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I am the bloody butcher

August 4, 2010

Warning: The following column contains graphic descriptions of violence and death.

Note: It had been an exhausting week, and I had hoped to sleep in this morning. Sadly, our rooster decided to jump up onto the front porch and crow his little heart out. So now I’m thinking about chicken pie, or maybe dumplings…

Chop, bleed, pluck, gut. Chop, bleed, pluck, gut. It’s chicken time, down on the farm.

One by one I work through the flock, through the litany of the bloody butcher: chop, bleed, pluck, gut.

In the past I have agonized over the killing. Is it moral to raise an animal, provide it feed, water and shelter, then scoop it up and chop it’s head off? There is no drama of the hunt, no flight of arrow or bullet. I exhibit no skill, there will be no survivors. My thoughts circled for some time, toying with this idea and that. In the end it came down to just two words; I’m hungry.
My feathered victims have no clue what is in store. Down the hill and out of sight, I am the bloody butcher.
Chop, bleed, pluck, gut.
The chop is quick. I catch its head between too upright nails, hold firm to its legs. The chicken relaxes. A quick swing and its head drops to the ground. It’s bill is open, it quivers. Then it’s eyes shut. In moments it is dead.
Or is it? It’s body is frantically carrying out its final impulses to run, fly, squawk. Its heart beats frantically, pooling blood onto the ground. Unlike the head, the body seems to take forever to die.
Chop, bleed, pluck, gut.

When grandma butchered turkeys, she didn’t combine the chop and bleed as I do. Instead she hung the turkey or chicken over the counter, inserted a stiletto knife into its mouth and pierced the back of its brain. Properly done, this loosened the feathers. If she slipped and hit the front of the brain, the feathers would tightened. But done correctly she could dry pluck the bird. Then she would weight the head and slit the throat, catching the blood in a pot for stew.
Chop, bleed, pluck, gut.
In the house I have a box of feathers, colorful napes collected back when I tied my own fishing flies. I purchased them here and there, little sections of hackle on dried skin.
I won’t be keeping these feathers. Still, they <em>are</em> beautiful. Browns, blacks and whites mix in various shades. But not for long. The water in the canner is at a roiling boil, and holding the chicken by the legs I dunk it into the caldron, hold it there until the feathers pull free easily. The smell of wet feathers is almost overpowering, even outside. The feathers become a shapeless mass, pull out easily but stick to your fingers in clots. Breast, back, wings, legs, thighs. Slowly the chicken is transformed from bird to meat, until it looks just like a chicken you might buy at the grocery store. With feet.

Chop, bleed, pluck, gut.

When I was young, a whole chicken came with a little packet of giblets wrapped in paper and stuffed back into the carcass. Heart, liver, gizzard, neck. Mom used them in soups and such.

My knife is an old one, hammered steal. It has the classic shape of the butcher knife, slightly curved. It’s sharp, too. This morning I touched up the edge, an edge I carefully ground into the steel a long time ago.

I open the chest at the base of the neck, remove windpipe and crop, sever the remaining neck. Then I cut below the tail, in and around the vent.

It’s amazing how much stuff is packed inside a chicken. Some parts I recognize as giblets. Others I don’t. Sometimes I’m amazed at the complexity, but usually I’m just grossed out by the slime and the smell. It all comes down and out.

I remove its feet, and except for a few pinfeathers it looks like…a chicken, fresh from the supermarket. It goes into a pail of ice water to cool.

Chop, bleed, pluck, gut.

Unlike the chicken you bring home from the store, this one is now stiff as board. Rigor mortis has set in, and the bird must now be refrigerated until the muscles again relax. It takes a day or more, but that’s all right. The last thing I want to eat tonight is chicken.

But give me a day or two and I’ll be hungry again. And again. And again. The cockerel pen will grow spacious, then empty.

I am the bloody butcher.

Note: My current technique, recommended in various books but not for the squemish, is to hang the bird by its legs, cut it’s throat and then run the knife into its mouth to the brain, until you get the “characteristic squack and shudder.” Works like a charm.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Mint permalink
    August 4, 2010 19:26

    Nice, never saw Dad do the brain thing! Hope you are having a lovely vacation!

  2. August 4, 2010 21:24

    That was an incredible story–what vivid imagery! Life in the country is a whole lot different than that of the city dweller, this is for sure.

    I remember when we would butcher the chickens–the turkeys and I remember plucking feathers from the goose I once gathered from the river after a boatload of idiots had emptied their guns into it, nearly taking me out along with the goose…The goose was pretty good eating.

    I believe killing for food is not a crime. Killing for fun is. But not when you are hungry. Such things have been done since the beginning of time. Icky necessaries. I bet your chickens are quite tasty.

    Can I come over for dinner?

  3. clytie permalink
    August 11, 2010 06:10

    I remember lots of things about when we used to have home grown chickens. Mostly the chickens jumping around headless … and the feathers that covered the back yard.

    The only part I could handle myself was the plucking.

    Not sure if I could now – maybe if I was really hungry.

    So. When’s dinner? :=}
    I’ll bring a salad!

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