89. Chicken Killing

My first memory of a chicken is a brown one with a red comb. My granny had her sights set on it and asked me to go into the wire compound outside the chicken coop and move it into the corner. Granny; meanwhile, had a five-foot wire with a hook at one end ready to catch the chicken for dinner.

Another memory jumps out of my staying at my aunt’s house when I was about five. They had little square boxes about a foot by a foot; nailed to the side of the barn. I helped my aunt fill them with straw, then eggs and lastly; she set a brood hen on the eggs and closed the door. I was not there when the chicks pecked their way out of the eggs.

At our place, Dad and Mom made a special trip to the town hatchery and heat lamps were set up to keep the little yellow balls of fluff peeping.

We had a big chicken coop and our chickens were always white. Late summer or early fall we’d be calling on my aunt and my granny as it was chicken killing time.

It was a big production and all hands were on deck. Dad would be telling my brothers to catch five at a time and not to get them all excited. One would catch and the other would hold. The chickens would mostly hang upside down quietly but one would usually crane up its neck trying to see what was going on.

Dad had an old railway tie and an axe in his hand. The head of that chicken was gone so quick and that huge white ball of fluff bounced around on the green grass where it had been thrown after the chop.

Lots of preparation had gone into this as we had a fire in a different part of the yard with a barrel of boiling water and another square tub of rinse water. The yellow legs of the chicken were held as it was dipped in the boiling water several times. If it was done well, the feathers could be plucked off cleanly.

From there the chicken was handed off to my brother holding a propane torch and the smell of singed feathers filled the air. We had a table set up and I had sisters who spent the day pulling out pin feathers after the legs had been cut off.

I think I could close my eyes and feel on the back of the chicken where to make the first cut for pulling out its innards.

We had to be careful we found the gizzard and one of my sisters would carefully cut it open and pull out the sack of seeds.

We also saved the heart but we never ate that. We had a neighbor that wanted the chicken hearts but I have no idea what they did with them.

We had wash tubs and basins and sinks full of water and after the guts had been pulled and wrapped in newspaper; that chicken’s insides were clean.

Mom always had the final say. If the inspection passed, that chicken slid into a plastic bag and downstairs it went to the big white freezer.

We killed and cleaned about fifty to one hundred chickens a day and you hoped for a warm; but not hot day. I can still see my younger sisters being given a tea towel to chase flies away. My hands would be cold and sore from a hard day’s work; a huge job completed but the comradery and conversation made up for it.
– 2011-

—-Ellen Sagh

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