Life Here: The Secret Life of Meat Birds, and Right-Brain Thinkers

The meat birds have oily looking feathers, and thick, yellow, Saurian claws. My sister, Katie, bought two, along with the Striped Wyandottes, Barred Rocks and Buff Orpingtons she purchased for laying eggs. Her sons requested a few meat birds, so they could have the experience of raising their own protein. I was against the idea, since I suspected it was not easy to meet and kill one’s meal. The boys prevailed.

The project was problematic from the start. Soon after she got the chicks, Katie learned they were supposed to be fed a special, fattening mash. She ignored that instruction. She also discovered they were so fat they couldn’t walk well and often did little but eat and then sit and pant in their own poop. There was nothing cute about them. The other chicks were charming little balls of yellow fluff, and the meat birds looked like blobs of pin-feathered fat tissue.

As I stood above the small hutch and looked at them I, for the hundredth time, wished I was a vegetarian. I had tried many times to eschew meat, but it made my life too complicated, situated, as I was, in a crowd of carnivores. I hoped that if the meat birds were treated just like the other chicks, and got plenty of love and exercise, they might just change into laying chickens and escape their destiny. 

As the weeks went by it became clear that nature was stronger than nurture in this case. They were bred to grow fast, be killed fast and turned into fast food.

One morning as I rode my bike up to my sister’s house, I thought of a book she’d recommended to me. It was called, My Stroke Of Insight, and was written by a woman called Jill Bolte Taylor. She was a doctor who had had a stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain and had the experience of seeing her faculties depart hour by hour. Soon she could not walk, talk, read, write or recall any of her life. It took her eight years to recover, and when she did she was able to report that while in the right-brain dominated state, she experienced a sense of complete well-being and euphoria. In fact, she had to force herself to choose the rough road to recovery, because it meant leaving this serenity behind. Taylor has written that by “stepping to the right” of our left brains, we can uncover feelings of well-being that are often lost in the “brain chatter,” of our left-brain lives.

Looking at the meat birds, huddled together on one side of the hutch, I wondered what their lives felt like to them. Without words, without consciousness of death, without aspirations, perhaps they simply enjoyed watching the leaves move in the wind and smelling the odor of flowers and mown grass. Or, rather, not “enjoyed,” but were one with, as if they were not separate from the world but connected to all the atoms and energies around them.

Perhaps. Or perhaps they were just digestive tracts surrounded by fat and muscle, held by by scaly feet. When I put my hand to the wire they pecked at my fingers, eager for any edible morsel which came their way.

My sister has put the meat birds in the big enclosure, along with her older hens. They stay together, huddled against the wire mesh like two, fat, old dowager aunts. I know I must temper this tendency to  anthropomorphize, but even so, as one turns towards the other and they sit beak to beak, I could swear I see a glint of something like affection in their eyes.

The writer lives in Norwich.