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When you love animals, but you eat them, too

Grant Jones, of Hungry Hollow Farm, poses with one of his favorite chickens (Photo by Rachel Belle)

For more than a decade, Grant Jones was a city guy.

“Here I was growing a business in Seattle and in my free time I was reading books about beekeeping, chickens,” Jones laughs. “So obviously there was some innate urge to get back to the land. Before I knew what I was doing I was getting chickens, I was getting turkeys and I got the cows from my uncle.”

Now, at 32 years old, Jones is a part-time chicken and turkey farmer in Shelton and the sole proprietor of Hungry Hollow Farm. The chicken farm was named by his great-grandfather in 1889, and Jones lives in the more than century-old house he built.

Recently Jones led a chicken processing workshop. People paid $25 to watch or participate in the processing, which is a very sterile and passive way to describe chickens being slaughtered and butchered. At the end of the day, they got to take a chicken home.

I eat chicken but, like most, I buy mine shrink wrapped at the grocery store and I’ve certainly never seen one killed. Jones and I discussed how confusing it can feel when you love animals but you also eat them.

“Especially when you’ve cared for the animal for its entire life,” Jones said. “I get so excited going to the post office to pick up the chicks. They’re all peeping, you get them into their home, and every day it’s ‘Hi, chickens, how are you doing? Here’s your food, here’s your water.’ You’ll pet them. And then there’s this abrupt moment where that part is over. You still have that same feeling of care for the chicken. Obviously, you want it to be as painless as possible, as quick as possible, but you’re ending its life.”

Processing on a chicken farm

chicken farm

Grant Jones, of Hungry Hollow Farm, poses with one of his favorite chickens (Photo by Rachel Belle)

Jones invited me to the farm to help him process a couple chickens. The plan was for him to slaughter one and then I’d do the other.

The night before my visit, he selected two chickens from the field where they freely roam and peck for insects all day, and put them in a plastic crate. He picked them up on our way to what’s called the kill room.

“It’s one of those things where if you’re going to eat chicken, this is happening whether you’re doing it yourself or not,” Jones said. “One thing a lot of people don’t think about is in order for us to live, something else has to die. Even if you’re eating soybeans, you’re eating tofu, those combines have gone over how many hundreds of thousands of rodents in their processing.”

Since he only slaughters once a month, Grant rents all the equipment from the Mason conservation District for $25 a weekend.

First, he turns a chicken upside down and slides it into a metal cone, so its feet are in the air and it’s head and neck poke out the bottom.

“This part, you want to do it as quickly as possible. You slide them into the cone. That way there’s no fighting, no flopping around, no stress, it’s nice and calm. This knife has been sharpened, I sharpen the knives before every time I’m processing. When I make the cut, the head will move a little bit so you’ll want to stand back. Sometimes blood comes out a little bit.”

Jones slit the chicken’s throat and it let out a warbled cry. After three seconds the chicken goes unconscious and blood drains out of its body. But then rigor mortis sets in. This was the hardest part to watch. Despite the chicken being dead, the body jerks and flails in the metal cone, which makes a loud banging noise for up to two minutes. Blood sprays against the wall and drool leaks from the chicken’s lips.

“Next stage is the scalding tank,” he said. “What that’s going to do is loosen up all the feathers.”

Jones holds the chicken by its legs and dips it into the hot water. Then the chickens go into the feather remover, where they spin around in what looks like a tub lined with rubber door stoppers until they’re plucked.

Watching Jones slit the chicken’s throat, I felt a little sick. And emotional, which I wasn’t expecting. I felt on the verge of tears, a lump rising in my throat.

“I…don’t think I’ll be able to do my own,” I confessed to Jones. “It’s sad. There’s almost a sadness just in the innocence that the chicken doesn’t know what’s going to happen. He’s so calm and so quiet and it seems like, oh, he trusts you, like he felt so safe.”

The calmness of the chicken about to be slaughtered was a strong juxtaposition against the chickens in the field who were loudly clucking and spastically running around.

“It was an interesting journey to get to the point now where I’m comfortable with it,” said Jones. “But it’s still my least favorite part of the process. There are very few subjects that could be so divisive. Some people are okay with it, maybe they grew up around it. A lot of people have a really hard time with it. It makes them uncomfortable, it makes them question whether they should be eating meat at all. Alternatively, I’ve had a vegetarian come and go through the process and now she eats meat. So it’s completely transformative for some.”

Killing vs butchering a chicken

I didn’t kill a chicken, but after watching Jones butcher one, I butchered the other. I cut off it’s head, it’s legs and made an incision near it’s tail and pulled out all of its guts.

“See, this part doesn’t bother me because it doesn’t look so alive and cute anymore,” I said. “It looks like a chicken you’d find at the store. I don’t mind cutting up a chicken.”

The butchered chickens go into an ice bath for a few hours and then they’ll be shrink wrapped and sold to Jones’s customers. If you’re going to eat chicken, eating one from Hungry Hollow Farm is the absolute best way to go. Pasture raised, insect fed, humanely killed and super fresh.

After watching the slaughter, I will not stop eating meat, but I will appreciate it more. I watched a chicken die for my dinner. I need to respect the animal. Honestly, I’m still figuring out exactly what that means, but it can be something as simple as not letting meat leftovers go bad in my fridge.

“A common saying right now, both from the environmental groups and certainly from the animal welfare group is ‘Less meat, better meat,'” Jones said.

Click here if you’d like to buy eggs or chicken from Hungry Hollow Farms, or if you’d like to inquire about the next processing workshop.

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