Everyone has to start somewhere! This is how I (George) got into chickens and learned to butcher chickens.
As a child I was always fascinated with living things, whether they be plants or animals. I had a good many pets, and am grateful to this day for parents who allowed me this luxury. I don’t remember how I first became interested in chickens. There were NONE anywhere near where I lived. I believe, about a mile away, someone, on the other side of the lake, had a few. Mom purchased eggs from two different egg farms within 4 miles of our home. But we lived in suburbia.
At about 11 or 12 years of age I became very interested in chickens. I constructed my own incubator, using a wooden box, aluminum foil, a Christmas light in its socket, a pan of water and an aquarium thermometer. After a week or two of experimenting with the regulation of temperature, I rode my bicycle to the egg farm, four miles away, because I knew they had roosters. I purchased three brown eggs and excitedly road home with the three eggs in my coat pocket. No, I didn’t even crack an egg! I felt that I was carrying treasure!
I tended the eggs in my incubator for three weeks. Around 22 days later one hatched. It turned out to be a Barred Plymouth Rock pullet, which I named “Beany.” Beany actually rode the school bus with me, for weeks, going to seventh grade, where my amazing home room science teacher, Mrs. Clemens, allowed me to carry it around in class. Beany was extremely tame. She was my pet.
Within a month or two, completely smitten with the concept of raising chickens, I managed to obtain a pair of bantam game fowl. As the school year ended, our family friend, Anne Vernell, who lived about a mile away, in an old farmhouse, gave me permission to turn her unused outhouse into a little chicken coop. During that summer, I not only had the thrill of collecting eggs, but the banty hen brooded and hatched a colorful batch of chicks! I couldn’t have been happier! The chicks grew. By sometime in late summer it was clear that we had a number of roosters. They would have to go. They were starting to fight. My best friend, Bruce, and I began dreaming about butchering and eating our own chicken. It probably helped that girls in our class would express disgust over that idea. Hey! We were 12! We probably thought that this would be a good way to impress them!
About this time, too, my father decided that I needed to shut down the chicken business. Soon nights would be getting cooler and days shorter. He didn’t care for me to be riding my bike to the Vernell place twice a day in the winter. I agreed to find homes for my chickens. But first Bruce and I were determined to finish the cycle; to kill, prepare and eat a chicken! After all, we had been bragging about this for weeks!
We picked out a cockerel. On the chosen day we went, armed with my little camp hatchet and and knives, to the Vernell farm, prepared to butcher a chicken!
We had read all about how to butcher a chicken. But I have to admit we really didn’t know what we were doing. All we really knew, was that we had to chop its head off first. So we parked our bikes and went over to the chicken coop, catching the cockerel.
We picked out a tree root where we decided we were going to chop off its head. The moment had arrived…I was holding the cockerel on its back, against the tree root with one hand, and holding the hatchet poised to cut its head off, with the other hand. My adrenaline was rushing to the point I felt that I might faint. I tried to bring that hatchet down on the bird’s neck, but I couldn’t do it! So I did the logical thing. I passed the bird and hatchet to Bruce!
Bruce went through the exact same exercise in futility as had I. He couldn’t do it either. We were about to hang it up, and go home, leaving a relieved cockerel in the chicken coop, when Annie Vernell, who was in her 70s, came walking out from her back porch, dressed in her old fashioned cotton dress and white stockings. She had bluish white hair, and could not have measured over 5’ 1” tall. As I recall she was slightly bow-legged. She came walking up to us with great purpose, and exclaimed “What’s the matter? Are you a bunch of girls!?” Ouch! That hurt!
Annie had decided we were not going to get off the hook that easily. She informed me that I was going to butcher my chicken before I left. Annie, of course, being an old farm girl, was very experienced and butchering chickens.
Annie instructed me how to hold the bird and hatchet and how I was to cut off the cockerel’s head. My adrenaline was rushing at such a high rate, I felt like I might faint. But I couldn’t do that! She would only be affirmed in her opinion that I might be a girl!
As my friend Bruce stood transfixed at my side, I can remember, as if in slow motion, bringing the hatchet down and making contact with the cockerel’s neck. It sliced through cleanly. As if in slow motion, I saw the cockerels head fall away from the body, and one of his eyes looked up at me and blinked. Blood began to spurt from its neck. I felt that all the blood drained out of my head down to my feet. I couldn’t move!
But Bruce had it much worse. The headless body got up, and ran after Bruce! Don’t ask me how it “knew” to follow him, but it did. Before Bruce hit his top speed, it nearly caught up with him. Within 20 feet the headless chicken veered off. Bruce fell to his knees and threw up.
This was not the end of our ordeal! Before she came out, Annie had started water heating in her kitchen. She brought us a bucket of boiling hot water and instructed us and how to scald and pluck that bird. Then she made us cut it open and remove the craw and the innards, as well as the feet and the neck. She had us rinse the carcass and bag it to take it home.
I was relieved to get home with the chicken carcass. I was going to put it in the freezer and forget about it for a while. Apparently though, Annie had already spoken over the telephone with my mom. Mom insisted on cooking that chicken for us that very evening. I don’t remember eating very much of it. I do remember having a hard time swallowing. But, when all was said and done it, it was worth it! Bruce and I were proud to have completed the task. We were excited to have a newfound skill. Most of all, we had a really gross story to tell our seventh grade classmates!