Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Night of the Living Dead Chicken

This is a gruesome animal story, so skip it if you're feeling all vegetarian or something.

We have hens who are heading into their fourth summer. Mostly, people do not keep layers this long unless they're pets. Ours are in a gray area, and the older hens are scheduled for the axe this summer. There was one older hen who had pretty much quit acting like a chicken; she sat in the nest box all the time. And before you ask if she wasn't just broody, other signs of broodiness were absent and this has gone on for about three months.

The other night, Jason and I grabbed her and brought her up to the house to kill her. We had a discussion about which way to do it- chopping off her head or slitting her throat. I pressed for the throat method because it had been so easy, quick, and seemingly painless when I killed the spare roosters in the fall.

Time for a slight sidetrack. I once helped a friend with a chicken harvest; it was her first time and she was using killing cones and trying to kill them as humanely as possible. Something did not go quite right with the first few and they were still alive after bleeding for ten minutes. She tweaked what she was doing and the rest were dead within a minute. I decided then that I preferred being thorough and quick to being especially humane.

Back to the other evening- The bald, black hen put up no fuss and seemed pretty limp even when we took her out of the coop. Jason carried her upside down to the house because this position seems to calm chickens down. Really! try it sometime.

Jason held her by her feet and I slit her throat and she proceeded to not really bleed. There was a brief debate about whether she was so close to dead that her heart wasn't really beating strongly and I cut her throat more thoroughly. I think at this point one of us mentioned that the idea of zombies must have come from someone who slaughtered animals.

Still not much blood. I cut her throat until I hit her neck bones. Then there was a little more blood, but not like we usually see. I had gotten to her neck bones, so we put her on top of the compost and waited for her to bleed out. She wasn't moving, so we covered her with a thick layer of straw. I stayed outside another twenty minutes because I kept worrying we hadn't actually killed her. The House of Usher was definitely on my mind. I finally went in the house satisfied that she was dead under there.

The next morning, we went down to do chores. Jason carried milk up to the house and I went to turn off the water and glanced over at the chickens. (This is a good time to mention how far the chickens are from the compost pile right now. It's maybe a hundred yards with a steep, brush covered hill in between.) There was one of our few black chickens sitting outside the fence; you know, one of the ones left since we killed a black one the night before. And this chicken was looking pretty limp.

My thought was, "You've got to be kidding!" Then, Jerry Lee and his living hens all gathered on the inside of the fence, so I could easily count three living black hens on the inside of the fence.

Did a fox dig the dead chicken out of the compost and deposit her by the chicken fence? That was one of many thoughts racing through my head and I walked toward the chicken fence. Then, she lifted her head and looked at me. Telltale Heart, anyone? I scanned the field to be sure no one from PETA was watching and grabbed the chicken by her feet and marched up to the house.

Jason grabbed the cleaver and we severed her head completely from her body. She hasn't reemerged from the compost since, so we're pretty sure she's dead. I'm not going to check.

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