reasons to homeschool

On slaughtering our first chickens

Well, we finally did it. We slaughtered four of our five Cornish Crosses in the front yard under a crab apple tree. Yes, along with the bathtub and refrigerator sitting on the porch, we make great neighbors. Fortunately for our neighbors, they all live too far away to care.

Fortunately for you, perhaps, I do not have a working camera so you will be spared any graphic pictures of the process.

I had planned on making a video of our first bird so that the whole world could watch with me as I either followed through or chickened out. Alas, that shall not be…although perhaps I should mention that it was my husband who actually did the killing. I was charged with the supporting role, that of chicken holder and instruction giver.

Not that I had a clue what I was talking about, but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. I’m just giving you a little time to decide whether you really want to go through with reading this. While there may not be any actual pictures, words can sometimes be just as graphic. So here’s a more pleasant picture, just to help you not think too much about it. Aren’t they cute? The Cornish Cross is the white one.

The first to go was a little hen. It surprised me how incredibly calm the bird was as soon as she was placed on her back, and her neck placed between the two nails designed to keep her head still. My job was to stretch her out, hold her wings and say when. We had a slight discussion about how exactly to kill her; John favored just whacking her head off with the knife. A deep breath and a nod from me and the knife came down.

It  didn’t work. He broke her neck, instead, which isn’t particularly good. She went completely limp as he took the knife and made a quick slice to sever the head.

The flapping was incredible. I didn’t have that good of a hold on her, her being limp and all. The headless chicken flapped off the table, hit my leg (leaving a bit of a bruise, actually) and flopped on the ground until John grabbed the string holding her legs together and tied her up over the bucket that was supposed to catch the blood.

That was the most pointless piece of equipment we had. All the birds flapped too much to get any significant amount of blood actually in the bucket. But that was my first real surprise (beyond the fact that we had actually done it): there really isn’t that much blood.

Chicken number two was Purple Bird, a cockerel. I thought killing him would bother me more. He was, after all, a bit of a pet. Due to injury, he had spent some time in the house with his legs taped together and became quite tame. He followed me everywhere, came when he was called, and calmed down at the sound of my voice.

See, look at them here at about four weeks. They were all pretty tame. Always hopeful for food, they followed everyone around. If no one was around, they’d peck at the door, just to make sure you remembered they were there in case you had left overs or something.

Maybe I’m just heartless, or maybe there is a certain mental state you can enter to block that all out. One way or the other, I held him on his back, head in position between the two nails and discussed how best to dispatch him. I decided for the jugular. It is supposed to be the best way to bleed the birds out. The only problem was, I wasn’t exactly sure how to find it.

So I ran in to check the internet. Those pictures looked much more like a vein than anything we saw hidden under all those feathers, but opted for a quick slice where I thought the jugular should be.

He hit it perfectly with a good spout of blood following. Purple Bird was too strong for me, however, and flapped right out of my grasp, bruising my arm and fighting like mad as he swung from the bottom of the string.

Unlike the first bird, however, he was clearly aware. He vomited, even. It took maybe 10 seconds until it was over, but it bothered me.

“Stuff the best bleed,” I decided.

I wasn’t putting a bird through that again. Or myself for that matter.

We’re doing this because we like chickens. We like having them around. We enjoy their antics. We enjoy the freedom we can give them. And if we’re going to eat chicken, I prefer it to be one that has had a happy life enjoying fresh air, green grass and whatever insects he can scratch up as opposed to a life in a shed with a clipped beak and a thousand other birds. Purple Bird would have been culled or pecked to death because the treatment for his injury cost more than he was worth. But I feel a certain responsibility to all the animals in our care, and I certainly don’t want them to suffer unnecessarily.

So from that point on, we just severed the heads. Quickly, cleanly and assured that any awareness on the part of the bird was momentary at best.

The flapping was difficult to manage, and two of the birds bruised themselves. In fact, Purple Bird broke his own wing. As in the bone was protruding from the skin. A killing cone, I think, shall be made or purchased before we slaughter (perhaps before we purchase!) another meat bird.

But the hardest part was over. We had actually followed through with it, and slaughtered four birds. They all hung (not so) neatly from our crab apple tree bleeding out and awaiting me to go check the internet again to figure out what to do next.

to be continued