Our chickens went out today. It has been a mess, to be honest. They were scheduled for yesterday, and Certain Man had asked for the day off. Then, as things are wont to do, things got messed up at the plant, and so they were delayed a day. Certain Man had a mandatory seminar today from 8-4, and even though he could “run home” at lunch, nothing makes up for the farmer being on the property. Of course, everything went wrong.
For one thing, the wife of Certain Man has not had much experience with raising the water lines in preparation for the catch. And the water lines are the things that are left down until the last minute. Certain Man instructed her in the things that needed to be done in case he wasn’t home, and she duly noted everything — except she failed to notice that there are EIGHT sections per house that need to go up. I still do not know how this was missed. If she looked down the row and there were still water lines to go up, she should have know to put them up! Right! Well, I didn’t. I was thinking that there were four feed lines that usually go up — (they were already up) and I took that Milwaukee Hole Hog that almost shook my teelh loose, and ran those drinker lines right up, being careful not to bend the stand pipes. I checked things carefully, turned off the water as instructed, and took the drill and put it away, because we have had catching crews that took things and we really didn’t want that to happen. And then I went back to the house.
When Certain Man got home, he found a very disgruntled crew leader. It seems that they had to roll up four lines of drinkers without the benefit of the electrical appliance. Certain Man apologized for his wife’s oversight, but then found two manual cranks in the litter by a wall. And they weren’t his cranks. They were the old style cranks that often have a nail replacing a bolt near the handle. Certain Man, some years back, ran one of those vicious nails into his hand, causing great damage. It also caused him to go forth and purchase cranks that were steel, one piece, all good quality, that would not inadvertently damage him. Someone had taken his good cranks and replaced them with these old cranks. One was even badly bent. He was more than a little upset.
“These are not my cranks!” he said to the crew leader.
“I got them in your chicken house,” the man said. “I got one over there and one over here.”
“I tell you, these are not my cranks! Mine are fairly new, all one piece, going down so there is no nail in them.”
The man was unmoved. “They are yours,” he said again. “I got them in your house.”
“They are NOT MINE. And somebody had better give me back my cranks before they leave here today.”
Of course, they didn’t.
And then there were so many big beautiful chickens just lying dead. Over sixty in each house, for no apparent reason. Certain Man’s birds are big. Probably close to nine pounds a piece. I saw the wheels turning in his head as he calculated his losses. “That is half a ton of chicken,” he sad to me sadly. “And that can make a bunch of difference.”
He went back out to chicken house to finish up for the night. Around nine o’clock he came in. He was walking slow, the weariness pulling him back on his heels, his eyes were grey and tired behind the chicken house dust.
“There’s one big beautiful chicken out there that is alive,” he said. “I don’t suppose you want to do anything with it.”
“Sure, I want it,” I said. “I’ll just go and quick butcher it and it can soak in salt water overnight.”
“Well, if you are going to do it, you’re going to have to do it alone. I am just too tired. I’ll go get it for you, but I don’t think I can do any more.”
“That will be fine,” I said. “I’ll get some water started, and if you go get it, that’s all I need from you.” He helped me get the big pot down from the high shelf and then went out. I got the water started and then went out to see how things were going. He already had the hapless victim hanging from the twine hangers on the side of our old garage. The chicken appeared to be calmly surveying the surroundings, oblivious to the fact that time was fast running out for him.
“I want the water hot before I kill it,” I say to my spouse. He looks relieved. Butchering chickens is not his department — especially the part where the head leaves the body. “I think we will just let it hang for a bit and I’ll get the water and come back out.”
“Then if you don’t mind, I think I’ll go get a shower and call it a day.”
“That’s fine, Daniel. It’ll be okay.”
My knife was sharpened to a fine, cold flint. I do not like to kill chickens, and I especially do not like it when they look at me just before I cut their heads off. It was dark tonight, and I usually find the space in the neck and make a quick sharp draw and it is over. And because I do it more by feel that by eyeballing it, I often shut my eyes once the knife is in place. Which I did tonight — right after I caught the beady eye of my victim looking at me. I shut my eyes and with one swift slice, the head was off, and on the ground and I was out of the way. It made me feel so sick. But there is always the next thing to do, so once he stopped moving, I took the headless chicken off the twine hanger and plunged him into the boiling water. I got a good scald on him, hung him back up, and the feathers came off relatively easily. And then I took him down again, rinsed him off, dumped my bucket of water, severed his feet and carried him into the kitchen.
Middle Daughter came home from a Hospice call about that time and when she heard I was going to butcher a chicken, she was daft enough to want to be involved. She is a game helper (pun intended) in this situation, and once the pin feathers were off, she went to it. Conversation was lively, and it wasn’t too long before the neck, liver, heart and gizzard were submerged in a sink of iced salt water along side a fat, beautiful chicken.
“What are you going to do with it? asked Certain Man, on his way through the kitchen to get something to drink.
“I think I’m going to have it for Sunday dinner,” I say. We are expecting company and it is a fairly large group.
Certain Man looked down at that chicken and his eyes clouded over. “I wouldn’t think that would be enough to feed everybody,” he said dubiously.
“I did think of roasting it and having stuffing,” I said, “but I think I will just cook it and take it off the bones and have chicken-etti.”
That pleased him, as this particular casserole is an old family favorite that can feed a crowd. I finished putting some stuff away, and decided it was time for me to get some shut-eye, too. It’s been a busy week at Shady Acres, and tomorrow! Ah, tomorrow, I am going away (just overnight) for a Beth Moore conference with some of my favorite people.
I can hardly wait!
My heart gives grateful praise.