killing chickens.

for all my talk of “farm to fork” and “knowing where your food comes from” you’d think i’d be an expert on the process, especially considering how carnivorous i am. i dream constantly of owning my own little chunk of land and populating it with animals and children, subsisting as much as possible on what we can grow and raise there. part of this dream though is a little bit of a nightmare–knowing that i’d need to kill the animals myself if i was going to eat them. 

don’t get me wrong, i’m not afraid of death or carcasses or blood or guts. in fact, they fascinate me. while in italy, i watched a bull i’d fed for three months meet his fateful end at a local slaughterhouse and then helped butcher the almost 2,000 lbs. of meat he gave us. this spring, i participated in a butchering class, learning how to cut up a side of heritage pork. but i’d never actually killed anything larger than a very large cockroach with my own hands. 

last saturday that changed. earlier this spring, my friends at awesome farm asked me if i would be their chicken chauffeur–driving freshly killed chickens from the farm in tivoli to brooklyn, ny where eager gastronomes would buy them. i agreed happily as any opportunity to get up to dutchess county in the heat of summer was gladly accepted. on top of that, i offered to help with the morning slaughter. 

now, it’s not like i didn’t know that slaughtering means killing or that i thought there wouldn’t be a lot of death that morning, and it wasn’t that i wasn’t anticipating the day for weeks in advance–i was excited! however, not until that misty morning, traipsing through the dewy, overgrown barnyard and hearing the low cooing of the 104 chickens just awaking from their last night of sleep, that i realized, truly, what we were about to do. 

we were solemn, but not in a religious kind of way. and then we just began. the first two chickens went upside-down into the chute and owen and tracy cut their heads off. the decapitated bodies slammed against the metal cones and the beaks kept opening and closing for a few minutes. bright red blood splattered the wall and dripped into five-gallon buckets below. we scalded the bodies to loosen the feathers, plucked them off using a large machine with rubber fingers, eviscerated them and plopped them into a pool of icy water to chill.

i knew at some point during the morning i would need to kill one myself. i didn’t think much about it, tried not to build it up too much in my mind. after about an hour, i turned to owen and told him i was ready. we went together into the holding pen and i grabbed the first chicken i could get my hands on. she was warm, and dirty and she flapped a bit as i carried her upside-down to the slaughtering station and put her in the cone. i reached for her head and stretched it down through the hole in the bottom. owen instructed me to pull back the feathers on her neck and to cut through her trachea right below the skull. “don’t hesitate,” he said. the knife wasn’t as sharp as it had been at the beginning of the morning, and i had some trouble breaking the skin initially. it wasn’t a clean cut. it was jagged and rough, and hard to saw through the tough neck. i felt the chicken flinch and had blood ooze over my fingers. and then it was over. and i had a chicken head in my hands and blood was dripping into the bucket below. 

it’s not something i want to do again, but it’s not something i don’t want to again either. i did it and i feel proud of myself for that. it is part of the process and if i’m going to savor the smells and tastes of freshly roasted chicken, i should also know the feel of that chickens neck in one hand and a knife in the other. 

below are a few photos that outline the process. there’s some blood and some guts, so watch out if you’re the nervous type.

catching a chicken
catching a chicken

into the cones

after the kill




checking her over




~ by bklyncupcake on August 15, 2008.

4 Responses to “killing chickens.”

  1. speechless. and hungry.
    will post this on jimmy drink eat.

  2. […] Fantastic photography of killing chickens. (via) […]

  3. Kind of similar:

  4. I recently had my first experience with chicken killing. It was horrific. But I like the way they taste. What’s a boy to do?

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