Life and Death on the Farm

credit:  Brooke McAllister

     We killed a bully rooster at A Rocha one spring. He had attacked my daughter and an array of interns and thus became destined for the soup pot. We killed a few of his brothers as well – to make a full meal. I, city wimp and vegetarian that I am, didn’t participate in the actual killing, but joined everyone in the kitchen for the gutting and dressing.

     One of my teammates plunked a big-breasted, puckered-skinned bird on the counter in front of me. I swallowed hard and decided the best way to attack my meat queasiness was to really go on the attack. I stabbed at the bird’s abdomen and with a swift slice upward opened its innards to plain view.

     “This one’s a meaty one,” I quipped to the cook over my shoulder, feigning a butcher’s ease with the entrails that presented themselves so readily.

     “Yeah, thought we should get at least one good roaster from the day,” he said.

     “Roaster?” I queried. “You mean rooster, right?”

     “Nope,” he said, nonchalantly. “That one’s a hen. That one is Susie.”

     I froze. Susie, this bird was Susie?

     My daughters and I had bought Susie as a two-day-old chick the previous Easter and had raised her, first in our living room, then in the playhouse, until she was four months old and finally graduated to the chicken coop. Glossy black, with a speckled brown head, she was a beautiful bird. Evidently, she had been a last-minute addition to the slaughter roster.

     I fought back feelings of betrayal and the wave of nausea that suddenly washed over me as I mentally composed an A Rocha Centre memo concerning the protocol for future meat harvesting so that would-be pets might escape beloved Susie’s fate.

     Gritting my teeth and refusing to be undone by the harsh realities of farm life, I began to pull out Susie’s intestines and toss them in the garbage. Then my fingers clamped onto something hard. I pulled it out and discovered it was an egg -- a beautiful brown egg. I reached in again and pulled out another egg. This one smaller and paler. Again my hand went in and again out came an egg, still smaller and a bit paler.

     A crowd of four A Rocha butchers gathered around me. No one spoke, everyone stared. I felt like a magician pulling miracles out of a hat. In all I pulled out seven eggs that varied in size from a tiny soft white ball to a fully formed, hard, elliptical egg.

     We were, each one of us, hushed. There before us, spread across the kitchen counter, we beheld the miracle of life itself—and, by extension, the somberness of death. We had killed the goose that laid the golden egg without realizing she was full of golden eggs.

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