Vacation Tales to Tell: The Chicken Whisperer
My father-in-law has a 300 acre ranch in a little town in eastern Washington. On it, he raises a small herd of beef cattle (Limousins, for those into cattle breeds), cares for two older horses that the grandkids can ride, and trains his younger border collie with a herd of three sheep. He also raises chickens each year for their meat.
While we were visiting, it was time to butcher the Cornish crosses he'd tended. Chicken butchering takes a certain amount of team work. My father-in-law was designated executioner and initial plucker, my mother-in-law was the pin feather puller and carcass cleaner, while I ran cleaned birds up to the house where they were to soak for a bit before being bagged and frozen.
My oldest daughter was assigned the task of chicken catcher. Her job was to go into the coop and bring a bird out to my father-in-law. He prefers the chickens to be in a more relaxed state of mind and instructed my daughter on how to catch them without putting the targeted bird or its brethren into a panic. If you know chickens, you know they are frantic birds to begin with. No one wants to deal with a coop-full of freaked out fowl.
She'd snatch up the chicken and hold it against her, speaking softly and stroking it before handing it to her grandfather. The sedate bird met its fate with an almost serene and Zen-like demeanor. Though the blank expression on its beaky face could have been due to the fact its brain is smaller than a grape. But in any case, my daughter's manner of capture earned her the title of Chicken Whisperer.
I was somewhat surprised that she was willing to be part of the butchering at all. She loves animals, and it breaks her heart to see any hurt. On the other hand, she has an analytical mind that often works out her fears, worries and confusions with the nearly voracious digestion of facts and data. She understands that food, particularly meat, doesn't arrive at the grocery store in a cellophane-wrapped package. And while I didn't want her completely grossed out by the butchering process, I felt it was important that she understand where her meals come from and why we have farms and ranches. During the process, I wondered if she would go vegetarian. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's just that our family isn't and I'd have to make adjustments. So far, she's been willing to eat meat with as much enthusiasm as before.
I give her a lot of credit for her willingness to understand what it takes to put the food we enjoy on the table. And for making the last moments of the chickens' lives just a little more pleasant.
The Chicken Whisperer. Surely there's a Disney movie in that somewhere.