Disclaimer! This is a story about butchering one of my chickens, and it involves killing of an animal, as well as photographs of the process. Please proceed only if you are prepared for it.
The history of Gimpy is relevant to what happened to her yesterday. I’ve got the three Hussies, whom you have met. They are Tawny, Jamie, and Phil. They have lived here a year and are now resignedly behind their chicken fence and dutifully producing eggs, clucking, scratching up the earth, and all things pleasantly chicken-like.
Early this summer I decided I was ready for two more, and purchased two Ameriana pullets. I tried to introduce them to the Hussies, but they were small, and scared, and The Hussies pounced and pecked and I had to remove them right away into a separate little pen I constructed outside the big one. One lovely day I opened the fence to allow them to roam through the grass. I was feeling overly confident about their safety, since the Hussies had survived nearly a year free, and I did not pen them up again in the night.
We had a visitor.
A coyote killed one of the pullets and nearly killed the other. Her eye was scratched and bleeding, and her leg was so injured that she couldn’t walk. She huddled in her little box for three days, mostly unresponsive. I couldn’t get her to eat and could barely get her to drink. On the fourth day I readied my axe and went down the hill to get her and kill her, poor thing.
However! On day 4 she was suddenly alert, had eaten all her food and was looking at me, asking for more. Despite having to drag herself around on one leg, the hen had a will to live. It took about a month, but her leg healed. In the meantime, I began calling her Gimpy.
I tried multiple times to introduce her into the pen with the Hussies, but they attacked her every time. She was lame and couldn’t outrun them, and cowered in corners while they plucked out all the feathers on the back of her neck. Finally I gave up and let her have the run of the farm. I thought maybe when she was grown, and strong, she could fight back. Her leg got better and she wasn’t limping anymore by late summer.
Gimpy got as sassy and belligerent as an lonely and neglected only-child can get. She learned to fly over the 10-foot chicken fence, and would go in there to scrounge for food and taunt the Hussies. When they came after her, she flew out. I was beginning to worry that she would teach them to fly out too.
Then she began harassing the cats. For fun, Gimpy would chase all three cats whenever she spotted them. Even Chaplin, the big young male who had no business running from dumb fowl, would tuck his tail and lower his ears and slink off when she came his way. Instead of the cats teaching the bird a lesson, she had the four-legged predators under her claw.
She came onto the porch every day, and kicked their catfood in all directions so that it scattered and fell beneath the porch, inviting a family of raccoons who has now made nightly visits every single evening for three weeks. Gimpy didn’t eat the catfood, she just scattered it. She pooped all over the place, particularly onto my lawn mower, because her favourite nighttime roost was its steering wheel.
She started coming after me when I went outside. Flying at me across the grass, pecking my legs and shoes.
I left the slider open on a warm day and she came right into the house and perched up on a ceiling light in my bedroom, and pooped on the carpet. I grabbed her by the feet, wings flapping like crazy, tossed her outside and closed the slider. Five minutes later she was back, and hid under the bed! She had found the other open door and came right back in.
“Alright. That’s it bird! You are more valuable to me as food.”
D came over to help with the butchering, and while he was on his way, I began watching YouTube videos. You truly can learn to do anything with YouTube. I had a pot of water heating to 160 degrees, a sharp knife, gloves, a slipknot hanging from a rafter, and my camera ready when D arrived.
D is a bit of a softie when it comes to animals and death, growing up on Long Island and living in cities all his life. I fully expected that since this is my farm and my chicken and my idea, then I would have to do the dirty work. But he stepped right in and did the absolute worst of the tasks. I am so grateful! 🙂
The farmers on YouTube explained that if you hang a chicken upside down, it does not fight. This turned out to be true. We hung Gimpy up by her feet over a wheelbarrow that I had put there to catch the blood. D grabbed her neck in one hand and with the knife in his other hand, took her head off. What YouTube did NOT prepare us for was that the chicken went ballistic at that point. The chickens butchered online all died properly on camera, and went instantly lifeless, but Gimpy’s body tried to fly away headless and thank goodness her feet were tied to the string. It lasted over a minute, maybe two minutes. Wow. It was astonishing and unsettling, but we both knew that chickens can do this, so we waited it out.
I brought the pot of hot water outside. The Internet had recently taught me that it should not be boiling, which would cause the skin to tear, but rather very hot water, to loosen the feathers. We dunked her in a few times, sloshed her around to get the water in through the feathers. And viola! Feathers simply brushed off.
The next step was the surgically precise removal of her innards. D was not prepared for that part and immediately volunteered for cleanup, which suited me just fine. I was very excited to try my hand at butchering. I am not sure how appropriate this is, but I was plumb tickled when things on my chicken happened exactly like YouTube said it would. The feet came off easy-peasy. I cut out the crop and severed the trachea. I went to the back end and carefully, carefully cut around the outside of her backside until all of her guts came out perfectly intact. The point is not to break anything because it would contaminate the meat. I reached inside the body cavity and pulled everything out. From anus to trachea, all connected.
I know! It should be gross! But I kept saying, “This is SO COOL!” Every so often D would come by the kitchen and I would say “Look at this!” And he would realize something else needed to be cleaned, and would leave.
I gained a new understanding of surgery. I thought that merely putting a sharp knife to body parts would split everything. But it’s amazing how each organ is contained and separate from each other, with surprisingly tough membranes. I could cut one membrane to split it, but the membrane right beneath it would hold together. I see how surgery is possible. With a steady hand, you can push things gently aside and cut precisely the thing that needs cutting. It is amazing.
When it was all done, Gimpy looked like food. D and I guess she’s 4 or 5 pounds now. He said, “I can’t believe she was running around your yard an hour ago!” I was going to wait to post the blog till I cooked her up, but I was too excited to show you. So until I get the oven heated up, this is my bird: