Submission by Brittaney Schunzel
This quarter a group of students held a workshop on the humane slaughter of chickens. The project began with the arrival of a brown cardboard box shipped from Pennsylvania to Roby Ventres-Pake, AS Outback Coordinator; in it nestled 26 small peeping yellow chicks. The lives of these chickens were nothing short of comfortable. They began in the warm confines of Roby’s living room until brought to the Outback Farm behind Fairhaven College. They were free to roam around green grasses looking for grubs and to hang out in the sunshine of a 400 square foot plot of land. Students were free to observe and ask questions about the proper raising of chickens for food.
Many of those who had already slaughtered an animal remarked that this was one of the cleanest operations with the least amount of suffering to the animal they had witnessed, however, as Roby puts it, “no slaughter is pretty.” There was definitely blood and there were definitely guts. I myself had no previous experience in killing anything besides a fish. I came to this project to experience what it is like to take the life of an animal that I had been raised to buy from grocery stores and eat for dinner. I have grown and harvested my own vegetables, so why not kill and butcher my own meat?
Broiler chickens (chickens bred specifically for meat production) generally mature between four and 10 weeks. After a full life of 2 1/2 months, the brood was taken off-campus to private property in south Bellingham for the slaughter to take place. Originally, the Outback had requested that this be performed on the campus farm so that it could be more accessible to students interested in the process of slaughtering their own food. This request was denied by Janai Symons, the Western Research Compliance Officer. Symons said it to be, “specifically disallowed by the federal guidelines governing animal care and use at [Western Washington University].” We were asked not to conduct this seminar on-campus or under the name of Western or the Outback Farm.
In actuality, the method for killing the chickens is arguably the most humane alternative for chicken slaughter available to farmers, even compared to commercial meat processors. The chickens have their throats cut after they are placed in what are referred to as “killing cones.” With a sharp blade and gentle handling, the process is calm and quick. The dead birds are taken to a scalding station to loosen their plumage for easy removal in a mechanical plucker before being taken to the butcher table. All the equipment was rented from Whatcom Pastured Poultry, a cooperative in town, which provides a full range of chicken processing supplies for a $10 daily rental and $5 one-time registration fee.
It is a serious shame that Western would not allow this education to take place on its campus or under its name. Poultry sold by large food service companies like Aramark do not guarantee that the animals were raised or killed humanely and eating meat is an enormous part of our culture. Education on the proper handling of animals is essential in order to advocate for the rights of animals. We cannot know what is wrong until we know what is right. The chicken slaughter should not have been deemed a violation of animal rights, but rather a lesson on proper animal conduct and welfare within a meat-eating society.
Every one of the participants I spoke with after the event said they were grateful for the experience. Each person followed their chicken through the entire process, from picking the animal from the pen and lowering it into the cone to plucking the feathers and degutting the body. Due to this connection and respect, I felt a deep regard from all those who participated.
There is no way to dress up the fact that killing animals for consumption is gory and visceral. Even now as I write this article, I stop myself from trying to think of terms to use besides “killing” or “slaughter” as I don’t want to make the event sound like it was senseless brutality. In fact, the chicken slaughter was clean, responsible and, as far as I can tell, done with the least amount of suffering to the animal. I realize now, more than ever, that the chicken on my dinner plate was a living creature and that it had to be sacrificed for my consumption.