some old things just have to go

Each afternoon there is a chore that someone in the house must do without fail. It normally happens late in the day, dusk in fact. An old metal colander is plucked off the wall and, with high hopes, the individual, (often one of the older girls) walks out to the chook pen to check the eggs. There’s a sense of excitement, hope and anticipation, a full bounty of eggs is the prize. Some days it’s a good score and others it’s fairly lame. Of late the older hens haven’t been as productive as they once were, a fact that’s been on my mind. It’s that time of year when old hens must be replaced by the young hens (pullets) which have been maturing over summer and are now at the stage of laying.


We eat eggs, truth be told we eat a lot of eggs. Be it in baking, for breakfast or in traditional staples like tortilla espanola. So when the productivity wanes we need to make the call. The old girls have to go. It very much hinges on balance of feed cost versus egg return, simple back-yarder economics really. I can’t afford to keep the non laying chooks in the pen, it costs too much for the supplementary feed of grain. This weekend was the time to act. We telephoned a few places, but I think most people that live the lifestyle we do, have had the same idea of late and most of the pullets across the region had been sold. With a little perseverance we came across a lovely Hungarian couple who had loads of chooks for sale. I think they variety was ‘Gingerhams’… I don’t really care for breeds, as long as they lay eggs for us, for as long as possible, hopefully all the way up to the coldest depths of winter. That’s all I’m really interested in, it’s all about getting food to the table.


As we pulled into the driveway back home I knew the inevitable activity would take place that afternoon. Years ago in my previous existence I never once questioned the process involved to get that chicken meat available for my consumption. Now when I cut that jugular and break the neck of a bird, I not only concentrate on the task at hand but I can’t help but think more about where we are as a culture. How far removed from the reality of food production most of us are.


For most people in the western world, the reality is that every single piece of food that is eaten has been touched, in some way, by another human being. There is no escape from that reality. From the coffee you sip of a morning, the banana you eat at work, the pasta you cook of an evening. Everything. When it comes to meat I reckon we ought to have a very real connection with the processes necessary to get a living animal transformed into butchered meat for our kitchens. Hundreds if not thousands of chickens have been raised and killed for my consumption over the last 36 years, I ought to have cared more about how that was made possible.


How has this been achieved? What techniques were used to kill the animal? What were the birds living conditions? What were they fed? What treatment has the meat had? These questions need to be asked. Unfortunately I can’t answer these questions, I doubt anyone other than the insiders to the industry could. Like many, most facets of the food industry, it wasn’t always like this. In days of old, and not too far back (as recent enough for my parents to remember in fact) chicken was a treat. Now it’s almost an everyday food for some people. That demand for chicken meat requires a lot of chooks to be raised in an efficient manner of large scale and intensive production. To keep up with demand the birds need to be ready for processing with a fast turnaround time, (30 – 60 days I believe). That’s phenomenal. That’s scary. I’d rather apply the approach of the old days and eat chicken less frequently. Sometimes I eat it when I’m on the road, when there isn’t much choice, but the reality is that it’s not often on our menu. I’m talking about a whole chook cooked so rarely that we can recall the moments we’ve cooked it during the year on our fingertips.


As a result of choosing a reduced chicken menu, we have to kill the birds ourselves. It’s never an easy task, but it’s something that just has to be done. The chickens we eat are usually a breed that’s selected for egg production, not meat development, so the birds are very different in physiology to a commercial meat bird. They taste significantly different too, but it’s unmistakably chicken and it’s delicious.


Warm blood hits my boots, the wall, the cone. The bird will wriggle. The last bit of living electricity exiting the body then falls limp. It’s a kill, there is no bullshit about it. Some TV shows talk about the humanity of the dispatch but the reality is, you’re killing another animal in order to balance your omnivorous diet. I don’t deny that.

It’s just the same as me catching a fish, shooting a rabbit or quail on the run. It’s us animals killing another animal to get that essential protein that our bodies have evolved to expect. The sad fact is that process of a kill is nowhere advertised or communicated to the billions of people that eat a chicken subway, Macca’s burger or a million processed chicken nuggets consumed every day. That pisses me off. I lament that we have lost that connection with how meat is produced. So much so that when I show someone how to kill a chicken they predictably cry. Tears will slide down cheeks as they hold the neck of the bird, blood starts to flow and the animal dies by their hand. It’s bloody and gory and it’s something every meat eater should know or they should stop eating meat. Opinionated? Bloody right I am.

You imagine for a minute if there wasn’t that John Smith working on the killing floor at the factory that kills your animals for you. Would you still eat meat? I asked myself that question years ago and find myself here. Taking care of the dirty work myself. It doens’t make me a better person. It just means I’m a true omnivore.


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  • Jack Johnson

    I keep chooks and I am a vegetarian. My current lot are ex-battery hen and are 5 years old and barely laying any more. They cost heaps to feed as I only buy whole grain. I want some new ones (the ex battery you can buy at a year old) for some eggs over the coming year. What do you suggest I can do to humanly end their life? We once had a chook that lived for 12 years! and She stopped laying after about 5 years. . . . .

    • Sarah

      Jack, if you don’t want to process your chickens but simply kill them humanely, what I have used with good success is starter fluid. The active ingredient is ether, and it just puts them to sleep then they stop breathing, it’s very peaceful (but there still is the burst of energy before they die, you have to hold them tightly!). I soak a cotton ball with the fluid and put it over their nose, then when they are relaxed and asleep, I put a plastic bag over their head with more fluid-soaked cotton or paper towel, hold it close around their neck so they continue to breathe it. It takes maybe a few minutes. I’d advise you to wear gloves and an old shirt, if you get any of it on you, it’s hard to get that smell out of your nose. Good luck!

      • valerie

        after they are relaxed and asleep can i slit the throat without trauma? instead of the further intoxication of the ether?

        • rohan

          There will always be a nerve wriggle. It’s not trauma if you cut fast clean and break the neck. Every animal I have killed does the same. Fish, Rabbit, Hare etc

  • Kate

    So true.

  • Miss Piggy

    This is a really wonderful and thoughtful piece of writing – and the provenance of our meat should be something every single meat eater things about. We’ve switched to free-range meat in our house, so we’re eating much less off it as it’s a bit of mission to come by in Western Sydney – more vego meals for us and treks to farmers markets…which is how it should be.

  • Nicole

    Love this.
    We are meat eaters, although we eat far, far less these days. We are also backyard chicken dispatchers. It is a sombre event, culling day. The kids sometimes watch on, sadly, and ask lots of questions. Sounds ‘inappropriate’? Maybe, but we think it is pretty important to undo some of the detachment that has become normal. Our kids will know their food.
    Love your honesty. Have to ask, though, does it get you into trouble???

  • Susan

    WOW. Great post Rohan. Thank you.

    I tried to be a vegetarian when I was a teenager because I was so concerned about the lifestyles and killing techniques used in the meat industry. I didn’t last long, about 18 months or so. I missed bacon and steak too much. But as I returned to the population of omnivores, I chose to only eat farm killed meat. When I moved away from the country, my shopping choices remained firmly within the confines of free range, and often organic meat, mostly from small scale producers.

    I used to get really mad at squeamish teenage girls (who it so often was in my experience) screwing their noses up at the killing of an animal, but still perfectly content to eat their lamp chops at night. When I made the choice to start eating met, I did so on the basis that I recognised the killing, and appreciated the sacrifice such an animal made. I’m not saying I wouldn’t cry if I was killing one of girls who’d laid me eggs and lived so close for many years, but it is something that needs to be done if we want to eat chicken.


  • Jane @ Shady Baker

    We have been killing chooks ourselves Rohan, but I could not have put the words together as beautifully as you do. Great post as always.

  • Ami Hillege

    Agree with your point of view. We’re on the same path as you. Very gratifying and on fronting at the same time.
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  • Tarnya

    Great piece Rohan!

    I grew up on a farm, breeding our own chooks, and would watch my Nan come out to behead, pluck and cook our chooks.

    Being young at the time, I can’t recall it ever affecting me emotionally. However as I got older, I refused to touch or prepare any raw chicken, but would still be happy enough to eat it as long as it was not on the bone as that would remind of the process i’d seen and the life it once had!

    A little while back now, I decided that if I can’t prepare it, I can’t cook it, and have since, faced my fears!

    No longer living on the farm, I also can’t say I know where each of the chooks I eat comes from. But I do appreciate and acknowledge the process it has been through to get to my plate. For this I am thankful, thankful I have been shown, and make every effort to consider it before I eat.

  • Alex McKenzie

    Great post Rohan. Excellent snaps too – loved the ending. ‘A true omnivore’; what an excellent expression.

  • Paul – The Kind Little Blogger

    This is where we diverge. I cannot morally justify treating animals as stuff-producing units. No more eggs. Off with your head.

    • Rachel

      I agree with you completely! It is no fault of their own that they don’t produce eggs at that point. Shall we kill women when they hit menopause and have no more eggs???

      • rohan

        Rachel, that’s a ridiculous comparison.
        We only have so much money to buy supplementary chicken food for our egg layers. It’s a reality for us to manage animals this way, it’s not mean. These animals are brought into this world for egg production. Do you eat eggs? If so I have a world of information for you about the reality of commercial egg production.

        If you’re vegan then you can take your moral high ground and I’ll take my omnivore stand.

        But comparing a non laying chicken to a baren human female is beyond sense.

  • Kristy

    I’ve caughted killed and cleaned my own fish and other sea food. I’ve yet to do the same with chooks. For now, our girls are ‘pets’ but I know the reality of living more self reliant means that can’t always be the case.

    One day when we have our own block, it’s something I’ll do. simple as that.

    For now, I buy free range and organic and the place we’re next looking to buy chicken to eat from, the chooks are probably better looked after than a lot of people!

    Great post. If people had to take care of their own meat, I think a lot of things would change.

  • Jeff

    I came across this link on a friends FB page, great article!!

  • Charlei

    Appreciate the post, as usual. Nice to finally catch a glimpse of your tattoos that is more visible. Mind me asking what the writing says? I’m curious and can never seen to make it out, but I love your tool of the trade right at hand.

    Keep up the awesome. I started making scratch pasta inspired by you and my husband recently processed his first pig. A wonderful life, indeed.

  • Faith

    This is great and reflects my feelings about meat production exactly. I recently became vegetarian because I knew I wasn’t in a position in my life to be able to afford free-range organic meat, and because I don’t lead a lifestyle where I can kill my own meat all the time (I also don’t really like meat that much and prefer chickens as egg-laying pets rather than food). People always wonder how a vegetarian is dating an avid hunter, but the truth is I prefer it that way. I’d much rather people kill their own meat than to be so disconnected from the process. I had a flyer advocating animal rights or something of the sort and showed it to a friend while having lunch one time and the friend got really pissed at me for ‘ruining his lunch’– but seriously, what the hell do you think you’re eating? I think everyone should experience the death of an animal that they’re eating, if just once. If they can’t handle it, they shouldn’t deserve to eat and pretend as if nothing’s happened.

    • Hail To The Nihilist

      It’s not your fault that it ruined his lunch. I think it’s reasonable to assume that if one is prepared to eat something, they are prepared for the facts on how it came about.

  • Steve

    As a veggie , I ask people the same question.The truth is I can do it and have killed fish and chickens for my own consumption. But with the big choice in greens and all the other non meat stuff I decided that it still wasn’t worth it. And that the only meat I will consume will come of my own hands.. Now if only you get that stamped into peoples heads I think we will move to a more human way of farming. So well said my man..

  • Lady Demelza

    Rohan, I just love this post, and your blog, so much. I also feel very strongly the way you do – if a person isn’t prepared to deal with the reality of killing animals, they just don’t deserve to eat meat. I also feel angry with people who whinge squeamishly about these things, yet are happy to eat meat that came from the supermarket wrapped in plastic.
    My mum lived on a small hobby farm for a few years and each year at lambing time she would take in any rejected lambs, or those whose mothers died giving birth, from the neighbouring sheep farmers. She’d hand-raise them, getting up every four hours in the freezing winter nights to bottle-feed them formula. She treated them like her babies, to the point that her mother has pictures of lambs on display on her walls rather than pictures of grandchildren! Then when the time came, a family member with butchering experience came out and processed the animals right there on the farm. The meat went straight into a big chest freezer – and still my mum would call those pieces of meat by their pet names. “We’re having roast Marge for dinner tonight.” “I’m just making some Billy chops.”
    I’m very strict about only eating meat that was grown organically or free-range, but I’ve never killed an animal for food myself – I just haven’t been in that position. But I’ve thought deeply about it, and I know that if such a task came to me, I would do it with respect and honour. I don’t know if I would cry or not – but I would do it.

  • Brendan

    Good on you Rohan. We got our first Chooks last August and they’ve been producing brilliantly. We plan on doing the same when the time comes and since reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s ‘Eating Animals’ our meat consumption has dropped by about 60-70% and continues to slide.

    Good on you for setting the example! Reality!

  • Belinda F

    Refreshing take on this topic, Rohan. I agree, everyone needs to be connected to where their food comes from. If you are happy to eat it, you should be happy to know how it came to be on your plate!

    On the weekend, I had a neighbour give me some sh!t for eating vegetarian and I asked him if he had the balls to kill and disembowel a chicken for consumption. He said no, to which I replied “Neither do I, which is why I don’t feel that I deserve to eat something that I couldn’t kill and prepare myself, to do that animal justice and appreciate what it gave up for me”.

    Also, is that a tattoo of a gun on your arm? I’d love to know what your tattoos represent!

  • tricia

    Inspiring Rohan.

    I want to butcher chickens one day – but know its something I’m going to struggle with. I think I might try quail first – as for some reason the smaller the animal is the easier I think it will be.

    Loved your graphic pictures thank you. Its nice to see some reality regarding our food production.

  • Kirti

    In Tibetan Buddhism there is a group practice called Ganapuja, the purpose of which, amongst other things, is to share food, particularly animal products. the intention is to make a connection with the animals and all the beings/ people who have contributed to the life and death of each animal. The process of eating is then carried out with presence and awareness and lack of preferential judgement. When I was reading about the practice I was encouraged to consider the value we place on one being over another. If a person will not kill an animal for food nor consequently eat it, that person should also consider the thousands of other animals that are killed indirectly through food gathering/ production – vegetables, grains and all. By what personal standards does one determine the importance of a cow over an insect for example? It is almost impossible to acquire a feed that hasn’t interrupted the life of even the tiniest being. Even if we choose to be vegan or vegetarian we should try to be aware of where all our food comes from and what it takes to bring it to the table. It’s most important to source our food and eat it with as much awareness as possible. This was imparted on a more esoteric level. I think you just very eloquently put it into practical terms!

  • Calantha


  • Dayla

    Hi Rohan and everyone,
    great post, very gutsy and truthfull. We kill our own chooks too, the young roosters usually. It is not pleasant and I am sad to deprive them of life but they had 3 good months of free rangeing. I can’t let them all grow up or there will be fights to the death, I have seen that before.
    But they sure taste great. The taste of my childhood, when we had chicken twice a year. I am 52 and this is how it was till the mid 70s when suddenly you could buy frozen chooks from the supermarket. They never tasted the same but the convenience was great. We had a roast leg of lamb most Sundays, it was the convenience food of my childhood.
    I am enjoying your book.

  • Linda

    My goodness you are good with words and I love the way your mind thinks! Our philosophy is the same but you put it so well! I loved the line about eating food that others have touched. I will keep that at the back of my mind now as my goal. I will aim for local, organic but ultimately UNTOUCHED food!

  • Linda

    p.s. And may I comment on my blog about your ‘untouched food’ philosophy?

  • Zelda

    Thank you for this very thoughtful post, Rohan.

  • cityhippyfarmgirl

    Such a great post. This is so important for people to think about when they are sitting down to their chicken dinner and not just switching off, disregarding the life has been given for our meal.
    Wonderful pictures.

  • valerie

    i have to make some decisions soon.

  • the good soup

    I haven’t read a post in so long. Not because I don’t like your blog, but because I don’t have time for anything these days. But reading the beginning of your post as it popped into my email, I got here, and you telling me a story I’ve been telling forever, about what’s important in my life. I got so carried away with new work, that I forgot where I started: facing up to my food. Thanks for the reminder, Rohan.

  • tamara

    Hear hear! Courageous indeed: and sad that it is so in our day and age.

    Thank-you for being the voice of many, and of reason for those of us who see as you do.

    We’ve just sprung for some pullets, and have begun the ‘talking’: introducing the kids to the idea that when they are non-producing, we will be having them for dinner. With an immense amount of gratitude.

  • Julia

    Didn’t read your post, because the pictures are horrible.. Saw them on my RSS-list and decided not to read your blog anymore.

    • rohan

      Did I use the wrong aperture?

      • Julia

        Settings of camera are nice. The content isn’t. Sorry.

        • Nicole

          I would rather be confronted with the sombre and meaningful reality of the process by which thoughtful meat eaters like Rohan come to their meat, than live (like most people) in complete unawareness of the horrible end that most animals killed for meat come to.
          I do hope, Julia, that you are a vegetarian, because it would be very sad if you were offended by this post but happily ate the packaged meat from the meat section of the supermarket.

          • Julia

            I am a vegetarian. And I am against killing process being shown.

        • rohan

          Do you eat meat?

          • Julia


          • Julia

            BTW, i’m NOT saying eating meat is bad or killing animals for food is bad. Just taking the pictures of it doesn’t feel right.

          • rohan

            Ok. Thanks Julia for your honesty. I respect that.

            It’s just something that I believe that although confronting is important for meat eaters to be well aware of.

  • julian

    I agree with ^^ Rohan. However, it’s discomforting to think of animals solely as meat, as some comments insist. E.g. Domesticating chickens for egg production unless they become lame, when they are then disregarded and slaughtered for meat.

    For me at least, such attitudes hint at more complex issues regarding our inability to work with nature but against it in a pursuit for some sort of physical or moral domination. And although I agree with the comment that “it is important for meat eaters to be aware where there food comes from” i’m critical of the line and how often and easily it can be used to justify the often cold, apathetic treatment and killing of animals.

    Further, I question where the appreciation is for an animal that has been laying for you the majority of it’s life? Don’t we have some responsibility then to care for that animal at the end of its laying cycle ?

    The photography is confronting Julia, my thoughts are with you.

    BTW “Did I use the wrong aperture?” comes across as pretty disrespectful.


    By the way Rohan, i’m a regular of your posts and do appreciate your ethos.

    • rohan

      Julian. Yes I have a habit of using black humor. In regards to animals we have differing views of which neither of us are necessarily right. However I appreciated that you took the time to add you thoughts.

      • Lady Demelza

        I thought that ‘did I use the wrong aperture’ was absolutely fabulous. Made my morning. Do you mind if I use that one when confronted with squeamishness in the future?
        I don’t think you should have to worry about whether or not your comments might appear to others to be disrespectful. It’s your blog. If they want a fluffy, politically correct blog they can make one themselves.
        “Don’t we have some responsibility then to care for that animal…”
        Humanely killing an animal and eating it with respect is caring for an animal. The idea that ‘alive’ is always better than ‘dead’ is grotesque and intensely disrespectful to the cycle of nature.

  • Melissa @ Bless This Mess

    Whoa. You put pictures of chicken murder on your blog. That’s hard core. I just got my first batch of backyard hens this spring, but this reality of needed to butcher the girls in the future has been haunting me since I got them. I think you put it into perspective with reverence but reality… something so many of us lack. I”m still so nervous but we’ll get there when it’s time. Love your blog!

  • Simon

    I can’t believe that people have mentioned your tattoos after reading this profound, confrontational post. There’s no photo credit for the ‘Money shot’ either…it obviously wasn’t taken by you, Rohan.

    • rohan

      Yeah thanks for reminding me. My partner takes all the photos of me when my hands are busy doing stuff.

  • Beth

    I am of that generation (your parents?) when Chicken (called chook back then) was a treat and usually for Sunday dinner. Hens that stopped laying usually ended up on the table.
    I asked myself these same questions some years ago, concluding that I was a hypocrite if I couldn’t kill & ea6 my own meat. I disdcovered that I am indeed a hypocrite – I can pluck & gut a bird, then cook it, but I can do the deed. Yes, I need more work in this area.

  • Jillian

    I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate this post. My husband and I keep hens and they are coming to the end of their laying life and when the time comes, we will also kill them and consume them and replace them. While I enjoy keeping them, they aren’t pets, they are livestock. They have lived good lives.

    I also wanted to share that we haven’t bought meat from a grocery store or local butcher for about 8 years and have been practicing a subsistence (as they call it in North America) lifestyle. We only eat the meat from the animals (upland game, duck, antelope, mule deer and elk) that we have hunted and killed ourselves. We grow and preserve all that we can in our summer gardens.

    I blogged, this autumn past, about the experience of my first big game hunt of my life — I took an antelope over on the Wyoming sage flats. It was tremendously hard work and a beautiful and brutal rite of passage for me as a woman and a human being. My personal essay on the matter received many knee jerk reactions of the negative persuasion and I finally had to close comments and ask people to dialogue with me privately on the matter. At any rate, I love seeing what your readership has to say on the matter of your eating, hunting and small farming habits. What you are writing about and sharing with the world is important and intelligent.

    Thanks for choosing to live the way you do.

  • Tamar@StarvingofftheLand

    I’m very glad you posted the pictures. That’s what happens when a chicken is killed humanely and well, and anyone who eats chicken should face it. Anyone who eats eggs should, too, as chicken death is a byproduct of egg-production (the inevitable males …).

    We do what you do, and we’ve had a number of people approach us to participate. There seems to be a growing subset of meat-eaters who want to understand what really goes in to raising and slaughtering.


  • Amanda

    Beautiful words and I was so glad to see your excellent pic’s thanks Rohan. Once upon a time this process was a routine part of life – I saw my first chicken execution in my uncle’s back yard. Our food production system is largely responsible for the widespread disconnect between our dinner and it’s donors experienced by consumers today. A courageous post and one that should be read and looked at by all who eat animal protein.

  • annie

    I just (last night) wrote a post on this exact same topic (but didn’t include photos like yours because I didn’t want to upset my Nana). Thanks for putting it out there…

    • rohan

      you guys are living the god life I see!

  • Shan

    Stumbled onto your blog by happy accident. Congratulations to you and your family for give the simple life a go. My husband and I have been living similarly for over a decade now.

    About the chicken kill. I differ slightly on the notion of doing a kill makes you a more true omnivore, but I completely agree that it is beneficial to any human to at least see a garden (many have not) – preferably keep one. Ditto that for protein side of the diet. My grandfather was a butcher so I have not been shy about the idea of butchering any meat. I have never butchered a cow and my husband does the cleaning and butchering of deer and elk, but I have culled many a chicken and caught and cleaned many fish over the years. What that does is give you a deep respect for life. All life. You see it full frontal where you are in the food chain, what your responsibilities are stewardship wise.

    I saw a commenter had trepidations about her children seeing chickens killed. I’d like to assure you, that you do it respectfully and maybe let them help in the process, they will be better for it. It is sad to know kids have maybe never seen a real live chicken or maybe a carrot growing in the earth. I had a grown man ask if I had ever cracked open an egg and found a partially developed chick. I said that I do not have a rooster. He just gave me a blank stare.

    Lovely pics BTW.

  • Petra

    Very drastic photos…

  • Nicole

    What a great post. I agree with you that people should be more aware of where their food comes from, and perhaps if I were able, would raise and kill my own animals too. Once my eyes were open to the food production industry, I became vegetarian because I was unable to do what you have done. I read your description of the killing of your chickens with great interest and was not offended or saddened. There is a definite sense of compassion in what you do when compared with how most chickens are raised and killed for consumption. Thank you.

  • Judas

    Thank you for sharing this with us, and for what it is that you are doing.

    Personally, I cannot bring myself to kill and find intensive animal farming practices to be obscene which is why I have attempted to live a vegetarian lifestyle on several occasions now.

    The longest that I was able to sustain it was two years. I didn’t miss the taste of meat, though my body wasn’t able to function as it needed to with the absence of it.

    As such, I have chosen to eat only native game meats.

    Perhaps, one day, I may have the courage to live as you do, though until I do, I will try to lead a life that involves a diet that is as sustainable and free from cruelty as possible.

    Your website is rather inspirational, Rohan.

    It is sad to see comments comparing layers at the end of their cycle to barren women, and complaints about the graphic nature of the pictures – they miss the point entirely.

    It is admirable that you are choosing to eat layers instead of broilers, and I applaud your decision to explicitly detail the process that you go through in order to bring food to the table.

    If there was a greater awareness of what actually occurs between farm and table, I dare say that we’d have a lot less waste and probably a kinder, gentler society as well.

    • rohan

      Thanks Judas, come back an visit! Ro

      • Judas

        I shall, indeed.

        I have a recipe for wild rabbit carpaccio that you might like that involves the native finger lime and bush chillies.