Not every day on the farm is a good day. Today was a day we had been building towards all summer. Eleven weeks ago, 30 Red Ranger Broiler chickens we ordered from Paris Farmers Union came to live on our farm for the summer. Today, they went to the butcher to be processed.
When they came to our house, they were day old chicks. We set up a small brooding box in the basement next to our chest freezer (where in a macabre twist, they would end up in weeks later). We hung the heat lamp from the rafters and put them into the box. They looked like baby chicks should. Fluffy, yellow, and full of peeps and vinegar. Our Barred Rocks had just moved out to the coop and were beginning to look like Chickens- but four weeks ago, they were nowhere near as cute as these chicks. We resolved not to play with them, after all, you don’t want to get too emotionally involved with your food. Our resolve was broken the next day when we went to feed them. They scurried back and forth over the brooding box, some were working on getting out, others came to see you, and peck at your finger. They were adorable.
We kept them in the basement for two weeks until they had feathered out and entered their awkward teenage years. Gone were the cute chicks, replaced with budding chickens. We still had thirty- and were pleased by this. We moved them out to the chicken tractors.
They have lived in the chicken tractors ever since. We have had late nights where we heard coyotes zeroing in on the orchard where they were kept. We lost one- literally- over the summer. She was there, the next day she wasn’t. There was no sign of struggle. I am fairly certain she was abducted by aliens. We watered them every day and would move them every couple of days. We got a little more attached as each day went on. One even got named (Clubber Lane- she was a lame hen with a clubbed foot- I didn’t say they had great names).
We woke up this morning at 5:00 AM (a normal weekday time for us- but on the weekend we often times sleep in until 6:00 AM). We lingered in bed a little longer than usual, neither of us excited about the day. Zuzu, the farm dog lay in bed between us staring out the window. We loaded up the farm vehicle (a 2002 Saab 9-5 Wagon with 200,000 miles- we can fit six bales of hay in the back) with the chicken crates and headed to the orchard.
We started at one chicken tractor. I crawled in on my hands and knees. Anna pushed the crate in after me. We loaded up the roosters first. I am not sure if it really mattered, but they were bigger, and although they had always been sweet to us, we have neighbors who had a mean rooster. We would open up the lid of the chicken crates and place them in one by one. Occasionally one would pop out when we opened the lid. My wife would chase it down and put it back in. It took us a total of 40 minutes between leaving the house and loading the last of the birds (Clubber Lane was the last bird to be loaded up) and coolers into the Saab. Zuzu wasn’t allowed to come outside with us for this task. She was howling in the house. It had been her job to protect them all summer, and it sounded like she was still trying to. Thirty birds came to live with us, and 29 made the trip to the processors.
The drive to Skowhegan was silent. Occasionally one would coo a little bit, but my wife and I simply stared ahead. We dropped them off, made some small talk, and made arrangements to pick the birds up later. It was a fairly somber occasion for me, and I know I will miss them, but I also know that they had a better life than any bird I can buy in a store.
When we were driving away, I noticed that my wife was wearing yoga pants. I chuckled a little bit- and asked her about them. She said they were comfortable, already dirty, and allowed for more movement. It kind of made me wish I had some yoga pants, on days like today we all need any bit of comfort that we can find.