I am very fond of chickens. Unfortunately, our pup, Ned, is very fond of chickens too, and made it his business last summer to eat all our laying hens.
It was a sad day when the last brown feather floated in the wind. My husband Greg, ever the pragmatist, suggested that we take the opportunity of an empty hen house to buy meat birds and raise them to pack our freezer full of organic meat.
We did indeed seize the opportunity (carpe cluck) and in a matter of three short months, our chickens had reached a size that we deemed suitable for the pot. Not knowing how to go about the job of dispatching them, I sought the advice of neighbors who had done this before. Our friends Janet and Jordie told me that you set up a bar, get some tables, knives and, if possible, a chicken plucker, and you’re in business.
Showing a firm grasp of the directions, I asked if you sat at the tables, paraded the birds across the bar, knifed them as they passed, then threw them in the plucker.
Well, it turns out the bar is for the people. You stock it with your favorite beverage which you will need as you handle your assigned task. The tables are for the chickens, after they have met with the knife and been in the plucker.
Being raw rookies when it came to popping off poultry, we enlisted our faithful friends to help us, as well as Jack, the children’s Phys. Ed. teacher, who we deemed suitably athletic for dispatch duty.
The delicate problem of how the children would react to the flock’s demise was then addressed. One early childhood memory that is forever etched in my mind is a visit to our Uncle Tom’s farm on Sunday. My uncle’s family thought that city kids might get a kick out of seeing where Sunday dinner came from. I shall never forget the sight of a headless chicken pursuing my sister Pat around the farmyard, made all the more nightmarish by the fact that no matter which way she turned, the darn thing followed her.
We warned the children that the spectacle of a chicken flipping around without a head might prove to be a worrisome sight, or worse, could permanently put them off chicken dinners. Their reaction was to invite the neighbor children over, and then fight for the best seats for a “View To A Kill” Choosing the pitched roof of the coop, they perched on top, breathless with anticipation.
It took Jack, who drew axe duty, a few whacks to finally sever the first chicken’s head. The body was then tossed into the long grass, where it gave a few flips and twitches, and lay still.
Eight pairs of wide eyes slowly filled with disappointment. After a brief silence, our son Stan spoke for them all. “That’s it?”
Jack, noting the children’s dismay, suggested they wait for the next one. The sight of their teacher chasing forty panicked poultry around the coop brought more squeals than the ensuing termination as number two flopped and dropped. The third chicken somehow managed to cluck without its head, which proved to be the highlight of the show.
With not enough blood and gore to engage them, the children soon tired of their perches and returned to their games. All, that is, except for our nine-year-old son Eddie, who convinced his teacher to let him have a go at rounding up the chickens. He caught them dashing into corners, cowering on perches and in mid-flight. There was not a bird that could escape the lad.
For our convenience, Jordie brought his plucker, which is a useful tool that looks like a washing machine, and that has its inside lined with rubber nipples. One merely dunked the bird in a large tub of boiling water to loosen the feathers, then hung it over the rotating nipples until most of the feathers fell off, remaining mindful at all times that one’s own nethermost parts did not brush the contraption.
From there it was to the gutting table where the women – who had drawn the short straw – got the task of removing innards. This we did on newspaper, the intent being that after each bird was done, you rolled up the paper and pitched it in the rubbish bin. The system worked well but for one small flaw. The newsprint came off on the bird.
One bird sported the headline “Off Ut Run” while another advertised athletic bras. Seems our organic chickens were wearing a layer of lead ink.
“Don’t worry, it won’t hurt ya” was Jordie’s response. “It’ll give ya something to think about while you’re chewing.”
It turns out that the best advice of the day was to set up the bar. Frozen margaritas helped turn what might have been a gruesome task into a marginally tolerable one.
After wrestling with a particularly stubborn gizzard, a frosty sip and a mumbled “Arriba!” helped ease tension.
By the end of the afternoon we were all pretty well eased, and the birds were all pretty well stiff. Their white carcasses floated in the garbage can full of icy water.
As I leaned over to read the headline “oin Th Club” the designated chicken catcher breezed in and announced, with a puffed chest and glowing eyes, “Mom, when I grow up, I’m going to be a professional chicken catcher!”
If that’s the case, he’ll have to find new co-workers. The thrill of the pluck is gone.