As you can imagine, without a refrigerator, eating meat turns out to be a bit of a rare activity. However, just because we don't have electricity doesn't mean that animal flesh is non-existent. In fact, we're surrounded by it, the only little job is to catch it and get the feathers, fur, feet, scales, etc off of it. Although at times I've considered grabbing the chicken pecking at my feet or the insomniac rooster, the truth is that we've decided it is probably best to not steal hungry children's only protein source. Noble, I know.

So, up until now, our meat quotient has been met in various ways. The one time that we bought old cow rubber out of the back of the rusty pickup truck that serves as the Sunday meat wagon convinced me and my aching jaw that this was not a suitable avenue. Four hours sitting in a leaky boat with a hook, line and  suffering worm and only a half pound of minnows to show for it was also a non-starter. The truth of the matter is, we eat meat when we go down the hill, when our neighbors slaughter something, or when we catch or are given a wild animal.

On that last point, we've eaten two or three kinds of doves, tepisquintle (lowland paca), chachalaca (a big bird), and way more than our fair share of armadillos. Everyone else also includes iguana, rabbit, guatusas, possum, boas, and maybe the occasional anteater on the menu. We'll probably try them eventually, we just have missed the opportunities up until now. Armadillos would almost be a reliable food source if it didn't require traipsing around rainy tropical mountainsides at night with a flashlight, stupid smelly dogs, and an hour's work to convince them they don't need to spend the night in their holes. It turns out that they are even less interested in getting out of their shells. Thankfully the excitement and newness of showing up on the gringos porch with a live armored possum has also calmed down.

So, all that leads to where we are today. With our own little two-story meat factory.

The Steinbeck Memorial Petting zoo. Everyone dies in the end.

It has been the plan to raise chickens for some time, but the garden prevented us from just free-ranging them. In addition, we've had a few wild rabbits for a while now and thought it might be nice to eat their babies some day. So, we built this little cage and fenced area for them to live in relative safety. The chicken was actually given to us some time ago as a little one from an ancient townsperson, but it was happier with the neighbor. Arjelia benefited from the chicken's eggs until the moment that she brought over a plastic bowl full of ten tiny pollitos and the mama gallina under her arm as we finished the coop.

People seemed a little concerned at first. Apparently, chickens don't like to be closed in. In fact, if you just leave them in a small space they will die! And, and if you don't give them more shade, they will burn to death! And, if you give them just chicken food, they won't make it!  In addition, they had too much water. Sounding a little bit like the "dogs and cats just eat corn" advice, I took their help with a healthy dose of skepticism.
But as it turns out, contrary to popular predictions, the chickens are just fine. More than fine in fact. A week after getting them, somebody came by.
Visitor: "Who gave you more chicks?"
Gringo: "No one."
Visitor: "Those aren't the chickens you had."
Gringo: "Yes they are, why?"
Visitor: "They can't be; they're too big."

So, the chores are growing as well as the chickens. Not only do we need to weed and water the garden, feed and water the cat and dog, but now let the chickens out, check the water, give them food, come back at night and shut them back up in the coop and feed and water the bunnies (maybe rabbits is a better term if we're going to eat them). In additions our little serving-size companions generate a substantial amount of brown bi-product that is certainly helping the garden.

The rabbits have been pretty low-maintenance. Water, high protein green stuff, vegetable biproduct, a little space, and they grow like crazy. A guy name Luis walked past while I was working in the garden sometime in early March and said "Do you like rabbits?" I hesitantly replied yes, and was immediately gifted with three tiny rabbits. Since then, they have easily tripled in size if not more. They seem very content. They're in the top story of the meat palace and have a pretty good view. Before they moved in, they were in a hastily constructed cage hanging from a rope. Maybe they miss the boat-in-a-storm experience they had before, I hadn't even thought to ask. And, I don't know if they're male or female, if anyone is a rabbit genitalia expert, feel free to chime in. I've tried a couple of times to flip them over and look for informative shapes and such. They don't appreciate it and there doesn't seem to be a whole lot to see. So, who knows. I'm tired of checking and little ashamed of bothering them so.

But, all in all, it's worth all the goofiness, and is generating a lot of positive conversations. A lot of the food for the rabbits and chickens come from garden leftover and other beneficial species that we planted. We talk about the value of water that improves personal and animal health and allows for the garden to be a possibility. All of this is done in a way that gives them confidence and hopefully inspires them to replicate the efforts in their home.

Special thanks to Bob and Kim Westfall for their donation making this project possible.


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this. Lots of great lines in here, even by your usually high standards!

    My favorites:

    "The Steinbeck Memorial Petting zoo. Everyone dies in the end."

    "... thought it might be nice to eat their babies some day"

    "...if anyone is a rabbit genitalia expert, feel free to chime in."

    Seriously, though, this is very cool. I'm assuming you made the cages? Its hard to see very well in the photos, but it looks like the roof of the chicken level will catch the "brown bi-product" from the rabbit level? Do you try to collect the chicken droppings, or are they not beneficial?

    1. Yes, the hotel is a Eldridge original. Yes, the roof of the chickies is for catching poo. The chicken poo is also very beneficial, but I'm just going to wait for it to pile up high enough to get it with a shovel I think. :)