I have been dreaming about the logistics of it - how to catch and load the chickens, how long will the drive take and how to minimize their stress during the trip? And so we wake up at 4 am and coffee in hand, go to catch chickens. We allow ourselves 1 hour to load them but it only takes 30 minutes. I squat into the runs, shut the door to the coop and so catch the birds in the run itself. It's still very dark out, so they aren't very active, but the odd one does fight me for freedom. We load them 10 to a crate so they aren't crowded, load the crates into the van and then go get ready (my clothes are so covered in chicken poo from kneeling in the run that I strip on the deck and leave my clothes outside).
The drive takes 1.5 hours, and we arrive in Wallenstein at Country Poultry Producers.
Most everyone else has brought their cages in the back of pickup trucks. We brought the van, so that the birds would be protected from sun and highway debris as we travelled. It was a good decision because a motor has broken on the line and we're just waiting. Our chickens are sheltered from the hot sun by the van, and with the doors open they don't seem too hot. But the birds in the crates before and behind us have ben left out in the sun, crammed into their crates, hot and cranky. We eavesdrop, also, and discover that most of these birds had been loaded into their crates the night before. So it has been well over 12 hours since they had water, or stretched, or could walk even. They are sad and angry and pecking each other. Our girls seem calm enough and aren't panting - the meat inspector says they look great.
The men behind us have come from Alliston and we exchange notes on feeding, predators and the benefits of various breeds.
The man in the pickup truck in front of us has spent his whole life living in the town next to the one I grew up in (which interestingly is only 20 minutes from the processors).
Finally the new motor is installed and the action begins. The trucks slowly start to pull forward.
The next 10 minutes is unsettling for me - unloading the crates quickly enough to keep up with the young Mennonite boys that pull the chickens from the crates and send them down the line. It's reassuring to know the chickens won't be sitting in their crates on the loading dock waiting to be noticed, but I hadn't expected to be so.... immediate.
Off we go to spend the day keeping busy while they do the invisible work of transforming our flock into future meals. I am really excited to hear what our customers think of our birds after so many weeks of work. After seeing the condition that the other birds showed up in, I am convinced more than ever that people should only eat what they know. I want people to come to our place to see how we raise the eggs and meat because then they know what they are paying for. Conversely, if they were to see how "inexpensive" poultry is raised.... well we would have a lot more customers.