Sunday, April 13, 2008


When I was a child I could go to the local Farm Bureau Coop and get 50 baby chickens for free. That's right, for free. Little bitty shits that could just eat and poop and drink water. We had a small farm at the time and there was a chicken coop on our property that I could use for no money.

The first thing I had to do was clean the damn thing. The folks who sold the place had no interest in a final clean-up and yours truly, at the ripe old age of 12, got the job of making it right again. Christ-on-a crutch. It was hot and dusty and fairly aromatic in there all those hours.

But finally it was clean. You could damn near eat off the concrete floor. Not quite, though. I had inherited all kinds of chicken appliances; water containers, feed troughs, way more than I needed. I got what I figured was the right stuff and stored the rest in an old barn we had. I say "I" figured, but that is a lie. I asked the old folks that lived around us and they told me what I would need.

I got some straw and spread it down on the floor, filled the water containers and the feed troughs and let the baby chicks out to enjoy and explore. There was a little electricity in the coop and I had a heat lamp for the chicks if they got cold and needed a some help. It was late Spring and the days were warm but the nights were cool and I wanted my chicks to have every advantage.

That feed I put in their troughs was from the co-op. They gave you the chicks but you then bought the ground feed off of them. But it was the 50's and feed didn't cost too much. Not much at all. The chicks were cockrels, not hens. THe hens went to egg laying operations. The cockrels were a nuisance.

After a while my chickens started to get some size to them and they needed to get out and execise a bit. My dad bought me a little run of chicken wire fence and I scavenged a few posts from the farm and made the devils a yard to play it. The coop had a door already installed for letting the chickend out during the day and letting them back in at night. Just a little thing but chickens aren't so big. After that I had door duty with the chickens. Open it in the morning and close it at night. They pretty much figured out hteir end of the drill and it worked just fine. Very rarely did I have to herd chickens into the coop at night. The coop was Mama and they liked her.

It wasn't too long before it was time to butcher the chickens. Hot damn! All that work and freting was gonna pay off in fried chicken! We made a plan. Since I had never butchered a damn thing but fish, I was sorta relegated to listening to the plans. That made me a junior and very subordinate chicken butcher. But it was gonna be a day, I tell you. I had 100 chickens and they were all going to be butchered in one day. My aunts and uncles and cousins and brothers and one set of grand parents were all there to help with the festiveties. And Mom and Dad, of course.

We started the killing first. I am a firm believer in killing the animal before butchering it. We did all the ways imaginable. We wrung their necks and snapped them off and was left holding the head while the body went sailing a little ways. We put their heads under a bucket and just pulled their feet real hard with one foot on the bucket. This was the messiest way to do it. You got the most blood on you doing the bucket thing. Grandma Nora came out to the kill zone and cut some heads off with a big ol' butcher knofe but she didn't last long cause she had to go work on the chickens after they had been plucked. Out in the kill zone we had a ball of string and we used this string to tie the chickens up by their feet to let the blood drain from them properly whle dangling from my mothers clothes line.

When you take off a chickens head and turn loose of the carcass, the chicken takes off and flops around until it finally doesn't have enough sugar in it's blood stream to afford it any more movement. After the flopping is over is when you tie them to the clothes line.

After draining, the chickens went to the scalding area. This was a big washtub of very hot water. I think my parents used a camp-stove to keep the water hot. The chickens were dutifully scalded and went down the line on the picnic table where there were chicken pluckers. Yes Virginia, there are chicken pluckers. The main body of feathers were plucked out. This was pretty easy becasue we had older people there who knew not to let the chickens stay in the water too long. They will cook a little bit and make the feathers hard as hell to pluck out. This is art as well as production.

Then they chickens went to the women who had little paring knives and knew to pull put the little hair-lke feathers that escape the pluckers. They are called pin feathers and they can be a pain in the ass. But the well done use of a small knife will make them go away very quickly.

Then we gutted the chickens. You knew where to cut to open the back end of the chickens and you pulled the guts out. You had to be careful while doing this because there were goodies in the guts you wanted to save; the heart and the gizzard and the liver. There was also a lttle bag of some kind of bittter shit that you didn't want to break and get all over the organs you wished to save.

After all of this you merely cut the chicken up in the manner you desired. We, for instance, left the leg and thigh connected cause Mom liked to fry them thataway. We who ate chicken liked it because we got a bigger piece of chicken!

After the pieces were all cut up we put them into old wax and heavy paper milk cartons and into the freezer they went. I had gone through a whole cycle of raising chickens. I did it again but it wasn't the great mystery it had been the first time. I've heard girls talk that way and I never knew they had ever butchered a chicken. At least I thought they were talking about butchering chickens!

But this is just one way to stay alive. There are more.


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