In which I learn quite a lot about anatomy

Warning: this entry discusses the process by which live chickens become delicious dinner at a fairly graphic level.

A friend of ours has chickens. Most of them are being raised for eggs, but she had several meat chickens, as well as a couple of potential egg-layers that turned out to be crowers instead. Yesterday she hosted a “Sweeny Todd Party”, where if you helped to dispatch and prepare the chickens, you got to take home a chicken, as well as learning a lot and hanging out with nifty people (and a planned viewing of Sweeny Todd, but I’d left by that point so I don’t know if it actually happened). There is now a chicken in our freezer which I killed, plucked, and cleaned. I can now eat the chicken with no moral qualms about where it came from.

The actual killing-the-chicken part was suprisingly non-disturbing. I think a large part of that was due to the fact that the hens would all wander over to see what you were doing behind the shed, and then would hang out hoping you would drop delicious bits of chicken innards while you were eviscerating the ex-chicken. These creatures have no concept of death. They have no idea what is going to happen to them, and have, as far as chickens are concerned, a blissful life at the end of which they are annoyed for a few minutes and then have a very unpleasant 15 seconds or so (possibly much less; I’m not sure how fast their little brains shut down). The remaining meat chickens eventually seemed to figure out that something was up, but the “something” was that the silly human was chasing after them and then grabbing them by the feet, which rather annoyed them. They lived and died with dignity, but it’s important to remember just how little dignity chickens naturally have.

You have to hold them by the feet so that the blood all rushes to their heads and they get sleepy. The chicken is then placed head-first into a suspended upside-down traffic cone with some of the top cut off so that the opening is nicely chicken-sized. This traps the wings so that they don’t flap, and makes the head stick out the bottom. My chicken kicked around a lot at the end, which was sort of distressing, but I knew intellectually that it wasn’t actually struggling; it lost consciousness within seconds once I slit its neck, and the kicking was just nerves firing as the blood left.

Plucking it was really the most annoying part, as the feathers are stuck on very tightly, even after you dunk it in scalding water. I think there are still some feathers on mine that I’ll have to pull off before we cook it. As it turns out, I am quite good at removing chicken innards — I have nice small hands and can get both of them in a chicken at once. I somehow expected the inside of a chicken to be messier, but it’s all quite neatly arranged. It’s only messy if something breaks. If the gall bladder breaks, green liquid goes everywhere. It’s really quite a pretty dark forest green, but you just don’t expect the insides of vertebrates to be that color. I left the feet on so that I could tell which one was mine, but didn’t keep the giblets.

I still feel odd about the idea of animals being raised specifically so that we can kill and eat them, but if they’re being raised in approximately the numbers that the land can actually support, it pretty much guarantees them a happier life and quicker death than being killed by a fox or something, and better even than a wild animal being killed by a human hunter (which can be very humane, but you have to be really good/lucky at it). It’s possible to be perfectly healthy without any animal products, but you have to either have agricultural practices of questionable hygiene or take supplements, which are not necessarily sustainable in the long run, especially in an emergency situation. If you’re just raising egg or dairy creatures, you have to do something with the male ones eventually and roosters and billygoats make lousy pets for most people.


4 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    FW said,

    that cone idea is a good one — my grandmother used to butcher her own chickens and would just lay them down and chop their heads off with a hatchet and the bodies would jump around for a while – once one nearly jumped into her car (she’d left the window down)

  2. 2

    Risa said,

    Actually, fox death seems to involve enough shock that the critters don’t seem to suffer much. It’s like, for us, being injured in an auto accident. Many don’t remember it at all. Some remember sitting there feeling tingly — the pain comes much later. And if you die right then — not so much suffering.

    I was run over by a log once on a mountainside and what I remember of that was “my, how PEACEFUL.” At first —

    Doing a chicken is good practice for any animal, we are all built just about the same really. If we want the protein in this form, it’s the honest way to go about it. My folks taught me to respect the fod animals and to dispatch them both firmly and thankfully.

    risa b

  3. 3

    limesarah said,

    Risa — that’s interesting on the fox death; I didn’t know that! It makes sense, though.

  4. 4

    yummyhealthylove said,

    I’m really not ready to kill my own chickens, but I am very good at butchering them. I was at the market the other day and they had gizzards in a bag. I got many lessons in how to cook them. The farmer suggested deep frying them. I don’t know if I am ready for the gizzards, but there’s nothing like the taste of a pastured chicken. I first had them in Thailand in a farm where they just walked around with us (and got up at 3am to let us all know they were up! so we should be too) and later from Union Square Greenmarket. I’ve made soup from the feet – which look so remarkably like human hands – its a little unnerving.

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