( Originally Published 1918 )
In a month the young chickens are strong enough to do without the tender care of their early days. The pap, the dainty dish of hard-boiled eggs mixed with lettuce and bread crumbs, is no longer served to them, but their rations consist simply of grain and green stuff. This kind of weaning is not effected without some regret on their part at the remembrance of the pap ; but the mother makes amends for it by teaching them to scratch the earth and seek insects and worms, a royal feast for them. She shows them how a fly should be snapped up when warming itself in the sun against the wall; how the worm is to be caught and drawn from the ground before it goes into its hole. She shows them in what manner to proceed in order to derive the largest profit from a tuft of grass where the ants have stored their eggs; with what nice attention they must search the under side of large leaves where various insects are in hiding. How to carry out little predatory excursions in the neighboring cultivated fields when opportunity offers, how to scratch up the newly made garden-plots and rummage in every nook and corner, pillaging here and pilfering there—this, too, is all comprised in the educational curriculum prepared by the careful mother. After a couple of weeks of such practice the pupils are past masters; they lose the name of chickens and take that of pullets and roosters. Then the family disbands, the hen returning to her laying of eggs, and the chickens, thence-forth expert in the difficult science of earning their living, being left to themselves.
"Very diverse fates await them. Some, fortune's favorites, will grow peacefully to increase the poultry-yard; others, more numerous, as soon as they are large enough will be given over to the kitchen knife ; some, chosen from those easiest to fatten, will undergo a diet that will make them peculiarly suitable for the table. Let me tell you today through what grievous trials the poor bird passes to become, by artificial aid, the plump, fat, succulent fowl that we call a poulard."
"Then a poulard is not a separate species of hen?" asked Jules.
"No, my friend. The poulard is only an ordinary hen artificially subjected to a kind of life that fattens it. All species do not lend themselves with equal success to this artificial fattening; the best known in this respect is that of la Flèche, which furnishes the celebrated poulard of Mans.
"I have already told you a few words about this species, which is distinguished from the others by its dashing appearance and long legs. The plumage is entirely black, touched with glints of violet and green. The cock carries proudly, for comb, two horns of brilliant red flesh; it,s wattles are pendent and very long. The hen has two similar but shorter horns; her wattles are small and rounded; finally, her legs have not the disproportionate length of the cock's tall stilts. Such are the patients preeminently destined for the cruel industry of fattening. Let us come now to the practice of it.
`The greatest care in this world is that of the family. You know with what continual and laborious solicitude the hen watches over her little ones, with what self-sacrifice the mother spends herself in order to keep her nest of eggs warm. If pains were not taken to remove her from the nest and make her eat, she would let herself starve to death, sacrificing her own life for the sake of her eggs. Is it possible for a bird to take on flesh with such ardent maternal love burning in her veins l Certainly not. The first condition for becoming large and fat is to consider one's self alone, a thing permitted only to the beast whose end is to become an excellent roast.
"Well, in order that the hen may consider solely herself, think of nothing but eating and digesting well, so as to take on fat and flesh abundantly, it is put out of her power to lay, which in turn takes from her all idea of brooding and of raising young chickens. Out of a mother, ready to devote herself unstintingly, is made a. brute that, if only its crop be full, has no care of any kind; in fact, a veritable fat-factory. The operation is a cruel one. With the blade of a penknife a slight incision is made in the stomach, and the organ in which the eggs are formed is removed. With a little care the slight wound soon heals, and the mutilated bird is ready for the life of a poulard. Let loose in the poultry-yard, it has henceforth nothing to do but eat, digest, and sleep; sleep, digest, and eat. Leading such a life, the bird soon begins to grow fat. Things go all the better and quicker, however, if the bird cannot move freely, cannot come and go at will; for it is to be remarked that no more than love of offspring does love of liberty fatten those that feel its generous ardor. You will ponder that later, my children, when you are older. So they confine the poulards in coops."
"What sort of coops?" asked Emile.
"They are low cages divided into cells, with one poulard to a cell. Crouching in its narrow compartment, the fowl cannot move or even turn round. Solid partitions bar the view except in front near the feed-trough, and prevent its seeing its neighbors, its companions in confinement, so that nothing may distract it from its ceaseless work of digestion. The cage is placed in a room heated to a mild temperature, far from all noise and in a semi-obscurity which induces sleep, so favorable to the functions of the stomach. At punctually regulated hours, far enough apart for appetite to be aroused, but near enough together to prevent its becoming actual hunger, which would impair the well-being of the stomach and hinder the fattening of the bird, three meals a day are served in the feed-trough. Raw beets, cooked potatoes, crushed grain, curdled milk, barley, wheat, maize, buckwheat, compose the menu in turn, so as to excite by variety and choice of food an appetite that satiety daily makes more languishing. Thus fed to repletion, the poor creature, with nothing to distract it from the filling of its crop, eats to pass the time, falls asleep from sheer stupor, awakes, and begins to eat again, only to fall asleep once more. Toward the end of this treatment the poulard, gorged beyond measure, refuses to eat any more. To arouse the last feeble promptings of appetite recourse is had. to more delicate food, calculated to keep alive a few days longer the desire for nourishment. For solid food a dough of fine flour is served, and for liquid refreshment, milk, pure milk, if you please. If the bird, already stuffed to bursting, positively refuses to eat any more, it is made to eat by force."
"By force?" said Emile, "when it is bursting and can eat no more?"
"Yes, my friend, by force. Willy, nilly, it must still swallow for some days longer, after which comes the end of its miseries. It is killed and appears on the table as a tender and juicy roast abounding in fat.
"This forced feeding is the essential feature in the method followed to obtain the renowned poulards of Mans.
"According to the masters of this art, the process is as follows: Without preliminary subjection to the mutilation I spoke of, the fowls are placed in narrow cages in a warm, dark room, the doors and windows of which have been made tight to prevent the free circulation of air. For food, a mixture of barley-flour, oats, and buckwheat is moistened with milk, and the dough is divided into little pieces or oblong balls shaped like an olive and of about the length of the little finger. At meal times, which must be very regular, the feeder takes three hens at a time, ties them together by the legs, puts them on his knees, and, by the light of a lamp, begins by making them swallow a spoonful of water or whey; then, taking them by turns, he introduces a bolus into the beak of each of the hens, and to facilitate the descent of the large pieces he presses lightly with his fingers, passing from the base of the beak down to the crop. While the bird that has been fed is recovering from its painful deglutition, the two others are treated in the same manner. To this first ball are added a second, a third, and so on up to a dozen or fifteen, all put into the beak and swallowed willingly or otherwise. Their crops sufficiently full, the three hens are replaced in their cages, where they have nothing to do but sleep and peacefully digest their copious meal. The others go through the same treatment, three by three, in a fixed order."
"And if the crop is stuffed too full with these twelve or fifteen lumps of dough," asked Jules, may not the bird die, choked with food?"
"There is no great danger ; all will go well. Re-member the bird's astonishing powers of digestion and the experiments I related to you on this subject."
It is true that a gizzard capable of getting rid of leaden balls stuck with needles or lancets ought easily to dispose of a few lumps of dough."
"Besides, heed is taken not to go beyond the fowl's digestive powers. A halt is called as soon as the crop appears to be full. It takes from six weeks to two months of this treatment to bring the poulard to perfection."
"I am too fond of the poulard served up as a choice roast to speak ill of what I have just heard; nevertheless I will admit, Uncle, that this barbarous fattening process is repulsive to me. I pity those poor things crouching there in the dark, in cells where they cannot move, and forcibly crammed with food until almost stuffed to death."
"This sympathy proceeds from a good disposition, and I approve of it; but, after all, what is to be done? Since we need the poulard, we must needs countenance the process by which the hen is turned into the poulard. Our life is sustained by animal life. Therefore all that our pity can do is to lessen as much as possible the unavoidable suffering and, above all, see to it that the victims of our needs do not become also the victims of a useless and stupid brutality."