It is a strange feeling to take the life of another living being. When you stand over the blood, and it keeps dripping. More and more red in color, as it flows down the white plank that leads into the bucket. Your left hand has a tight grip on the feet of the chicken, which is still wriggling frantically, and in your right hand you hold onto a head that still pulses and stares at you with a look that only a severed chicken head can have. It is an early Sunday morning in November, and 20 students are standing in line to kill chickens.
A couple of times a year, the students at the University of Gastronomic Sciences receive an invitation to participate in the slaughtering process of different animals at a nearby organic farm just outside the city of Bra. This time around, the chickens were the unlucky ones.
The interest in such a scene is probably higher here than anywhere else, but still it is a hard decision for many to be a part of this activity. We meet outside the train station, the sun is shining, and everyone is biking to the farm. The atmosphere is good. Some have been a part of this before, for others it is their first time. Some are used to the butchering of animals, having done it since they were kids, some have never seen an animal be killed.
We bike together in a big herd the few kilometers to the farm and we are welcomed by Nino, the man who, together with his wife, runs the organic farm and agriturismo. Horses, turkeys, sheep, guinea fowls, pigs, rabbits, cattle and ducks. All living care-free lives where they prance around in the big open areas dedicated for them. The chickens do not know what stands in line for them next.
Nino is a determined but smiling farmer. And you feel that this is a normal part of his life, for us it is different.
“Who wants to go first?”
Tyler, from Philadelphia vaguely raises his hand, “Me?”
The process goes as follows; when it is your turn, you walk into the fenced area where the chickens live. An area where they have at least five square meters each, if they decide not to run all together in a big flock. They also have a hen housein the middle of their enclosure, where they now are all gathered. Except for those lucky 15 chickens who managed to hide at the border of the fenced area.
Nino asks you which chicken you would like, and you point with an insecure finger to the one that you prefer. The process of catching the bird is the most difficult and Nino does the job for us with his characteristic “bent legs and big arms-technique.” He catches your chicken and hands it over.
You carry the chicken by its feet. Dangling upside down, it is carried to the butchering area. Located 3 meters from the hen house. It consists of a big funnel with a bucket placed underneath. The chicken, still upside down, is put head-first into the funnel, and you grab the bird by its neck from where it sticks out on the other side. The chicken might understand what is going to happen next, his eyes are certainly wide open. You grab the knife and you do as instructed. Cut carefully, but resolutely, along the neck of the chicken, turn the neck after the cut so that the blood will drain out. And HOLD on.
The proverb running around like a headless chicken suddenly has a lot more sense.
The spasms last for about one minute. One minute where your only task is to hold the bird you just killed with a firm grip, still with the head down in the funnel. The blood is dripping and the chicken is still wriggling.
Nino says, “OK, next one please.” And the next in line stands right behind you with his chicken held by its feet upside-down. He just witnessed his friend’s last waking moment. The end of life in an assembly line.
Now the chicken need to be plucked. You carry the animal to a big pot of boiling water, and you keep the body in the warm water for about 20 seconds. After which, it is carried to the table, and you start removing the feathers. The ambiance is better here. Ten people plucking the chickens they just killed, talking about how we should cook them.
It is very very nice to eat a chicken that taste like chicken!
The stomach is removed through a little cut in the neck, then you slide your hand into the corpus from behind, it still has body temperature. The intestine is thrown away. The heart and liver are kept. The stomach is rinsed and saved. And of course the chicken itself.
We pay 7 euro a kilo for a chicken who has lived the best life a chicken could possibly have. We put the clean chickens into our backpacks and bike together back to Bra. We agree that all in all it was a good experience. We know that we will prepare our meat with the biggest respect for the produce. We also agree that everyone who eats meat should do this once in a while. Kill your own food. It will give you a deeper understanding and greater respect for the knowledge we all SHOULD obtain. For the farmer, the animal and for yourself.
If you cannot be a part of a slaughtering. Then maybe you should not eat meat?
Photos: Yoni Nimrod