What Does it Feel Like to Kill a Chicken?
“What does it feel like to kill a chicken,” she asked. It’s been a deathly day, starting with two mice in a bucket in the garden shed. They couldn’t get out and made for a good opportunity to teach Zoey more about rodent killing. She’s a great huntress but not a good killer. A red squirrel made it into the house and onto the kill list today. Not sure I’ll get it today but the peanut butter bait is set (outside!) and the pellet gun is loaded and waiting.
What does it feel like to kill a chicken. I had to think about it. I don’t do it often, avoiding it when possible. Yes, I can, but if Steve is here when one is mortally injured, or it’s time to kill meat chickens, he does it. Today, he’s not here and the chicken couldn’t be allowed to suffer.
The old chopping block is gone. I found two tall screws and a hammer and set up the block. When the screws were an inch and a half apart and the cover was off the hatchet, I went for the chicken. What does it feel like to kill a chicken…
He wheezed, its comb no longer the bright blood red it should have been because of oxygen deprivation. Each breath was a struggle. Breath in, sides heaving, wheeze out. Was that a drop of liquid in its beak? The bird had pneumonia. Still fit to eat, today had to be the day for its sake and ours.
I tucked him under my left arm and thanked him for feeding us. This bird didn’t “give its life to feed us.” It didn’t give us its life. I took its life. I killed it. So bird, thank you for feeding us. I am indeed sorry it didn’t live two more weeks like the others will. Well, all but one other. It’s wheezing a little and probably won’t get better.
Tucked under my arm and thanked, I kept the Cornish Cross rooster calm. Its feet gently but firmly grasped by my left hand so it couldn’t scratch me if it decided to try to escape, it felt secure. I bent to pick up the hatchet while hanging the rooster upside down by its legs. Flap flap flap…three times, and then it calmly hung upside down, trusting me because I’ve been feeding and watering and tending it since it was three days old. This chicken had no thoughts of “I’m going to die.”
I laid the breast, neck and head of the bird across the log, wedging its head between the screws to keep it secure. What does it feel like to kill a chicken, I thought as I raised the hatchet, pulled gently back on the bird’s legs to stretch its neck out straight, lined up the hatchet to land a half-inch behind the screws, closed my eyes and dropped my arm in a fast, hard swoop. With the thump of the hatchet hitting the log a split second later I opened my eyes to see what I’ve done, to be sure I’ve killed the bird instantly.
No suffering. I held the bird until the flapping stopped, maybe six or seven flaps, and watched blood pour from its neck. No suffering. When it was still and the blood stopped pouring, I laid the bird out on the log.
Killing a chicken feels like something I can’t over think. If I think about the steps of what I’m about to do I will talk myself out of it. It feels necessary but still heavy on my heart. It feels like a burden on my mind. There’s a sense of control when the bird is firmly in my left hand. A swift downward swing, as though I am swatting hard at a fly, followed by an immediate thump when the blade severs the head and then hits the log. Motion in my left arm as I’m holding the flapping bird, but it’s not heavy. The five pound bird feels light because I’ve lifted and thrown three cords of firewood – twice – and have strong arm muscles.
Mindful. It feels mindful, intentional and deliberate. It’s a burden. And then it’s over and it feels like relief. The bird isn’t suffering in life and didn’t suffer in death.
We don’t normally eat chicken for a couple of weeks after slaughtering day but this is different. I already have a chicken out of the freezer and fully thawed for tonight’s supper, and I will eat it. These chickens that we raise have great lives on pasture, grass and garden. They eat bugs and weed seeds, grass and clover, and take dust baths. These birds see the sun, the full moon, and the rain. They feel the wind blowing. If we didn’t raise these birds to eat they wouldn’t have a life at all. It feels like I’ve given them a good life and a swift, painless death, and it feels good to feel my family humanely.