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Chicken Slaughtering in Chicago

Mobile slaughterhouses are increasing around the US, providing services to small rural producers far from a larger (and corporate farm dominated) processing plant. Here in Chicago, we have “live poultry” slaughter and processing shops. I want to report about my first experience taking hens to a live poultry processing establishment in December. If you'd rather not read about it, stop here. My conclusion: the service seems like a good option for backyard chicken keepers who choose culling over lifetime care.

In mid-December, I picked up four hens from a friend who decided to cull her two-year-old layers rather than keep them as egg-less pets through the winter and beyond. She thought about slaughtering them herself but decided she and family were not emotionally up for that – and definitely didn't want to eat them. I offered to deliver them to a business permitted to provide slaughter services in Chicago, and then to donate them to some of the gardeners who work with the Learning Center's project partner in Little Village. That seemed a way to honor their lives, and their deaths. Nevertheless, my heart was heavy on the road to Chicago Live Poultry House (2601 S Ridgeway).

I carried the hens into the shop in a large cardboard box at 2:55PM. The owner and I chatted while I waited (and watched the process from the counter.) Within 10 minutes, I was out the door again holding 2 plastic grocery bags. In that time, the two young men working there killed, plucked (mechanically), and gutted the chickens. They have the equipment for all parts of the job and the clean up, and the skills and experience to make it (I think and hope) mercifully quick and efficient. Total cost was $12.

Like many of these businesses, the owner is Muslim, and the workers Latino. They keep a small stock of live birds and rabbits on the premises. They are licensed by the state and permitted by the City to slaughter and sell these animals, and to provide slaughtering services for people who bring in animals raised at home, which the owner said happens infrequently. He is trying to get a permit to open another shop in South Chicago, where one closed in the last few years.

Compared with several good examples I've seen in online videos, the method here seemed acceptable, if also nonchalant. I would probably prefer to see my hens killed with more ceremony, and more emphasis on gentleness, but I think these hens had little awareness of what was happening. Still, I felt sad as almost-last in the chain of people in their lives.

For context: Have I said that I am mostly a vegetarian and even have been a vegan at times? For most of two-plus decades, my rule of thumb when it comes to my diet and animals has been: if I won't or can't do the killing, I won't do the eating, either. And since I cannot spark life from non-life, I find it hard to kill plants that sprout undesired in my garden, or critters on my plants, even if they are doing damage.

But I am also a farmer, and an ecologically minded person. I try to be a pragmatist and take responsibility for what I eat. In December when we cull half of the Learning Center's egg-laying flock on the farm in Caledonia, I appreciate the gift of a soup-hen and thank her while the stockpot burbles, for her gifts in life and in death.

I haven't yet killed a hen, but I think I should learn, and probably will in 2010. See the "End of Life" page on the Google group site for more info about various aspects, including a list of Chicago-area businesses providing slaughter services.

Note: The cheery "Live Poultry" sign was a favorite of mine in East Cambridge, MA.
The Chicago photo is of a different location, not the store in Little Village.