On Tuesdsay we said goodbye to the first  of this season’s roasting chickens. Most of the team had participated in homestead-scale chicken processing before but, even so, we were in largely new territory and slaughter always brings up a lot of Big Questions.

Our process is designed to be as clean, efficient, and dignified as possible. The birds are healthy and well socialized. They came into the day calm and happy, chatting away in the enclosure where they’d spent the night. They left the world with a minimum of fuss and struggle and were clean and chilled in what felt like the blink of an eye.

Throughout, before we started, while we worked, and after we were done, we talked amongst ourselves about the lives the chickens led, the costs of humane meat production and the benefits. Our chickens lived outside, truly free range, eating bugs and worms and anything else that tickled their fancy. They slept and roosted where they wanted, together or alone. They flapped around taking chickens’ characteristic short flights through the pasture. Each day we brought them water and supplemental food and grit, we expanded their space, moved their shelter and did everything we could to give them a life we would want to live. There are a lot of ways we could change this to cut costs but in reality, while it would be the chickens who would face the most immediate consequences, we would all suffer.

I’ve spent the past two months marveling at the birds in the fields – running around like little dinosaurs, chatting, fighting, snuggling with one another, excited to see me or wary of my presence. I never liked chickens before but I had never known happy chickens. Later, I marveled aloud at the birds as we weighed, packaged, and labeled them. They look so good! They don’t look exactly like the ones we may be used to from the store, especially the Freedom Rangers with their smaller breasts and impressive overall musculature, but they look good. There’s something about them and the life they lived that translates from the field to the plate and I’m thankful for that, all of it.