Photo by Johnath/FlickrCC
When I told people I was leaving the city for a farm last year, several asked what animals we kept and whether I would get to kill any. My friends heard "laying hens" and looked disappointed. And pulling a carrot doesn't confer nearly the same legitimacy as slitting an avian throat.
I gathered eggs once in a while, filling in for our regular collector, and ate egg sandwiches all the time, usually with Brandywine tomatoes and whatever cheese we'd traded for at farmers' markets. I didn't think about the chickens much. At some point I discovered that our neighboring farm, where I'd met my boyfriend, gave each of its interns a hen at the end of the season. Our friend Miranda had her eye on Tina, the only bird distinctive enough to be named, and planned to expand her mother's flock. My boyfriend, Daniel, wanted to kill his hen, quietly and respectfully, and eat it. If I couldn't participate, I told myself, then I couldn't eat chicken anymore.
After three or four minutes, I broke the solemn silence: "It's weird that it's not flailing."
Our friend James caught our hen and put it in a hay-lined waxed-cardboard box. It calmed down and sat quietly in the box, on the floor of my car's backseat. I sat reading in my farm's greenhouse, waiting for Daniel to come back from a trip to the city, and the chicken waited with me, its head sticking through a gap in the top of the box. It was funny, maybe even cute. I tried not to get attached.
We took the chicken to Daniel's parents' house and left it in the box in the garage overnight. No hawks or foxes in there. And we'd read about imposing a 12-hour fast (advantage: a cleaner digestive tract), so no food. In the morning, our chicken looked content. It had just laid an egg, which made me very sad. It wanted to coexist with us. To feed us, if we fed it. Daniel reminded me that in the winter, without a flock, the hen's laying rate would probably drop significantly. I sighed. He was right.
So we bound its feet with a rope—it was surprisingly calm—and hung it upside-down from a tree limb. We'd heated a large pot of water to 150 degrees and set it on the ground nearby. We were ready. The hen was asleep, or unconscious, or hypnotized, depending on which Internet biologist you believe. In any case, an upside-down chicken is a chill chicken.
Daniel held its head in one hand and took a straight-edge razor to its throat. In retrospect, a knife would have been better. More leverage. With just the blade, the first cut drew blood, but it didn't go far enough. Daniel sliced again, and a stream of blood dripped to the ground. The sources we'd consulted recommended leaving the head on at first, to prevent a surge of adrenaline that might toughen the meat. The chicken opened its eyes every minute or so, fluttered its lids, and closed them.