HECUA: Chicken Blog

Claire's internship log:

Two words. Slaughtering chickens.
The morning went like this: I arrived at the Andrew Boss Lab of Meat Sciences Building with my sister (who wanted to come along) at the University of Minnesota at 8:00 AM and walked downstairs to "the lab." We were asked to put on gigantic lab coats and over-sized rubber boots, and then waited anxiously in the hallway for the poultry to arrive. Kate, a full-time employee of the farm, mentioned she had heard some kind of animal making noises earlier in the large animal slaughter room. And so, for some reason beyond good judgment, we walked over to a nearby room where a dead pig was hanging by its ankles with its skin dangling off its body. We watched the process of removing its guts, removing its head, and slicing its ears until a newcomer gained our attention. A sheep, baa-ing in terror, entered the room. They grabbed him and shocked him with a taser gun to stun him. Then, using a tool that uses blunt force on the top of its head, they killed him. They hung him up, slit his belly, and blood spilled out instantly onto the floor. We left immediately.

The chicken process started out unloading "fowl" smelling crates that held the chickens from someone’s truck. We set them in a small holding room and then proceeded to the main slaughter room. One by one, the dead chickens started piling up on the stainless steel worktable. Mikhail, my ES partner, got the job of hanging up the chickens by their feet so the other person could slit their throats. My sister and I were positioned at the feather picking table, but two minutes later I got re-assigned to the job of spraying out the chicken guts remaining after the animal had been cleaned. It took a very long minute to work up the mental strength to tell my hand to touch the chicken carcass. When the guy showed me how to do it and I saw the bloody water gurgling out of the chicken, I wanted to leave the room immediately. I said to the safety inspector, “I really don’t think I can do this,” and continued to play a game of mental push and shove. My brain directed my inner conversation which consisted of: "Run away!" and alternatively, "put your hand on that chicken and do what he said!" Then, "Why are there chicken chunks in the water?" to, "Oh my god I can’t do this! Who in their right mind can just kill a chicken?" "It smells so bad I’m going to gag." To finally, "If I ever have a farm with livestock I’m NEVER slaughtering the animals myself" and, "I want my mom." Two minutes later and for the next two hours, I was reluctantly, and with a look of absolute horror, spraying out the remaining guts of our still-warm chickens. I wasn’t surprised when I caught the safety inspector chuckling at my reactions.

The challenges I faced this week are beyond obvious. I’ll likely never be able to overcome my fears, because I hope never to slaughter chickens again in my life...if I can help it. But all-in-all, I am extremely proud of myself. In those trivial moments of mental angst, I won the mind over matter battle and helped clean 150+ chickens. I didn’t complain out loud as far as I can remember, and I did what I needed to in order to keep the production line moving. I was soaked from the chest down in bloody chicken water, but I did it. How many of us omnivores can say we've taken such an active role in bringing meat to our table?

--Claire Baglien, a University of Minnesota student, dreams of owning and operating her own sustainable farm one day.

Mikhail's internship log:

This week our big task was slaughtering approximately 180 chickens. My job throughout this messy ordeal was to pick up the live chickens and hang them by their feet on a hook-like object. Seconds after I hung them up a slaughterhouse worker cut the chicken's jugular. He was careful, however, not to cut the spinal cord so that the chicken would bleed itself out. Obviously being around such a bloody smelly steamy area would have some adverse effects. Luckily, I have a strong stomach and I am not disgusted by blood; though I'll admit publicly that one time I did gag while transferring between the chicken holding room and the slaughtering room.

This week my greatest challenge was having the confidence to volunteer for this rather bloody job. At first I was more afraid of the chickens than they were of me. I went into the whole process having never handled a chicken. Just as we were getting started the lead slaughter house guy assigned me to grabbing and hanging the live chickens. Needless to say I was extremely apprehensive. Thankfully a professional slaughterhouse worker showed me the proper technique of picking up a chicken that avoided injury to both myself and the chicken. Moreover, after practicing with over 180 chickens I can safely say I have no apprehension to picking one up or worry about getting scratched.

Before taking part in this task, I had imagined how I might of react. Part of me predicted that I would not be able to eat chicken for a while or that I would simply stop eating meat for a while. Surprisingly, that reaction never happened; instead, even as we were slaughtering the chickens I knew that I would still eat chicken and certainly continue my enjoyment of meat consumption. In fact, I found the fully cleaned chickens to look rather appealing. These thoughts were confirmed when on Wednesday night, a day later, I went out for Chinese food with my father and ordered the sesame chicken without thinking twice.

I now have a new found respect for the meat I eat and for the people who prepare the meat I eat day in and day out.

--Mikhail Mack is in his sophomore year at the University of Minnesota, currently studying Environmental Science Policy Management, Geography (on an environmental systems track), and German.

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