Being a farm kid is not for sissies and cowards. The dark side of the chicken experience is slaughtering, plucking, cleaning, and preparing chickens for the pot. I watched as Mother transformed into a slobbering beast as she towered over the caged chickens, snagging her victim by the leg with a twisted coat-hanger, ringing its neck and releasing it for its last run. We crowded by, horribly thrilled by what we knew was coming. It was scarier than ”The Night of the Living Dead”, as the chicken flapping its wings, running with its head hanging crazily to one side, chased us in ever larger circles until it finally reached the Pearly Gates. It looked horribly cruel, but done properly, a quick snap of the wrist breaks the chicken’s neck instantly, giving a quick death. Afterward, my mother grabbed the dead chicken, plunged it into a pot of boiling water, plucked the feathers, slit its pimply white belly and removed its entrails, cut off its feet and head, and prepared it for dinner. I was repulsed when Mother found a unlaid eggs in the egg cavity and used them in cooking. That just didn’t seem right. I was happy to eat the chicken, but future eggs….disgusting.
Mother looked out one day and saw one of her chickens eating corn, oblivious to the fact that her gizzard was hanging out, bobbing up and down as the chicken pecked corn off the ground. Apparently she had suffered injury from a varmint of some kind. Clearly, she wouldn’t survive with this injury, so Mother and I tried to catch her. At least she could be salvaged for the table. Well, she could still run just fine. We chased her all over the yard with no luck. Finally, Mother decided to put her out of her misery by shooting her. She missed. She fired again and shot the hen’s foot off. I knew I could do better. I shot her beak off, then hit her in the tail. By this time, we both felt horrible and had to get her out of her misery. Her injuries had slowed the poor beakless, tailless, gizzard-bobbing, one-leg hopping chicken down enough so we could catch her and wring her neck.
All chickens didn’t end life as happily. The LaFay girls, Cheryl, Terry, and Cammie raised chickens for 4-H with the rest to fill their freezer. Late one Thursday evening while their mother was at work, they realized tomorrow was the day for the big barbecue chicken competition. Mama wouldn’t be in until way too late to be helping with slaughtering and dressing the chickens. After all the time and effort they had put in on their project, they had no choice but to press forward without Mama’s help. They’d helped Mama with the dirty business of putting up chickens lots of times. They’d just have to do manage on their own.
Cheryl, the oldest sister, drew the short straw and won the privilege of wringing the chicken’s neck. She’d seen Mama do it lots of times, but didn’t get the theory of breaking the neck with a quick snap. She held the chicken by the neck and swung it around a few times in a wide arc giving it a fine ride, but no real injury. When she released it, it just ran off drunkenly. The girls chased and recaptured the chicken a couple of times, giving it another ride or two before the drunken chicken flew up in a tree, saving its life. Acknowledging her sister’s failure, Terry stepped up to do her duty. She pulled her chicken from the pen, taking it straight to the chopping block, just like she’d seen Mama do so many times. Maybe she should have watched a little closer. Instead of holding the chicken by the head and chopping just below with the hatchet, Terry held it by the feet. The panicked chicken raised its head, flopped around on the block, and lost a few feathers. On the next attempt, Cammie tried to help by holding the chicken’s head, but she jumped when Terry chopped and the poor chicken only got a slice on its neck. By now, all three girls were squalling. Cheryl tied a string on the poor chicken’s neck, Cammie held its feet and they stretched the chicken across the block. By now, Terry was crying so hard so really she couldn’t see. She took aim, and chopped Henny Penny in half, ending her suffering. Guilt-stricken, they buried the chicken. Defeated, they finally called their Aunt Millie, who came over and helped them kill and dress their chickens for the competition, which they won. All’s well that ends well.