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Column: Fond memories of butchering chickens

The best thing that can be said about butchering chickens is...

Wait! I don't think there is a best thing that can be said about butchering chickens. Eating one, yes; butchering one, uh uh.

When the phone rang eight weeks ago, I answered it and a friend said: "I've got extra chickens to raise to butcher, do you want some?" That would have been a good time to have been too busy to answer.

But I said: Well, sure. Who doesn't.

"Great! I'll let you know when it's time to butcher. Bye."


Now, please understand. I've been involved in huge chicken butcherings growing up, so this isn't as bad for me as it could be. I remember mom and the neighbor lady sharing in cleaning chickens, with each having somewhere between 50 and 100. (At least, it seemed like that many to me, at the age I was, which was around 10 or 12.)

Back then, my brother and I, being natural born killers, found chopping chicken heads off highly entertaining. Frankly, neither of us, having been disciplined severely already for several experiments with farm animals that involved their demise, could believe our good fortune at all this. Frankly, even this job, as full of promise as it was for the first couple of dozen victims, grew boring.

That was when mom said that if we'd help this year, we could use the .22 rifle to shoot them (them being the unfortunate chickens who had up to now had the run of the farmyard). Oh boy! Count us in! Rifle ammunition was expensive, and a rare treat. This would be like some kind of African rifle safari.

"You have to shoot them in the head," mom said. Perhaps you haven't noticed. My brother and I sure hadn't. When chickens walk, their heads dart frontwards and backwards about three inches. A .22 bullet is about 1/4 inch.

"More chickens!" came the demand. Well, we were trying our best, but the expense of ammunition and the fact that mostly we shot things somewhere other than in the head meant we were having a heck of a time hitting these birds.

Grace, the neighbor lady helping, walked up to me, said, "Give me that rifle." I handed her the little singleshot. She slapped it up to her chin, fired off five rounds as fast as she could pull the trigger and reload, handed it back to me, and said: "Go chop their heads off, quick." There they were, five dead chickens.

Our hero.

About then, and pretty much from then on, dad needed us for field work, or chores, or something, and I've been pretty much on the eating end of things when it comes to chickens.

I hung up the phone, and said to my True Love: "Do you want some organically raised chickens?" That was kind of deceptive, wasn't it?

Sure, said she. Great, said I. They'll be ready for us to help clean in six or seven weeks.

Silence from my True Love. "Is there a problem?" I asked her. I, who grew up on a farm, wondered if she, who had not, had ever been involved in such an event.

I've butchered chickens, she said, and went on to talk about it, in much the same way as someone would talk about stepping in dog poop, more or less.

She said: "I hate the way chicken insides smell." Who doesn't, really? She went on to tell a great story about butchering chickens she had raised, and about how emotionally damaging it had been, especially to butcher Esmeralda, or some such pet chicken. It was a great story, ending in her crying and frying her friendly pet. My dad would have enjoyed it.

It's now July, and the chickens are butchered and in the freezer. Here's the thing I don't understand about butchering chickens. When I was growing up in Iowa, and pheasants were everywhere, when I shot one of those, we skinned it. It made life a lot easier, being as how scalding and pinfeathers didn't have to happen.

Now, we spend all this time boiling water, dunking chickens to get a good scald so the feathers will let loose a little, and then picking all those little quill ends out and so forth. Then we cook the chicken.

And then we don't eat the skin, due to its high fat content or something or other.

Another of life's messy little inconsistencies.

And chicken guts smell really bad.