I butchered a chicken this morning.
This here is going to be the post all you hardcore country folk get a kick out of.
Gentrified cityfolk, vegetarians and people who have had access to grocery stores their whole lives… stop reading now or prepare to cringe.
I’m cringing. But I’m laughing inside, too. So I don’t know which camp I fit into best.
This morning when we woke up we discovered a chicken in the yard.
The red hen was quickly named, “Lessie,” (not to be confused with Lassie) and we spent the morning trying to get our hands on her. She was too wily for us but Lizard had fun teaching the girls chicken-catching strategy.
Lizard headed off and I settled myself into a hard core session of clothing maintenance. The love seat was completely, 100% covered in laundered clothing. Last night when we got in from the Big City at 1 am we emptied the car onto the kitchen floor and today my job was to make it all disappear.
Suddenly I heard the chattering of the girls turn from the laughter of missed attempts at grabbing a chicken to shrill shrieking. I got to the door in seconds, my heart in my throat, and saw Samba the Great Dane with Lessie the Red Hen in her jaws.
I yelled, “Drop!” to Samba and Samba obediently dropped. Lessie flopped a few times, then slumped, neck broken.
The girls were screaming their heads off. Samba was extremely proud of herself and wanted to eat the chicken immediately. I smacked the 100 lbs. dog and locked her in the house. I had a dead chicken on the front stoop of the family business and a Great Dane banging against the front door, trying to claim her kill.
What’s a girl to do? Completely torn by indecision, I quivered.
One thing seemed quite clear — if I simply gathered the chicken up and threw it away its entire life would be wasted.
I was going to have to do something about the chicken.
Now, we’ve been talking about raising rabbits for meat for awhile now, and I grew up with this as the norm. But my dad was the butcher and I have been very clear with Lizard I will take care of the live end of the rabbitry, the feed, water, breeding, etc. and he is in charge of the dead end: the butchering.
Because I’m totally cool with sexism like that. Slitting things open with a knife seems much more of a masculine job.
But I could see I was going to have to butcher the chicken. There was no one else here except little girls who are rarely allowed to touch the butter knife, much less a steak knife!
I phoned Lizard, he didn’t answer.
So where do I turn when I can’t get a live body? Yep, The Google. “How do you butcher a chicken” turns up a surprisingly large number of blogposts.
As I was trying to educate myself on slaughtering livestock my husband called back. He asked the guys around him, hunters and farmer, for a primer on chicken killing.
I know you’re curious about how this girl did with her first butchering, ever. Let it be said I do not disappoint, so here are the action steps along with my internal dialogue:
Step #1: I chopped the head off with the same knife I use for watermelon. It was easier than I expected, perhaps because the neck was already broken? (I gagged and prayed to God for strength, wondering if the chicken had mites.)
Step #2: Held the chicken by one foot to let the blood drain from its body. (I analyzed how much manure was getting on my hands from the dirty, scaly yellow foot. Why would anyone think those things are lucky or want to eat one?? No blood came out of the neck, so I wondered if I had done it all wrong. Decided I hate the chicken and this is the worst day of my life. Would much prefer to sort socks.)
Step #3: Claim a “lifeline.” Diversity in the advice from the menfolk and the Google. I guess if you want skin-on you pluck the feathers at this point. But since we’re not big skin eaters, I left the skin on and cut a line through the feathers from the bottom of the breastbone to the anus. (I discovered Samba had grabbed the chicken by its middle and squished its guts out its anus. And an egg. The egg shell was broken and halfway in the body, halfway out. I considered passing out but settled on swallowing my vomit back down my throat.)
Step #4: I found a lot of bright yellow stuff. It was fat but I didn’t recognize it at first because it’s a different color than what I see at the store. Beneath that, inside the body cavity, there were the entrails. Lots of colors, dark red, milky white, bright yellow from undigested corn kernels, all the guts. Up above the guts, deeper in the chest cavity, were the lungs, heart and something that was shaped like an egg yolk and yellow. Maybe it was an egg yolk? I don’t know but it slipped out the neck, almost landed on my bare foot, and it was gross. (This is the point where the girls started shrieking again and Dos said she was going inside. I told her that was fine. I tried to explain what they were seeing – I’ve dissected animals in school and we studied anatomy last year so there was a lot I recognized. But remember how well I did with the turkey at Christmas? Yes. As soon as the girls walked away my bravery melted and I had to chant, “I can do this! This is natural, this is good, this is how we eat. This is natural, I can do this, this is good, this is how we eat without a grocery store.”)
Step #5: I pulled the skin of the chicken up and over its neck. It felt awkward and I’m pretty sure this is not how you typically dress an animal, but it worked. That was when I recognized the rotisserie chicken I’m used to picking up from the store! (This is when I had my Scarlett O’Hara moment and raised my hands to the sky, proclaiming, “I will not let this defeat me! I will live to see another day, a better day!”)
Rest of the Story: I did a horrible job of getting everything edible off the chicken. Horrible. But my hands were messy and I couldn’t talk on the phone for the blow-by-blow instructions from Lizard or touch the scroll bar of the step-by-step blog post so I did the best I could.
I threw the carcass into a garbage bag and the meat into the sink for a good washing. It’s now in the refrigerator, looking just like store-bought chicken meat, waiting to be cooked for dinner.
There’s a decent chance I’ll never recover. But I can tell you this: if my family had to have that meat to survive, I could and would do it. I’m really, really happy to know that about myself.
Samba has never jumped the fence before this morning. She has now jumped it three times, menacing customers. We will have to do something about this immediately. Would anyone like a Great Dane? Uno is calling her the “Dog of Death” and says she looks differently now than she did this morning.
Comments from the girls during the eulogy of Lessie the Red Hen:
“She was great at playing hide-and-go seek and she was very fast,” Uno said. “She was the fastest chicken I’ve seen.” She displayed the picture she drew of Lessie. I have included it as the image for this post.
“It’s alright (Samba killed her),” Dos said in a matter of fact voice after telling me her dream at nap time was of the dog leaping the fence and killing Lessie. “Chickens are not as fast as dogs and so… (shrug of shoulders) that’s alright.”
“Da chicken dead? Chicken dead, Mama? Dead chicken? It dead?” Tres said.
“That chicken meant a lot. I would like it for eggs more but I’m glad it didn’t get wasted,” Uno said.
After the quiet of nap time when I put my head around the events of the morning, I told Uno she was very brave for holding the trash bag for me as I cleaned the chicken.
“You were very brave, too, Mommy,” she said.
And that is our day.
Have you ever processed your own meat?