22 March 2007

How to Kill a Chicken

I started this as a reply to "Chicken anyone?" but it got long enough for a post in its own right, and is, in any case, something I've been meaning to blog on for a long time...

Killing chickens is a necessity if you're going to keep more than one or two birds.  If you allow them to incubate their own eggs, you're going to end up with half boys and half girls, and too many roosters is not good for the flock.  Besides, you probably want to be a bit selective about which chickens you breed from.  We carefully select our veggie seed  for saving so that we eventually end up with strains that are well adapted to our local environment, soil and climate, resistant to the local pests and diseases.  We should be doing the same with our animals.  We don't really want some fancy breed of chickens from America or Europe; we want our local Big Black Mommas bred by J!

So, whilst I don't relish the job of chicken killing, I accept its necessity.  It's also about taking responsibility -- what I generalise as "dealing with your own shit."  I have little patience with people who are quite happy to buy and eat slabs of dead FactoryCow from the supermarket, just as long as nobody reminds them that it was a real animal that lived under appalling circumstances and die in the most demeaning and degrading way imaginable.  No.  Our chickens range free -- often too free! and die as quickly and with as little stress as we can possibly arrange.  They die with respect, and with our thanks, so that we can eat.  I take the responsibility.  Then, too, they taste a hell of a lot better than bought chicken -- even so-called "free range" chicken is soft and tasteless in comparison.

In the past I used to break their necks by hand: tuck the chicken under your arm; hold their head in your other hand with your hand facing out, and snap down and twist -- very quick, very effective.  But a rotator-cuff injury makes that painful for me now, and with some of our big roosters I didn't quite have the reach for as quick and clean a break as I would prefer.  Then, too, we have bred-up a really big, healthy, self-reliant strain of chickens (to the point where we are a preferred supplier of livestock for people wanting to start their own flock) and their necks are very strong!

So now its a tree-stump and a blunt chopper.  "Chicken anyone?" talks of using a meat cleaver, but my feeling is it would be too sharp, and will cut the head right off.  A pretty messy business!  The point is to break the neck, not necessarily to chop the head right off.  Its a bit of a ticklish thing, judging the strength to use.  On one hand you want a clean break, instantly killing the bird on the first blow.  On the other you don't really want to break the skin, thus avoiding quite a lot of messiness.  Two people makes the job easier than just one.

Then comes the tedious work: Plucking and butchering.  I'll leave those for another day...

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