Updated: Mar 23, 2021
Glastonbury CND Festival 1987. Elvis Costello and Van Morrison were headlining. And in the Green Field, there was a display about animal testing, vivisection and industrial farming.
That was when I stopped eating meat. Well actually, it was around 11 am the following morning after a breakfast fry-up!
From that point, I never looked back. I'd always liked meat - particularly nice bloody, juicy steaks. But on reflection, it didn't seem worth the price. Once I'd made that decision, it was surprisingly easy to stick to it, and I never wavered.
It wasn't that I disagreed with the principle of eating meat - more that I found modern, industrial farming practices truly abhorrent. And the convenience of the pre-packed, cellophane-wrapped supermarket experience distanced us from the awful truth of how it got there. So we never even give it a second thought.
Thirty-odd years later, we have a problem. One that was always inevitable from the moment we agreed to take on the five chicks from the school hatching project.
Actually, I'm not sure I did 'agree' as such. In fact I recall a pretty firm "No!" featuring in that short conversation. However, the next day, there they were, a cardboard box with five cute, fluffy chicks inside.
It was great fun watching them grow. And they grew amazingly fast.
They were duly named according to our Star Wars convention:
Jabba the Cluck
At that point it wasn't clear how many girls we'd get from the five. But after a few weeks it was clear that the ratio was tipping the wrong way. This was a problem as apparently, boy chickens don't lay as many eggs as girls :)
The 'smallholding' thing was always something of an experiment. Part of which was to see whether we'd be able to kill and eat animals that we'd raised. For someone who hadn't eaten meat for three decades, this was a pretty big deal.
I had a feeling that phase of the experiment was looming.
Warning: In the post below, there are pictures of chicken plucking and evisceration. If this isn't your thing, please feel free to pass on by.
Fast forward a few months and Jabba the Cluck was strutting around like he owned the place.
Jabba the Cluck, patrolling the 'manor'
And then the crowing started. Awkwardly at first, in his adolescent, breaking-voice phase. And then, with more confidence. Regular as clockwork. And yes, starting at four in the morning.
The neighbours didn't complain at all - but it was probably just a matter of time. I was jumping at every crow, nervously expecting the call...
So it was time.
Some internet research led to the construction of a killing cone - made from a plastic container, cut down one side and then 'stitched' into a cone with the aid of some cable ties. The idea is the cone holds the chicken securely upside-down with the head and neck protruding underneath. This calms the bird and prevents any struggling and flapping. It also allows the blood to drain easily.
The killing cone
The deed was carried out in the evening. I separated Jabba from the rest of the flock and carried him back to the other end of the plot, well away from the others. I felt an enormous sense of responsibility - it was important to do this well. It needed to be as quick and painless as possible for Jabba. Walking back with him I was reflecting on life and death, and talking softly to him. Animals can sense your mood and I hoped this would help keep him (and myself) calm.
His legs were loosely tied together, then he was turned upside down into the cone.
Killing was performed with a firm cut of a razor sharp knife. I remember the blood being warm on my hands as it drained into the bucket. His legs kicked a bit and then he was quiet.
It has to be said, the cone did its job perfectly.
It's strange - as soon as he was dead, he was just a bit of meat.
Plucking was easy.
With the feathers removed he became 'chicken' as opposed to a chicken.
Evisceration was a cautious process - remembering everything from the YouTube videos, trying not to cut through the intestine (which would have spoiled the meat with faecal matter. But it was surprising how easily the insides came out intact.
Despite my lack of familiarity with meat products, it was easy to recognise the heart, liver, lungs.
The large, white kidney-shaped organs were puzzling at first. We hadn't seen them on the chicken evisceration videos we'd prepped on*.
Yup, you guessed it. Rooster testicles. And look at the size of them... bigger than his heart. That explains a lot. Whilst they're a delicacy in some places, I'm afraid they went in the scrap bin - which was then fed to the red kites we have around here. That's a sight in itself, seeing these impressive birds swooping down to pick up the entrails. For another time...
*Of course, the chickens in the butchering videos had been females...
The gizzard is a muscly organ in the early part of the digestive tract. Food is held along with bits of grit and gravel in a bag inside the gizzard which contracts, using the gravel to grind up the food. It's why chickens don't need teeth. The gizzard is edible - it's carefully cut open so as not to cut into the food sack. It peels apart really easily.
Cutting open the gizzard
There is room for improvement with my butchering skills. But eventually I got there. Three freezer bags marked "Jabba".
With even less experience of cooking chicken, preparation was subcontracted. The legs went in the oven with tomatoes and potatoes. The carcass made Yakhni - chicken broth made with onion, ginger, garlic, clove, cinnamon, cumin, bayleaves, and black cardamon. The offal was fried quickly in butter.