I celebrated the 4th of July by helping to kill a chicken, thereby invoking my freedom to further opt out of the Factory Farm Industrial Complex and become more self-sufficient.
Actually it wasn’t intentional but just coincidental that it happened on the 4th—well the 3rd—of July.
The plan had been in the works for a while. A neighbor had a chicken that had decided, in chicken menopause, that it would start crowing like a rooster. This was a problem because we live in a densely-populated residential neighborhood, and one complaint from a sleep-deprived neighbor could have cost her all her chickens.
She asked me if I would help. I’d never killed livestock before, but it’s something I’ve wanted to participate in. Wanting to more be part of my food production, if I’m going to eat meat I want to be part of the process, etc. etc. etc.
I considered just looking it up on YouTube for about five seconds. I wanted to do it with someone who knew what they were doing; my fear was that I would botch the job and end up prolonging a traumatic, painful death. Since I’m all about being humane, that potentiality didn’t settle well with me.
Discussing this with other neighbors led me to find out that a friend and neighbor of ours, Prof, was skilled in the art of chicken killing and would be willing to help. Prof grew up in Ghana and had been processing livestock since he was a kid.
So we met at our neighbor’s house with a sharp knife and a bucket of boiling water.
My 4-year-old, who the neighbor was going to watch during this, was at once freaked out and interested. He didn’t want to see it, then he did, then he didn’t. (He ended up witnessing it, with my mom, who took pictures, while the neighbor stayed away.)
The actual killing of the chicken was a one-person job that I didn’t participate in. Prof captured the chicken from the coop, expertly held her in a way that made her sort of catatonic. He brought her over the small hole he’d dug in the ground, kept her head back, and made a small incision in her neck. He held her down as she bled out; the chicken didn’t react at all, save for a few spasms, contained by Prof’s holding of the animal.
It was over quickly. We took the still chicken to the pot of boiling water, and placed it inside. The hot water loosens the feathers so they are easily removed.
This was something I could help with and had done before. Years ago, when I was living in Ohio, I came home to find my housemate on the back porch with two freshly-killed geese and a pot of boiling water. A friend had gotten them hunting and brought them to her by surprise, so she’d had to drop what she was doing to process them. I said, “Let me help.” She—raised a farm girl—eyeballed me—a city slicker—and said, “Really?”
“Yes.” So, years ago with the geese, as last week with the chicken, I defeathered. If the water’s good and hot, the feathers just slide right out. When you get down to the smaller, tougher feathers, you need to pick and pull at them more. It’s the sort of meticulous work that’s highly rewarding; by the end, your hands are cramped but you’ve got something to show for it.
After the chicken was skin-bare, Prof sliced off the head, and finishing draining the blood. Then he dismembered her, saved the edible organs, and put it all into a stock pot for me.
I’d promised to make a broth with the chicken—which was otherwise inedible, at her age—that my and Prof’s families would share. I took great care to make a rich, fatty, gelatinous broth, à la this chicken broth recipe from Fearless Eating.
Prof was grateful to me when I made him the broth, and I am grateful to him (and to our neighbor) for providing the chicken to make the broth, and for a great learning experience!
(Photos by Alyson Arnold.)
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