleased with the outcome. Now I have one broody hen (the one that raised the chicks last year) sitting on a clutch of about eight eggs.
Whew! That's a lot of chicks. And let me tell you, they are super cute. So were the wee little bunnies, once they got some fur on them. And I am deeply invested in these little fluff balls. I am sad when we lose a chick, and I was really stressed out that I accidentally opened the incubator while one of them was trying to hatch (drops in humidity are dangerous). One got wet yesterday and I carried it around for awhile in a washcloth to dry it off (I lack a hair dryer). I check on them frequently. I love having these little baby birds.
So then they grow up. And I eat them. Just like I did the rabbits. A lot of people say they couldn't eat food that they raised themselves because they get too attached. I do understand that point of view. I have made the occasional emotional decision. Our former rooster, Ned Stark, was supposed to go to the chopping block with 12 other roosters, but was switched out at the last minute because I'd bonded with him when the other roosters were picking on him. On the other hand, when he attacked my kid...I had no problems putting him in chicken and dumplings.
How do I reconcile this?
Well, I think it's really helpful to know from the beginning that these animals are food and not pets. For the most part, we don't name the food. Our breeding rabbits get names, but their offspring do not. We occasionally name a hen. But we pick tragic names, like characters from Game of Thrones or Shakespearean tragedies. Just as a reminder.
My goal is to be a good caretaker and give my animals a good life. When it comes down to it, I got into this hobby because I wanted to know that the meat I eat comes from a well cared for animal. I've gone through a vegetarian phase or two in my life. It was never because I thought killing an animal was cruel. It was because I thought that the way commercial livestock production works in this country was cruel. Even buying organic, grass-fed ground beef at the store isn't a guarantee of quality of life. I much prefer to buy food from local farms where I can meet the animals. But that's an economic privilege. I can't do it for all of our meat. So, we got into raising meat ourselves.
My birds aren't free-range, because my small flock can't withstand the number of predators. But they have a spacious run, a nice coop, and plenty of food and water. They get to be chickens. We are working on plans to let them have some time in the garden during some parts of the year. Our meat birds and rabbits are pastured on grass.
When it's time for my animals to go, it's quick. It's outside. The time in which they are afraid is as short as we can make it. We try to use as much of the animal as we can. And I get to feel connected to my food.