During our time at Quail Springs, we weren’t going to be planting or harvesting, but Brenton still gave us a tour of the farm. He explained the benefits of small, polyculture plots cared for by people versus giant, monoculture plots run by machines (“You can stop by and weed a few plants on your way to breakfast!”).
We also got some cooking lessons. The members of the Quail Springs community keep a herd of goats that they let roam during goat walks two times a day in exchange for a daily milking. They use the milk to make yogurt and cheese, which we learned how to do in addition to making sourdough bread.
The relationship these community members have with their animals exemplifies the Lakota people’s phrase Mitakuye Oyasin (All Are Related) that I recently learned through conversations and readings of Native American texts. It reflects a world view of oneness that includes humans, animals, birds and fish, rocks and rivers, mountains and valleys – all forms of life. The people at Quail Springs understand this relationship; their lives are built on the foundation of it.
Quail Springs keeps chickens and roosters as well – and one of the most unforgettable experiences for the group was watching a butchering. Brenton gave us a long introduction that afternoon, talking about butchering poultry in an honorable, ethical way.
Brenton told us he first read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle when he was 14. This influenced him to become a vegetarian, but once he saw his first ethical chicken butchering later in life, he changed his mind. He now views the relationship between human and chicken as a partnership, rather than the human having total control. They’re both in this together. The human treats the chicken well during its short, feathered life and when the time comes, the chicken gives back to the human by bringing nourishment with its body.
Quail Springs has set up a special contraption for butcherings that’s essentially a table with an upside down cone at one end. The rooster that was going to go that afternoon was a logical choice as he was a rooster who couldn’t tell time – he had been waking everyone up cock-a-doodle-dooing at 3 in the morning the past few days. So after showing off the bird for the last time, commenting on his shiny brown and emerald feathers that would be plucked later to be used for jewelry, Brenton put the rooster upside down into the cone, slit either side of its head, and began singing to it as it bled – just as he had sung to the poultry as chicks when he picked them up to bring them to the farm, he told us.
Something about inviting song into a scene of death added a spiritual dimension to the experience. I cried, if only because this was the first time I’d watched a life, no matter how big or small, leave the earth. But I also had to agree with Brenton – it was a butchering done in a way that was surprisingly graceful.