More squawking about chickens


Just noticed this story in the Raleigh News & Observer
about an urban farm tour in Carrboro and Chapel Hill (run by Carrboro
Greenspace) that ran into trouble. The tour was to highlight the growing and production of local food and,
according to the story, “Planned workshops included honey harvesting, lasagna
bed gardening, and a slaughter of chickens …” (I guess it is rather jarring to see the word "slaughter" after those two benign garden traditions.)

At least one local resident read of the tour and protested
the chicken slaughter. Although no laws prevented such an event on private
property, the organizers voluntarily cancelled it and “Instead of a slaughter,
the collective will hold an "honest and respectful discussion on the
complexities of re-establishing a sustainable small-scale food system."

 It’s too bad. In my view, if people know that this is what
they might see, they don’t have to go on the tour. I’m thinking that there’s
nothing wrong with consumers of local foods (most of whom eat chicken) seeing
exactly what goes into bringing a chicken to the table, particularly in a
properly-run farm setting. I would be interested in seeing it—at least once. I know that many of our readers have. Were you scarred for life?

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Was I scarred for life? Nope. I grew up in the city but summered on my grandparent’s farm. Killing chickens was what you did when you wanted dinner. I learned early that killing animals is what is done to get food. No sugar coating and no explanations need be given to farm children.

    I agree with you, people should know what has to be done to give them those meats packaged so nicely in the supermarket.

  2. Well, I grew up in rural Nebraska, and spent a lot of time on my grandparents’ farm, where they did slaughter chickens. It didn’t scar me, but it wasn’t exactly my favorite time…but it definitely gives you respect and perspective of where your food comes from. It would be good for people to see at least once in their lives, most people are so sheltered from the everyday realities of life anymore.

  3. Amazing……chickens are quieter than dogs, do not poop in gardens like cats, and do not chomp on childrens arms and legs like pit bulls do…..
    But it is ok to have pit bulls, snakes and other dangerous anmals including pirhana(SP?) in an urban setting?
    Too many city people with too much time on their hands sticking their noses where they do not belong. Sounds like these are the ones who should be moving to the country with 10 acre lot size restrictions so they do not have to see us nor we them for that matter.

  4. All about those chickens! We used to have one come into our yard from our neighbor’s house “Brownie” and sit on my husband’s desk. Maybe a little bit gross, but mostly funny-

    After a while Brownie and my husband were like soulmates… weird?

  5. When I set up housekeeping, such a quaint term, my mother gave me most of the cookbooks that she had got when she set up housekeeping in the late 1940’s. One of the things she gave me was a 1940 era booklet from the poultry Growers Association of America, or something on that order. It had pages and pages on how to clean the dead chicken you brought home from the meat market. You didn’t have to kill it, but you had to remove the feathers, the tendons in the legs and on and on. It would be days before the chicken made it into the pot if I had to do that. I am thankful for the pre-slaughtered, pre-defeathered nice little packages I get at the store.

  6. We raise chickens: they bite, they are canibalistic, if they’re free range, they poop everywhere and they eat your garden, roosters can be quite mean – on the other hand their poop is wonderful fertilizer, they produce wonderful eggs, they make wonderful chicken dishes, and they sound wonderful in the early morning hours. I thank God for chickens.
    Butchering is a necessary part of brining food to the table. One wonders if the people ever consider how the meat gets to their table?

  7. We used to raise meat chickens.

    I am surprised I even *eat* poultry now.

    Scarred for life? No, but I am grateful that I don’t have to do or bear witness to that anymore.

    And honestly, even for a 10# fryer I wouldn’t go for raising my own meat chickens again. If I ever did think I had to do that, I’d be sending them off to be processed. I absolutely would not do it myself.

    I imagine many would be horrified to watch a chicken processed and I think it was a very good idea to take it off the agenda.

    As for chickens not pooping in the garden like a cat…they aren’t cats. And their digestive habits aren’t like cats. If they don’t poop in the garden, it’s because they can’t GET to the garden, not because they would not poop there if they got there.

    Chickens crap anywhere they happen to be when the urge hits them.

  8. I don’t believe a little reality check hurts when it comes to learning how and where are food comes from. Fried chicken doesn’t just materialize in fast food buckets. One of the hard lessons you learn growing up in a ranching/farming community is food animals are for food they are not pets. They have a purpose if it’s not for eggs then it’s for meat or milk.

    The word “slaughter” does sound pretty strong for an urban farm tour (like there going to show you an out of control blood bath) perhaps “chicken processing” may have had a more agricultural tone when describing the butchering aspects.

  9. This reminds me of a King of the Hill episode and of Sara Palin’s Turkey Pardon Speech in front of the a man putting a turkey in a “grinder”,

    I have always said that if I had to kill my own food, I would be a vegetarian; thus, I have great respect for people who raise “meats” in the most natural way possible and then “harvest” & process them for my enjoyment. I might not have been up for the “chicken slaughter” portion of the tour, so I’d skip that part — not launch a protest. Chicken “Massacre” would have been a worse title, and Chicken “Harvest” might have been best.

  10. What a wonderful blog this is. Thanks very much for your input.

    We keep a small flock of layers and hatch them out ourselves. I buy 25-50 meat birds as day old chicks and raise them too. Sometimes they go to the abattoir and sometimes, like last year, we put them away ourselves with the help of family and friends. I’m now acclimatized to life out of the mainstream, but was city raised. :*)

    Like a real carrot, a chicken, layer or meat bird will produce a food that is different than can be produced commercially I think. The first time I tasted an egg from our hens I wasn’t convinced I could do it. They were very “eggy.” Now, like the meat, I find it far superior to what I can buy elsewhere.

    I knew we had done our part as parents when there was a commercial shown on TV with a close up of a fork cutting a chicken breast against the grain and the kids all chimed “ewwwww” at the same time. Small victories.

    Chickens in a cold water bath after the kill. Ah, country life and the lost of the disconnect…

  11. I am glad that a bit of gritty reality and honest discussion creeps in…Every time I read on this site and others all the romanticizing (not in this piece) about urban farming and chickens, etc. I think about this story…my parents and I went to a friends house (in the burbs) when I was 4 to have dinner. They had rabbit hutches (lots of them). They took me out to see the rabbits, and I thought it was like “pets”…till they took the one I was holding and slit its throat. Mind you I had seen plently of this sort of thing(deer, squirrel, fish, doves, chickens), but I wan’t quite ready for this for some reason. When they finished dressing a few rabbits, they dropped in the pot and used produce from their extensive garden to make dinner.

    BUT and I mean this – if you want to do this sort of thing, more power to you – I realize most of you aren’t thinking about fried chicken when you write about “having” chickens. FYI I have gotten so soft that I throw all the fish back I catch, so I can’t call anyone names…I just am amazed at how disconnect some people are from the reality of raising your own food (flora or fauna).

  12. Actually, I was scarred pretty badly. After our chickens were sold (I was about four or five), my brother and I refused to eat chicken — for ten years. We were afraid we might be eating our pets, since we had no idea where they had gone.

    But, I agree, no one forces you to go to a farm and watch.

    Maybe if more people knew how food arrives at the table, we’d have more humane treatment of our food animals…..


  13. why do people think that because most buy their food already processed and packaged they are disconnected from how it got there or where it came from?

    I live in a rural city. If you drive 10 minutes from my house in any direction and you hit the farming community with all the attendant poop, flies, smell,dirt and other farming details.

    Sometimes, just because you don’t need to see an animal butchered means ONLY that, that you don’t want to see it. It doesn’t mean you aren’t aware that it happens or how it happens.

  14. Apparently none of us like watching the killing that is done for our benefit – in the farmyard (or in Iraq or Afghanistan.) But the reality is that unless you are a vegetarian, a decision I respect, animals are being killed more inhumaely than anyone with a backyard flock or pig will do to get that chop or roast or burger to your plate. I understand that young children who have not grown up on a farm might be upset, but at an event where it is advertised so children can be kept away if parents deem necessary, grown ups should take responsibility for all the work that goes into their dinners. That means migrant workers, dangerous agricultural practices – and slaughter.

  15. Did I make it clear that we do raise meat and egg chickens, and have raised pigs. We gave up the pigs because we don’t know enough people who want to eat all that bacon. There is a lot of bacon on one pig. I miss everything else though. We never slaughtered our own pigs, because you really have to know what you are doing, but we have done our own butchering. And even made head cheese.

  16. I read a story in the paper years ago about a man who went to his son’s school to cuss them out for telling the child that milk came out of an animal! Everyone knows milk is man-made. Of course, my experience at age 8, opening a ‘frig door at my grand-dad’s cabin to find a tray of still hopping frog legs turned me off those forever. My choice; I think everyone should understand food’s original form and how it gets to the edible stage.

  17. Meat doesn’t come pre-wrapped in plastic. It comes pre-wrapped in a living animal, and I think it’s important that everyone understands the not-so-happy process by which it ends up wrapped in plastic.

  18. Maybe it’s the urban setting that’s a turnoff… I *expect* to see grittier realities when I visit a farm where life and death are an endless cycle. But do I want chicken slaughter in my neighbors yard where I can hear/smell/see the blood splatter? Uhhh no. And I well know where my meat comes from, and when we DO eat it, it’s all locally, humanely raised. That does not mean I have to watch any more than it means I have to tan the leather my jacket is made out of.

  19. Why did one complainer get the demo cancelled? How about the many who may have been truly interested in learning to raise and process their own chickens? Since “slaughter” was clearly advertised, those who object could stay home or visit the other end of the farming display while the killing was going on. An honest program of urban “farming” by definition will include the death of some animals. Otherwise, it is “gardening.”

  20. Though I have nothing to do with this event and wasn’t planning on attending – I believe the story missed the point. I think the display was more about new and different ways to process chickens. You don’t have to chop off their heads, you don’t have to pluck them, you don’t have to do anything the way your grandpa did it any more than you have to plant your garden by the phases of the moon. It was about new and improved ways to manage chickens as a meat crop… I think. I’ll snoop around and have to report back later with the real dirt.

  21. It’s too bad that one complaint can shut down a demonstration of chicken harvesting, although the organizers’ surprise at a complaint suggest they too are a little out of touch with current American reality.

    I have 10 hens that we keep for eggs, and they are like pets. Some are so old that they hardly lay at all–we keep them all until they die of natural causes. When I had to kill an eggbound pullet, it was traumatic for me.

    However, I’ve been to small scale chicken harvest and if the people are proficient, it’s not a shocking experience. I’d recommend watching “Food Inc,” because there’s a scene there at Joel Salatin’s farm that demonstrates how it is when it’s done right.

    My girls are 3 and 6, and both seem to understand fully that meat comes from animals. That’s probably because we buy meat by the half steer or half hog (or full lamb) and butcher it ourselves. We bring it home already skinned and gutted. Of course, in the fall there are people butchering deer in their front yards within two blocks of our house–that’s a little creepy, with the lifeless staring eyes. . . (I live in Wisconsin, and it’s a great place for food!)

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