So tonight we are having Tiger for dinner. Not the stripey, four legged kind but a rooster called Tiger that until yesterday was scratching about in our yard with the rest of the flock. This is a big step for us. When we first decided to get a few hens we had no real intention to eat any of them. We're city folk after all. Our flock was only ever going to be small, they would be pets as much as egg producers and we were not planning on getting a rooster. Then things changed.
Little by little we became more farmer-y. First there was the family of gumboots at the back door - essential footwear when your chickens free-range and the whole backyard is their toilet. It just didn't occur to us city slickers that our romantic idea of free-ranging chickens happily clucking about in the yard would mean an awful lot of stinky, slippery poo. Then there was the dog attack and subsequent maggot removing from the wound using tweezers. Then various night-time treatments (you have to do it at night because they are sleepy in their coop and easy to catch) such as worming and de-lousing of their legs. The de-lousing is 'fun'; you grab the chook and dunk her legs in a container of cold vegetable oil every night for about a week. Not to mention the trudging outside every morning and every evening, rain, hail or freezing frost to let them out and shut them back in.
Of course now that Greg has built our fancy solar-powered-automatic-chicken-house-door-opener-and-closer, that part at least is no longer necessary.
Then we bought three hens from a local chicken breeder and one day one of them crowed. So Patrick joined us and even though we hadn't planned on him, we love him. Roosters are pompous and flashy, arrogant and brave. But Patrick also does lovely things like steadfastly refuses to eat a tasty grub he finds and will call and call his hens with the sweetest, soft little clucks till they come and gobble it up at his feet. Sure it looks a lot like rape when he jumps on them multiple times throughout the day, grabs their necks and squashes them but we must not project too much.
And once you have a rooster, you just might get some chicks. So when Tina went broody, Greg built her a little house in a day and we let her sit, sit, sit.
Three beautiful fluffy babies later and we were delighted. Of course if you breed your own chooks you can't decide what you'll get and sure enough after a few weeks it soon became apparent that we had two roosters and only one hen in our little brood. Malcolm as it turned out, chose his own fate and flew over the back fence into the jaws of the dogs that lived there. Poor Malcolm ended up in our neighbor's rubbish bin. We never saw the body. But Tiger just kept getting bigger and flashier...and a problem that needed to be solved. The bigger and more rooster-y he got the more Patrick and even the other hens started to take notice of him. It seems chickens will not tolerate more than one rooster and life was getting hard for Tiger. It's rough out there in chicken-land. Tiger was a nice looking bloke and he tried hard to do the grub-sharing thing but nobody cared.
So the decision was made. We asked around, and nobody needed a rooster. So what do you do? You do what farmers do and you eat the spare roosters. We have a friend who is an experienced 'chicken processor' and he offered to help. It was decided that Sunday would be the day.
We chose not to tell the kids the whole truth of Tiger's fate. They don't know he's not coming back from Craig's house and they won't know it's Tiger we are eating tonight. We will tell them eventually, just not right now.
Greg did the deed. His friend talked him through it and they assure me it was quick and efficient. I know some people do this sort of thing all the time but it's all very new for us. Greg was keen to learn and said he felt fine doing it. I'm ok too. I actually feel pretty good about the process. I didn't feel squeamish or sad as I carved up the carcass for tonight's soup, and I think I'll be fine eating it. The meat looked good and the fat was lovely and yellow from a healthy diet full of grass and grain. For the first time ever I will be eating something that I know, absolutely, had a good life, the best life a chicken could want, and that it's death was quick.
So thanks Tiger, tonight we will toast you.