I had to cull one of my chickens this morning.....

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Well the bad legged chicken was having a hard time getting around and I thought it the most humane thing to put the thing out of its misery. It was 3.5 weeks old.

So this morning I killed it. It was my first time I have ever killed a chicken. Since I eventually plan on butchering my chickens I took the opportunity to exam and dissect the chicken so I have a better idea of what I'll be doing in another 3 to 6 weeks.

My 5 year old son wanted to watch and though he said he would be upset he knew that it was one of the eating chicken anyway. He didn't seem upset when I killed it and was quite curious about looking at the various chicken parts. He also wanted to know if we could cook it up for him to eat - I didn't because it was too small to really bother with.

I've already caught some flack off my parents who think it was inappropriate to let my son witness this. For those who butcher chickens and have children, do you let your children watch? At what age do you think it is appropriate? Does it depends on the child and their level of maturity? Does it depend on your attitude when you actually do the deed?

I would never let my child watch if I thought it would upset them and they couldn't handle it. Also, it was done as matter of factly as possible and my son knew what to expect. We eat chicken all the time and we've discussed the fact that the chicken he was eating was once a living creature. That although we eat chickens we need to treat them respectfully and take care of them until their time comes. Enjoy and appreciate our chicken dinner and not waste it. Does all of that make sense?

Thanks for any input.


-- anita (anitaholton@mindspring.com), September 16, 2001


I think your attitude is sensible. I've spoken to this subject before - I believe the child, the family, and society are better served if children know what death is, and don't grow up believing that life after death is just a matter of reloading from the last save. Be a lot less chance of Columbines if everyone knew that death is a part of life, and had a real appreciation of what it involves.

-- Don Armstrong (darmst@yahoo.com.au), September 16, 2001.

Anita,-I have two children, a son 10years old, a daughter 7 years old. We started with chickens two years ago, a joint venture between us and my husbands parents, having several hands, we buthered two- four chickens a week during most of the summer. The children didn't, as far as I know watch the actual killing-mostly because the killing area was very small and we didn't want them in the way. I say "as far as I know-generally my husband killed the birds and I would sharpen knives and prepare the kitchen. My children did certainly see me traipsing through the yard with headless, sometimes still flopping chickens-they watched us pluck and gut the birds. It did not seem to bother them, Both of them fish, and have witnessed the cleaning and gutting of fish with no problems. My children are kind-hearted loving children who cry over squished frogs in the driveway and, a beloved pet that had to be put down becuase of illness-no, we did not let them watch that! But we talk to them about livestock, and the difference between animals for food, and animals for pets. We don't give livestock names and while we take good care of them we don't make pets out of something we might eat. We are eating less and less meat as a family for all sorts of health, economic etc reasons, but the kids and I are careful not to waste food-especially meat-knowing what is invovled in getting it to the table. I hope this helps some.

-- kelly (markelly@scrtc.com), September 16, 2001.

I have two girls, ages 11 and 4, and they both help with the butchering of chickens and rabbits. (The 4 year old helps by keeping the cats away.) They understand that when they eat meat, they are eating an animal, and the animal has to die and the meat has to be cleaned before it can be cooked. My 11 year old knows more about anatomy (from helping me clean rabbits) than most adults do!

When my oldest was just 4 years old, we lived in the city. She said one evening that she thought it was terrible that people hurt animals and that anyone who killed an animal was a very bad person. She happened to be eating a hamburger at the time! I explained to her that hamburger was made from cows, and that someone had to kill the cow in order for her to be enjoying that hamburger. She looked at the hamburger and thought for a moment, then took another bite and said, "It's a good cow!"

Since then, she has learned that it certainly is not okay to hurt animals. We take very good care of all our animals. And when it's time for them to be butchered, we are very careful to make sure that it is done very quickly and humanely. And that yes, cows sure do taste good!

-- Cheryl in KS (cherylmccoy@rocketmail.com), September 16, 2001.

All of our kids have "helped" in preparing animals for the freezer. Our youngest was 3 (Boy, was that a long time ago!) when she helped with the rabbits. Her curiosity was incredible, as I had to explain every single "innard" to her, especially those we saved. My theory is the younger, the better. It is never a bad idea to introduce children to the real world. Do the "older folks" want to shield your kids from other realities as well? There was no World Trade Center happening. Nobody died there, and nobody ever dies. Don't wear your seatbelt, because there are no car accidents. The yellow brick road is reality? DO NOT give into these insane protectionists! Your kids will have to make their way through the real world. To pretend that they can make their way through a lovey-dovey fantasy world will only make them unable to compete and survive. GL!

-- Brad (homefixer@SacoRiver.net), September 16, 2001.

As a child, I watched the chickens having their heads chopped off (albeit sometimes from behind a parents pant leg) and helped to pluck --we watched the cleaning/butchering. I don't remember being damaged. In fact, I learned quite a bit about anatomy. We were very excited about finding eggs without shells (which we roasted within the chicken) and we fought over who would get to eat the egg! I say-- don't force it an don't let someone else impose their values/feelings on your family. You know your kids best. If it were so bad--how on earth did our grandparents feed their children? Just because most people these days have no idea what it takes to produce their food doesn't mean they should be telling other people to raise their children likewise.

-- Ann Markson (tngreenacres@hotmail.com), September 16, 2001.

Anita, we processed a bunch of cornish hens the last two weeks and tho the kids did not actually see the beheading of the chickens they got to watch with the skinning. Oldest kid is 7 yrs. old. It didn't seem to bother them one bit. The whole time that we had them we kept telling the kids that when the chickens get a little bigger we are going to kill and eat them. So I guess when it came time they had already accepted the fate of the chickens.

This morning we stuck our first batch in the brinkman smoker and then went to church. When we came back they were ready for eating. We enjoyed them so much that their was not one word said about where they came from.

-- r.h. in okla. (rhays@sstelco.com), September 16, 2001.

Greetings Anita,

It sounds like your family is handling this well. You know your children and what each is able to understand, so don't worry about others' opinions. Did THEY offer to help or even watch? Perhaps they are the ones who wouldn't be able to deal with it.

We do not have children, but we have a favorite niece that often spent the weekends with us. When she was about 10, she and one of her girlfriends (city kid) stayed with us and enjoyed gathering eggs. I think they went into the coop every hour to collect them. We had been planning on culling a nasty rooster soon, but that weekend he decided to attack the girls, so the time was right. Normally, I would let my niece watch, but I didn't want her friend to be upset or report to her parents that we were killing animals, so I felt it best to send them into the house. That was about 8 years ago and they still talk about the fun they had at our farm.

-- Charleen in WNY (harperhill@eznet.net), September 17, 2001.

I let my (almost) 6 year old son watch us cull a rooster--and gave a thorough explanation of why, along with a lesson of pointing out parts on a live bird (drumstick, breast, thigh). He knows we'll be getting eggs (This was 8 weeks ago, we're getting eggs now :)
He was able to eat the chicken, even if my wife won't--he was taught since we got them, that they are food, not pets, but we still treat them well, and thank the goddess for the food when we slaughter it. ALl in all, it turned out positively--so cheers to you for showing your children!

-- Brendan K Callahan (Grinnell, IA) (sleeping@iowatelecom.net), September 17, 2001.

Anita, What an interesting question? My mother was raised on a farm so she never thought about protecting us kids from the cruel realites of life or death. I do remember crying outside of the garage while my older brother butchered rabbits, but I ate the rabbit(fried rabbit was always a favorite). I have a picture of my 2 youngest sons(ages 4 and 5) plucking a chicken, the expressions on their faces tell you it was not a fun job for them. I don't think it ever bothered them very much and they still like my fried chicken. I was taught that all animals and poultry under my care must be treated well, fed well, protected from predators, and the elements. I do my best to do just that and have taught my children and grandchildren the same thing.

-- Karen in Kansas (kansasgoats@iwon.com), September 17, 2001.

Anita I think you did the right thing. Jesus tells us that those animals are sent to us to eat and to engage. Look I butcher my chickens, rabbits and even sheep which I did last week, and I have my daughter 16 years old, and she did learn how to butcher chickens from me last year. She even put her boots on and put down the sheep for me last week and I butchered it after a pray. Well she never had any problems or questions on that. I think you are on the right direction, we should teach our children not to be afraid of everything, certainly pets are pets but our livestock should be different. Our children should understand our Christian values as well. Jane

-- Jane (jane@hotmail.com), September 18, 2001.

I think you did the right thing, too, Anita. Don't let the nay- sayers tell you how to raise your children, especially if you are giving them the knowledge that it's part of the natural process for all life to end. Your story of dissecting the chick reminded me of the time when I was about 5 years old, when my dad and brother were taking drowned rattlesnakes, slitting their bellies, arranging them in jars after propping the mouth open with toothpicks, and pickling them in formaldehyde. I sat on the bottom step of the basement stairwell eating cinnamon toast as I watched them with their procedure. It did me no damage, and I learned a lot. The process of your examination is much the same as medical students go through in learning what they need to know in medical school dissection cadaver laboratory classes, so that they can go on to become doctors. Veterinarians go through the same process. When some narrow-minded idiot tells you you're wrong, just smile & nod, then follow your conscience and your heart.

-- Claudia Glass (glasss2001@prodigy.net), September 21, 2001.

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