A couple things to ramble on about…..
First, I was shaking my head the other day over a recent
event at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary.
In April, one of the art students thought it would be cool
to kill and pluck a chicken in the school cafeteria as part of a “performance
Well you can imagine how many people peed their pants over
that stunt. The police were called, the media were alerted, school
administration had a major kitten, the instructor was fired, and so
trotted out the always handy banner of “animal cruelty”.
It took a bit of time for the dust to settle. The police
decided no law was broken — the bird was humanely dispatched, the instructor
was rehired, school life returned to normal, but I never did hear whether the
student got a passing grade for his art project.
It is good the bird was properly killed, but the alarm bell
of animal cruelty reminds me again that a few/many/lots really don’t connect
the dots on how food gets from the farmyard to the dinner table. Not that we
all have to be graphically reminded every day that something has to die to make
it to the meat counter or the barbecue grill, but I am sure some people figure
those neatly packaged Lilydale chicken breasts just magically appear.
The other thing about this “performance art” event is “who in their right mind thinks killing a
chicken in a school lunch room is any kind of art?” What the heck are they
teaching people in art class? Did they run out of paint brushes?
Depending on how you view the act of killing a chicken, my
mother should either have been jailed for life, or given the Noble Prize for
She was a great chicken slaughterer. I remember many times
as a kid, where she would nab two or three older laying hens from the coop. She
would hold them by the legs, the birds would unwittingly stretch their necks
across an elm chopping block in the farm yard and after one steady swing of the
axe that headless bird would be released to do the original “chicken dance”
across the yard.
I would collect the still birds, each feathered body would
be submerged in a pail of hot, soapy water for about a minute and I would have
the honor of plucking the soggy, smelly feathers off the carcasses. Mom, would
handle the detailed clean up at the kitchen sink — I wasn’t great with pin
It wasn’t necessarily my favorite job in the world. I never
had any sense that anything was suffering or being mistreated, but I always had
other things to do I believed were more important. However, and this is a big
HOWEVER, I did truly enjoy a few hours
after this carnage had taken place, many great dishes of chicken and dumplings
that crossed the dinner table over the years. No finer dish is to be found.
And after an earlier column I wrote about a day of
processing calves at my brother-in-law’s ranch in B.C., I had a note from
Alberta farmer Norman Storch, who wondered what impact talk of biosecurity
measures for farms and ranches would have in the future on the practice of
having friends and neighbors gather to help out with “branding” and other
events. Here is what Norman had to say:
“Spring, or sprinter, is progressing slowly here at Hanna. Our calving is
still in progress. We are calving later now, so these older bones avoid
the short days and long cold nights. My neighbour says I calve from a lawn
chair. I wish!!!!
Your description of the community/social effort to process calves at the in-laws,
I think begs a question.
Will the implementation of beef biosecurity programs put an end to the many
communal gatherings that
occur across the prairies every spring. Still often
referred to as a branding; this gathering of willing labour and the ensuing
social component has been a long tradition on the prairies. In the future will
everyone be required to shower in and shower out as many hog facilities
require? Will the cows need to be kept under netting to prevent contact with
wild birds as is a requirement of the poultry industry? In the U.S., many
poultry farms have a spray system at the gate to wash any vehicle, top to
bottom and underside, that enters the property. That might be the only time
each year many prairie farm trucks would get a bath!
I have been watching with interest the creeping discussion on biosecurity
in the beef industry. I’m not sure yet we have defined exactly what the
ultimate program will look like; or asked producers what they think it should
entail. This is one more hurdle for this traditional loosely knit industry to
overcome in order to compete in a marketplace ever more sensitive to food
The branding gatherings, and the sharing of labour among local ranches has
allowed many operators to handle many more cattle than they could if required
to process the calves with only resident labour. Will we see professional
accredited bio approved crews roaming the range each spring with mobile shower
units and plastic boots? Perhaps a bit far fetched. Perhaps!”
Cheers – Norman
Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner
based in Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]