Saying Goodbye to some of our Feathered Friends

I don’t know where to start. I want to tell you my side of the story but I know some of you will read this with preconceived bias, you’ll be judgmental and maybe even rude… I beg of you to please just listen to what I have to say for a few minutes and be open minded…. (I promise it’s not something you will regret reading)

When I began as a Real Food Blogger, I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep the fact that we raise our own chickens & turkeys a secret… And up until this point, everything I’ve shared with you has been unicorns and rainbows.

“We have chickens, they lay eggs, look how pretty they are!”

“Turkey Poults have arrived! Look how cute they are!!”

Well, there’s a dark side to all of those colorful eggs, handsome roosters, and lovable turkey poults. It’s called saying goodbye.

Today I’m facing one of my biggest fears as a blogger, sharing the honest-to-god truth of what we do and why we do it. I’m putting myself “out there” in a very vulnerable way. I didn’t grow up on a farm. This isn’t something “normal” for me.  Our dog sleeps in our bed with us, he licks our faces and our plates. We have 2 cats that live in our house, sleep on our laps and scratch the furniture… I’m an animal lover, pet owner and am just like you. We just also raise our own poultry.

I know to those of you who choose to not eat meat for ethical reasons and those of you whom are far removed from where your food comes from, this is something you may think is barbaric and cruel. I assure you it is not. No cruelness occurs, nothing is barbaric or unkind. Those ideas can’t be further from the truth.

Now, I want you to understand… because I can so plainly tell you about the birds we’re saying goodbye to today, doesn’t mean that it’s not without a very heavy heart. Ray and I decided initially to raise our own chickens so that we had a reliable supply of healthy eggs. Chickens only lay eggs consistently for a few years then you’re basically keeping them as pets and that wasn’t something we had space, time and money for…. through the years we’ve transitioned to a place where we were ready to be completely chicken-self sufficient. These chickens will provide us meat for an entire year (along with a few more goodbyes in November).

Sometimes saying goodbye is planned and sometimes it’s not. Neither way is any easier than the other. This past year we have been plagued with goodbyes, more than all the years we’ve raised poultry combined. Hawk attacks, 50 chicks lost in the mail, turkey poults dying, chicks pecking each other, chickens hurt by rooster spurs and our favorite/only “pet” chicken going missing… There were days that were filled with such heart break and sadness, the kind that you can’t control, the kind that made us seriously rethink what we are doing.

But alas, the sun continues to rise. We’re blessed with more chickens right now than I can even try to count, somewhere around 100 and 8 of the cutest turkeys. But today we’ll have to say goodbye to a couple old friends and 50 freedom rangers.

I love roosters and I enjoy having them in our flock, however sometimes it’s too much for the hens. Amongst our laying hens we currently have 4 adult roosters and we can’t continue to keep that many in the long run…. 2 must go for the safety and happiness of our hens 🙁

And this year is the first time we’ve raised exclusively “meat” chickens. Freedom Rangers grow slower than typical production birds, yet faster than old fashioned heritage breed chickens. Your typical production bird is a cornish cross hybrid that matures in 6-7 weeks, where as a heritage breed chicken matures in about 18-20 weeks.. I’m sure you can imagine there is a huge difference in the feed cost to raise the 2.. and understand why the fast growing breed is desirable for farmers’ bottom line. However fast growing production birds are not without problems, they tend to have leg issues since their bodies grow so fast with unnatural breast size.. and in most cases these birds if left to live after the 6-7 weeks will just die 🙁

Freedom rangers are generally regarded as an in-between of the 2 types of chickens. Our experience with them so far has been pleasant. They are friendly, fat, lazy birds. All chickens are constantly looking for food, but these birds are pre-programed to eat, eat, eat…. I call them the Friendly Rangers and Lazy Rangers, at just over 11 weeks old the roosters are larger than any other chicken we have (our biggest weighing about 8.5 pounds live weight!) and just as lovable.

We raise each and every chicken/turkey with true love and kindness. We hug and kiss them. We cuddle and carry them around. They come to us for treats and eat out of our hands, they come when we call them.

Go ahead and ask, everyone does…..”How can you do THAT, eating your own chickens?”

Here is my reply…. “More importantly how can you do what you do? Who raises the chicken you eat? How is it treated? Are you giving money to farmers/corporations when buying chicken from the grocery store that’s lead a life of sadness, illness and abuse?  That’s much more troubling than loving a chicken that ends up on my dinner table. I am not the problem”

These 50 Freedom Rangers  we are saying goodbye to today, we’ve PROUDLY raised with love. I know that every day they have been here with us, we’ve done all that we can to ensure their health and happiness. They were in the grass, with sunshine, and fresh water… they had a secure and safe house and enjoyed life just as a chicken should. Just because an animal is being raised for food, does not mean that they don’t deserve to be loved. I tend to think of these birds in terms of karma, the way we raise them and the nourishment they provide for us, I want it all to include love and compassion. When your food comes from unhappy and unhealthy animals don’t you think it can effect you??

I will shoulder the burden. I will take the pain of looking a chicken in the eyes and saying goodbye so that they don’t have to live a life of pain and suffering at the hands of a corporations bottom line. I am strong and these animals deserve someone’s love and respect, no matter what. We’ve become so far detached from the reality of our food, children today have no concept of how fruits and vegetables grow or that chicken “nugget” isn’t actual part of a chicken.

If I am going to eat meat, I must know that the animal was raised appropriately. 

This morning, maybe right now as you are reading this, I’m saying my final goodbyes. It’s a routine we’ve followed for years and today is no exception. It always starts with a shot of whiskey to calm our nerves, though it’s never enough.

I carry each bird in my arms while walking from the chicken coop to the garage, all the while kissing it on the head and telling it how appreciative I am for everything it’s providing for us. I tell each one how much we love them and that we’ve done the best we could.. and not to be scared.. I cry and cry and cry. Until I hand each one off to my husband who’s got the toughest job of them all today. It is as quick and painless as possible.

As I return to the coop for another bird and repeat my routine for each and every bird we’ve lovingly raised until the coop is empty.

Today will be a lot of hard work. We do everything ourselves, here at home (our friend Phil helps!! Thank you Phil!) When the birds are plucked they are back to being my responsibility… dressing the bird isn’t nearly as bad as the walk from the coop to the house, I can assure you.

If you want to say harsh and mean things to me because of what we do, that’s up to you. But again, I beg of you to really understand what we’ve set out to accomplish and respect how much love we give to our animals. Respect the burden we’re shouldering.

When we sit down to eat one of the chickens we’ve raised we know the sacrifice that had to be made… the chicken that’s on our table didn’t just come from the store, it wasn’t on “sale”… there aren’t any question marks around how it was raised. We will smile and be proud that we did it the right way and have no regrets.

 … Want to know what we did with 55 chickens?? Click HERE… 

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  1. Thanks for sharing this very touching, thoughtful blog. I feel the love and respect you have for your chickens. It’s too bad that more chickens than not will never have this kind of treatment. It’s horrifying to hear what goes in in most commercial chicken operations.
    I quit eating some “fast food” chicken when word came out how the workers at a supplier tortured the chickens, kicking & slamming them into walls, etc. It makes me sick to think of the monsters that could do this.
    I am truly enriched by reading your heartfelt thoughts. Thanks again for sharing this.

  2. Much love to you and your family. I aspire to do the same, in raising my own chickens for meat. It takes a strong person, good job for doing your part in fighting corporate greed and animal abuse!! <3

  3. I really respect what you are doing. I’m in tears reading this post. Thank you for being brave enough to write it.

  4. Wow… This was certainly the most heartfelt homesteading post I’ve ever read. I loved you, you were honest and loving.. And I think it takes a certain strength to love a creature that much knowing what its fate will be. When my animals die I don’t allow myself to be sad, I steel myself and joke around. I detach my emotions and never think of the animals feelings, I can’t or I could never stand it. I love how you embrace the sadness and love and respect your animals until the end.
    The first chickens I had ended very badly. My mother surprised me with chicks one day, knowing I wanted them for so long. I didn’t want to name them, I wanted them to be food producers, not pets. But she named one and in a couple of hours my boyfriend and I had set up their new brooder/cage and they all had names and had each been throughly cuddled and kissed. After we had triple checked that they had enough food and water, we went back inside and left them in the garage. When my dad came home an few hours later he came into my room and questioned up on the empty cage. It couldn’t be empty, it couldn’t be. But there were our dogs, lurking around the garage looking guilty and a broken, bloodstained cage right in the middle. I wanted to cry and scream and beat the dogs senseless. Instead I laughed and said “we gotta buy more before mom wakes up”
    So we sped to the feed store and bought four more chicks. She never found out, to this day she still doesn’t know. After the new chicks were freshly caged and given their food and water and of course kept away from the dogs, I allowed myself to lose it. Before then I had laughed and made jokes about how the chicken carrier had looked like a KFC box. But after my door shut and it was just my boyfriend and I.. I totally lost it. I cried and cried and cried, I cried for their little lives that they never got to live because of my carelessness. I should have shut the door tighter, I should have gotten a stronger cage, I should have checked on them again. I cried until I couldn’t anymore and he cried right along with me. I was so ashamed afterwords. I was tougher than this and things die every day. I didn’t cry when my pets died, didn’t cry for my dead grandmother.. For some reason I can’t show emotional Openness to anyone but him. I don’t have the strength to accept them and let my emotions take me, I have to bottle them. I respect you so much for what you can do. Thank you

    1. Nina – It’s totally ok to love all animals and I think it’s awesome that those little chicks meant something so big to you that they brought out such emotion. I appreciate your kind words 🙂 ~~Hayley

  5. Oh goodness, my heart just aches when I read your post. You have NOTHING to apologize for. What you are doing is right and humane and something I truly admire!!! I will admit that we buy our chicken from the grocery store. Granted it is organic humanely raised chicken but I would much rather raise them ourselves. We do not have the room and resources however, but I would prefer it. Yes it would be difficult to say goodbye but that is part of God’s plan for us. I love that you use every part of the chicken and let none go to waste. God bless you both!!

  6. I am a vegan, and I believe that eating any animal is wrong. HOWEVER, I 1000% (that’s not an extra zero, I meant a thousand) percent think what you are doing is wonderful. I always tell people that if they couldn’t kill it themselves that they shouldn’t eat it, and I tell people that if they want to eat meat, they should raise it themselves or make friends with a local farmer. There are not enough meat eaters in the world that hold the life of their food to such high standards. I’m sure, “It’s going to die anyway” has never been in your vocabulary. Thank you for not contributing to the nightmare food system, and giving your chickens that love that 36 billion animals a year never receive.

  7. What an incredibly moving and inspiring piece. If only all animals could have such a life, and such an exit. It’s interesting that these days most humans die with far more suffering than your chickens, because most humans are dying from painful chronic disease. If a life should not be judged on its length, but on its quality, your chickens truly have an ideal – a blessed – life. Thank you for sharing your experience. I’ll certainly be referring to this post in the future if I ever find myself in your position… which I do hope, one day, I have the strength to. : ) Much love.

  8. Thank you so much for your beautiful words. I read this peace and cried, not because I am able to relate to your experience but because I am humbled by it and by your grace. Continue loving your chickens and they will continue serving their purpose for you. If only more people felt the same as you, we would respect more of what is on our plate- where it comes from and how it gets there. Kudos to you.

    1. Thank you Jamie.. You got my intention. I just want people to understand “It” can be done differently.

  9. Last month we butchered out our first chickens ever. I wrote about it, in detail, on my own blog. I hope that more people can see that it is a responsibility worth taking. In trade for good food, great care, and the chance to be a chicken they reward us with safe, healthy meat.
    Kudos to you for sharing with the world.

  10. I found this site to read about your coconut lotion and your writing is so beautifully real that I continued to read. This post was very informative and moving. I am a city girl and really appreciate when I have that other perspective.
    I have so much respect for what you and your family do and I think more of us need to think this way.

  11. Thank you, Thank you, thank you for sharing this journey. We here a the Rupp City Farm are newbies at raising backyard chickens. We have 14 layers, and only 6 fryers at this time as it has all been an experiment. We to have lost at least 25-30 birds to all kinds of crazy.
    This really puts it in perspective for me when the time comes for them to move on to their higher good.

  12. I’m a vegan for animal reasons so therefore although I don’t buy into the notion of “humane” meat I do somewhat have respect for your decision. I’m sorry that I can only muster a somewhat, but I certainly agree that if you were going to eat chicken anyways this would definitely be the best route, that the quality of life certainly matters. Although I don’t agree with eating animals, I can tell you sound like a loving person doing the best they can and that this process is difficult for you, for that I respect you; I just see things differently. It’s not just the killing I don’t agree with it’s keeping the chickens in the first place; I think the egg laying industry is inherently cruel, starting with the male chicks that are killed at birth and even the ones you mentioned that died in the mail; as well as the chickens life span exceeding their egg laying capabilities making their chances of dying a natural death not a sustainable option. I don’t know if it’s any solace to you or not but you should take comfort that most people do a lot worse; from the folks that buy chickens at the store letting someone else do their dirty work to the people that run factory farms and egg laying operations; the chickens almost suffer the most; or at the very least suffer in the greatest numbers. I wouldn’t judge you, we just happen to see things differently. As long as your peace at with your decision you shouldn’t beat yourself up too much; it’s nice that you acknowledge the chickens life and thank them.
    Peace to you and your family.

    1. the 50 chicks that were lost for 3 days did arrive, all healthy!! and just so you know.. at our house roosters aren’t killed as chicks they do get to grow up until maturity too 🙂 Thanks for commenting, I respect your side as well, you’re right we just aren’t on the same side.. but I sincerely appreciate that you can see where i’m coming from!!

  13. I do not believe we need to kill for us to live .No hate from me,i am a vegan and I am proud of that, and hope you check out animal rights site,it has changed my outlook on life.Best Wishes

  14. I am amazed and was rivited by your blog. My sister lives on a farm, we have gotten fresh eggs from their chickens and they have sent cattle to be slaughtered, which we have helped wrap and eaten. I have always thought this is how everyone once lived so I see nothing wrong with it at all. God put animals on the earth as a resource. I don’t know if I could allow myself to have any emotional attachment at all to animals I knew would be in my freezer or plate at some point, however I love the idea of having fresh meat and vegetables that one grows or cultivates and harvests themselves for the very reasons you state. I hate the thought of those chicken farms we hear of on the news mistreating the animals, how ruthless and inhumane. I would love to buy chicken or any fresh, local food at the Farmers Market and intend to come there soon. I hope to see you there and shake your hand. I also plan to follow your website, blog, FB site, whatever else you submit because I think you’re doing things right and I commend you. Keep up the excellent work and may everyone have an open mind on this topic.

  15. Thanks again for such a well written conscientious post. Processing your own chickens is difficult (my hands shake all day), but doing it humanely and with care is so important. You described my emotions so well in your post. I’d love to read more about how you package them.

  16. This was a beautiful post and I can only imagine how hard it was to write not to mention the actual doing. You are brave and you are strong, that is what our country was founded on and by. Sometimes we forget, doing what’s right and what’s best isn’t always easy or pretty. Thank you.

  17. I too am an animal lover with a quest to eat healthy real food and I can honestly say that I wish I had the courage (not to mention the land) 🙂 to do what you both do. Stay strong and true!

  18. I wish I could do what your family does, we don’t have the space (although we are trying to buy the greenbelt behind our house) but I would really like to have a few chickens for eggs and also for meat when the time comes. I do not think poorly of you at all and more power to you and your family for taking complete control of your food sources! Take care and God Bless!

  19. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s the same way with cows and pigs, it not only helps us but the others around us. at least you can say you done your part in raising the chickens like they should and providing good healthy meat should only matter, you’re doing a good thing and keep up the good work, dont let anyone talk you down, your a good provider!

  20. Wow, I take my hat off to you for doing what you do. I could not look them in the eyes, nor could I carry them out off the chicken coop. So thank you for being the strong person that you are and being so sweet and kind to your beautiful chickens. Xxx

  21. Kuddos to you for writing this. You have some very valid points-knowing where your chicken comes from and that the chicken was raised with love and kindness. Thank you for sharing.

  22. The first thing I want to say is how happy and amazed I am for your ability to express yourself and describe your relationship and appreciation for your animals. I have tremendous respect for you and am so glad I found your post on facebook. I will share what you have shared because I feel we have the same beliefs. I too am a chicken raiser. I have 52 chickens right now and love everyone. My chickens range from 8 weeks old to 14 months old. Respect, love, and appreciation should be given to all food we consume whether plant or animal. Thank you for sharing your heart openly.

  23. Thank you for sharing this. Right now I live in the suburbs but long to live somewhere that I can raise chickens for eggs and meat, and maybe even have a steer for meat. I have had the same question asked, how would I be able to do that? My answer is simple, you take good care and love to nourish the animal and then animal in return takes good care and nourishes you. Not that it wouldn’t be sad, but really, this is the natural order of things.

  24. I just want to say I love you. You are doing what I am too chicken (pun semi intended) to do. I wish I had your courage, heart, and soul. I am so happy your chickens led happy loving lives, and that they are able to repay you with healthy, nourishing meat. If anyone comes along after me and says mean things, just remember my post; I love, admire, and respect you for being able to do this. You will be my highly regarded example of the life I aspire to lead. Mary~

  25. I appreciate all the emotions you put into this post. We are just starting raising our own chickens for eggs. I didn’t realize how much more you think about the quality of what you use until you actually raise them yourselves. When I crack an egg I just think how I had just been out to the coop to gather it the day before. We are hoping to raise some birds for meat next year. My husband remembers doing it when he was younger with his family, as for me, NO CLUE. If it isn’t too hard I was wondering if you could do a post on how you dress and store your chickens in the freezer. Thanks!

    1. Beth.. I’m going to post on how we package them.. and I have some things to share about processing too (that’s not to scary)

  26. You poor thing. No hate from me, no bad thoughts. We raise poultry for a reason. We do not talk about it but we do. Eggs and meat. I raise Gold Comets and Orpingtons…dual purpose.
    I send you a hug as I understand this is not easy for you nor will it be for me the day I am in your position.

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