March 24, 2017 • Sarah Jean Gosney
After my first brutal hunt, I became the unofficial animal executioner at the Webster household.
There was trouble at the petting zoo–how I sometimes referred to the Webster farm with its myriad ducks, chickens, turkeys, goats, alpacas, horses, dogs, cats, and one sheep. Several of the roosters had been ganging up on a brown Bantam Cochin chicken, a breed that is particularly small, and raping her repeatedly. Apparently even roosters are endeared by a particularly petite female specimen. There was no keeping them off the poor hen, and she had lost nearly all of her tail feathers in the struggle, which left her little behind raw.
My boyfriend Ben’s mom, Toni, tracked down a tail cover for the sad creature, a piece of plastic covered by a red bandanna that would protect her from her suitors. This helped the physical injury, but it did nothing to lessen the roosters’ pursuit.
One rooster in particular, dubbed Swifty for his ability to dodge hands trying to protect innocent hens, was the most persistent of all the troublemakers. Swifty had blossomed into a serial rapist that attacked not only the little brown hen but another Bantam hen, a Polish hen. He attacked her one day, pinning her to the ground and crushing her into the mud to the point where she was unable to walk for nearly two weeks due to the leg injury.
So one day, Toni asked me to take him out.
I was still unsure with the rifle, but after my deer hunt I felt fairly confident with the crossbow (despite the tragic results I got, I was comfortable with the weapon itself) and chose it as my weapon. I got out my homemade target, a goat feed bag stuffed with newspaper and straw, and made sure the bow was properly sighted in.
There was about an inch of snow on the ground, and it was a cold, cloudy day. I readied my crossbow before going through the fence, then I walked out onto the animal yard where I saw the rooster pecking at the ground up the hill near the fence line. I picked my way carefully up the snowy, uneven slope pocked by horse hooves. I made sure that the horse and the alpacas were nowhere near my line of fire, and I took aim, bringing the crossbow to my shoulder.
I followed the rooster with my sights as he eyed me suspiciously. The three red dots of my electronic sights were placed squarely over his heart. He slowly walked forward, but paused, just long enough for me to pull the trigger. The arrow hit. It happened so fast that all I saw was a flutter of loose feathers, a few drops of blood, and then stillness.
The rooster ran about three feet before dropping, motionless. The short blood trail was a shocking red against the white snow. I walked up to him to check that he was really dead. He lay completely still. I lifted his neck in my bare hands. It was a strange sensation; it was still hot with life but completely limp with death. I felt relief and a little pride that it had died so quickly, a sharp contrast to the painful, drawn-out death the deer must have had.
I left the fenced in area with the rooster in my hand and brought it to the edge of the fence on the other side of the yard. My sharp pocket knife in hand, I began to gut it. I’d pulled the already detached guts out of chickens from the grocery store before, but never the warm, recently stilled innards of a freshly dead rooster. It was an eerie feeling, but I persisted. I held my breath as I tried to yank out the intestines as delicately as possible to not break them.
Once the rooster’s body cavity was cleared, I took it up to the porch to pluck the feathers. Most of the large feathers came out easily, but the small fuzzy feathers required more attention. I was proud; it only took me about an hour to get the rooster from the yard to being ready for the pot.
I ended up making a traditional French recipe with the bird, Coq au Vin, a recipe tailored for stringy old roosters. Mine was young and not particularly stringy, but I figured he wouldn’t mind being bathed in wine and vegetables in his last moment on earth.
No one really ate the dish but Ben and me. I think they were all a little disturbed by eating one of their animals, though I felt it was only a proper end.
And with that, the farm had a moment of peace.
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