Christmas is a time which polarises poultry-lovers’ views

Divided opinion: Images like this can provoke strong reactions.
Divided opinion: Images like this can provoke strong reactions.

As a wannabe smallholder and poultry fan, I am a member of a couple of groups on Faceache which deal with these ‘hobbies’.

I call them ‘hobbies’, as Mr E refuses to acknowledge them as anything else, his argument being that they neither a) earn money for us, or b) contribute in a major way to our self-sufficiency. Therefore, they are whimsies which I indulge myself in, in his eyes.

At this time of year, right before Christmas, poultry fanciers divide themselves into two camps. These are the folk who treat their birds like extra children, or pets. They accidentally-on-purpose leave their back door open so that the chickens can free-range in their kitchen. Then they post pictures of their ‘naughty’ chooks on the groups.

Each to their own, but as free-range chickens - like a lot of birds - can carry nasties such as salmonella and campylobacter, I’m afraid the novelty of chooks free-ranging on my worktops is one luxury I can live without. Especially as my worktops are brand new and we have sweated blood, sweat and tears to get them.

Then there are The Others, the folk like me who keep poultry for eggs and, occasionally, meat. Spare cockerels which are not being busy taking care of their lay-dees in that Special Way are given decent - but short - lives and then despatched for the pot. Yum. Some of The Others even breed certain chooks as meat birds. And if a chook is diseased, or in pain, they are able to despatch it quickly to save it from suffering.

Most of the year these two distinct poultry ‘tribes’ rub along fairly well. The slaughtering which one tribe undertakes is quietly gone about, whilst the other half mostly remains in blissful ignorance. But the wholesale mass slaughter of turkeys (and to a lesser extent, ducks and geese) at this time of year leads to some very heated debates and sometimes even effin and jeffin.

Moderators intervene, both sides summer down and it’s over... Until the next post on the theme, when all Hell breaks loose again. A picture of a room full of dead turkeys, plucked and dressed, is a room of sad Xmas death for some, a tragic visual of a tradition which sees millions turkeys slaughtered each year.

But it is an amazing sight for others who admire the sheer hard work which would have gone into plucking and gutting them, and the artistry it must have taken for these birds to have been arranged so neatly by the photographer.

The second group take pleasure in knowing that this is the inevitable end for many turkeys at this time of year, that they will be sold to be enjoyed by families at this special time of year, and they appreciate all the hard work that has gone into raising and preparing them.

I can see both sides. Yes, I do kill my own birds for the table. But no, I don’t enjoy the killing bit. I would be a bit weird if I did.

I am happier when I get on to the plucking and dressing of them, and take pride in a good job done when I have finished and the birds are done and on the scales being weighed.

It may well be a very sad sight, but it is an industry none the less, and one which earns a living for many who breed, raise, despatch and prep the birds.

And whichever camp you might be in, whether you are having the traditional Turkey or a cheese and broccoli bake tomorrow, I wish you a very Merry Christmas.