D. E. Larsen, DVM
My brothers and I had spent the entire morning cleaning out the old chicken coop. It was one of the most unpleasant jobs on the farm. The dust from the manure and debris made breathing difficult. We would work a bit and then step outside to breathe for a few minutes.
We had just finished when Dad arrived from town with a crate on the back of the truck. He had about 30 chicks in the crate. These were a little older than the just hatched size but still small, maybe a week old. When the crate was opened in the coop they scattered, happy to have some open space.
We spent the next hour setting up the water tank and the feed rack. Dad put some medicine in the water. We had a mash in the feed rack, and we planned to feed some scratch on the floor every morning. This was going to be our summer job. I enjoyed filling the feeder with mash and throwing the scratch out for the chicks to scramble after. They would gather all the scratch before they would return to mash. They seemed to grow as you watched them.
It wasn’t long, and they had some feathers. They were all doing well, but there were a couple that the others picked on, pecking their tail stump raw. We had to doctor those wounds every morning and finally had to separate the chicks who were being picked on, sort of like kids at school, I guessed. There was always an odd one that didn’t get along.
The summer went by rapidly, and the day came to slaughter the chickens. If I thought the daily chores were a pain, this day was going to be fun but a lot of work. The first job for my older brother Gary and I was to chop off the heads of the chickens. We had to work relatively fast because there was an assembly line of sorts set up and the speed of the chopping dictated the pace of the assembly line.
We went into the coop and started capturing chickens and placing them in a crate. Then we took the crate to the woodshed. My job was to pull a chicken out of the box and hold its head and neck down on the chopping block. Gary swung the ax. Then I would release the headless chicken with a bit of toss into the air. It would fly around a moment, then run around the woodshed, blood spurting. It didn’t take long for Gary and me to be covered with blood, and the woodshed looked like the scene of a horrible crime. The only thing that bothered me was that the head would blink for a short time. I wondered what it was thinking.
We would gather the birds after they were quiet and well-bled out. Then take them out to the scalding tub, a large kettle of boiling water set over a fire in the middle of the yard. After a short dip in the tub, we could pluck the feathers.
Then Mom and Aunt Lila would take them into the house, singe the fine feathers and pull the large quills if any remained. After the singeing, they would gut the bird, saving the heart, liver, and gizzards. Then rinse them thoroughly, and wrap them for the freezer. While that was going on, Gary and I were starting on the next crate of chickens in the woodshed.
The battles started when the chickens were thawed and cut up for dinner. Mostly fried, one chicken fed the family, Dad, Mom, Linda, Larry, Gary, and myself.
Mom cut up the bird into the breast, two thighs, two drumsticks, two wings, neck, and the back was divided into two pieces. The breast was divided to provide three parts. The wishbone was cut out first, then split the breast into two pieces.
At the table, the meat was distributed. Dad and Larry got a large piece of breast, and Gary got the wishbone. Mom and Linda got a thigh and maybe another piece like a drumstick or wing. I was left with a drumstick and maybe a wing. Once in a while, I would get the neck and a piece of the back. This was fine until I was old enough to think that I also deserved a part of the breast.
Mom attempted to defuse the problem.
“David, you can have my thigh. I like the wings and backs, and the backs really have a lot of meat, and the wings are white meat also,” she said.
“The thigh is dark meat, and I like white meat. I don’t see why I can’t have some breast meat,” I replied.
“The chicken can only be cut into so many pieces,” she pointed out.
It was decided that the wishbone would be up for grabs for whoever got to the table first. You can imagine how that went. Mom solved the problem finally by cutting the wings off with a chunk of breast meat attached.
Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh from Pexels.