In this day and age of economic collapse and global warming there is a fascination with where our food has come from, how it’s been grown or raised and how it was transported to our local shop. But how many of us know just what it takes to provide for their family? It’s all well and good knowing the difference between the kinds of eggs you can buy or the carbon footprint for pineapples shipped with or without their crown is. It’s another thing to see just what it takes to get food from its origin to your table.
As an experiment to help our kids understand just what it takes to put food on our table we acquired two hens from a friend. We had intended on letting the kids take part in looking after them and collecting the eggs but we also picked up a few fertilized eggs and an incubator to let them get the connection between the egg and the adult chicken and everything that comes along with it.
Our incubator was an inexpensive model and so we lacked many of the bells and whistles that really help with increased hatching rates. From 14+ eggs placed in the incubator I think we ended up with 5 healthy chicks. When we first placed the eggs inside we explained to the kids that each egg might turn into a baby chicken if we gave them enough heat and time. Our youngest son thought it was just like baking a cake. Telling them that they ‘might’ turn into chicks made it slightly easier to deal with the low success rate as they were more amazed with the little balls of fluff running around the brooder than in the untouched eggs still sitting in the incubator.
Since we started this experiment we’ve come to love having the chickens running around our garden. So much so that we’ve actually increased the number of hens that we have and have also raised some cockerels and turkeys for the table. Keeping poultry for meat was a very different experience. Unlike our hens the meat birds took over the run that we had built and were only allowed to range around our garden in the evening to allow us to give them a different diet. Once they had matured enough they were dispatched and prepared for the table. This was the part I really thought the kids would have a problem with because I know I did.
I’m a geek that has lived with computers for the best part of the last three decades. I live in Scotland’s largest town which is less than eight miles from it’s biggest city. Apart from some worms I used when I went sea fishing one summer as a child I’d never purposely killed a living thing in my life let alone eaten what I had killed. I have huge supermarkets within easy reach and my towns best butcher less than a 5 minute walk from my front door. Why would I ever need to do this never mind want to do it?
That last paragraph is actually the answer to the question. Other than seeing them on TV and occasionally at the local country park my knowledge of poultry was sadly lacking. Without knowing exactly what goes into the food I eat I cannot judge or comment on how others produce it.
When it came the time to kill and prepare our first chicken for the table I was nervous. I’d had to cull a poorly hen not long before this but with it being my first time I found the method of doing so both difficult and harrowing. I tried a different method for the table bird due to it’s size but we’ve since invested in a dispatcher which is far quicker and humane for the birds. I didn’t want the kids to see me kill the first one in case I messed it up but I was very curious to see how they would react to the gutting and preparing. Our eldest thought it was gross but cool and procceded to play on his trampoline with his friends but our youngest son, who was barely two at this point was fascinated with it. Here was food you grew in the garden and cooked yourself. He didn’t care for the ins and outs of the gutting but he really got the connection between the birds running around our garden and the chicken we put on his plate at night.
When we wander around the supermarkets now he still asks whether the meat we pick up was allowed to run around someones back garden and have fun before it ended up in the supermarket or whether it was locked in it’s room and not allowed to play. He knows the difference between battery hen eggs and free range eggs and can taste the difference as well. These are all things I never had a clue about whilst I was growing up and I’m so glad I can give my family that experience.