There's a show on Cartoon Channel about a home for imaginary friends. They all look weird, of course, being cartoons and the star of the show is a little boy. Now in my universe I have a home for Retired Chickens. Audrey and Goldie here are best friends. One's a aracauna and one is a gold laced wyendotte. Audrey Beardsley used to lay the nicest eggs, light green or sometimes pale blue. They call this breed the Easter egg chicken. Goldie just laid brown eggs but they were nice brown eggs. Neither hen was terribly productive as hens go, but few hens can beat the record set by Big Red. Now there was a good hen, usually laying 4 ounce eggs and the occasional double yolk. One of these days I will get a video of these girls and post it, but that might have to wait until the website I create. You'd think an artist would have one of those things, especially when you consider that I am trying to sell my work to raise money to help pay off these student loans. Trouble is my art tends toward the figurative and websites are not figures. They're more like spread sheets and not a lot of fun to design.
The first flock of hens we had I made a coop from old shed wood with a smallish hen yard. You got the eggs by opening the door at the back of the coop, which was elevated about four foot off the ground for some odd reason I no longer recall. If the nests were not near the door you had to crawl in and reach to where the nest was. They ignored the boxes I had in there and lay on the floor of the coop. Eventually that flock of some two dozen got old and started not recovering from their moulting so I'd be dragging out water and food to some 24 hens that did nothing but try to fly out over the fence so they could go eat my hostas and any bird food under the bird feeders. So, we decided to turn the hens into food. There was going to be a slaughter and I was going to take lives. I never do that well, never comfortable with the idea, but if I was going to live in the country and grow things to eat I needed to know how to kill chickens.
Dad used to take a bird and tie it upside down to the clothesline. Then he'd take a really sharp knife, pull the head of the hen down and cut it off. The hen would spasm and blood would spray all over and several small kids would begin screaming at the top of their lungs. See, Dad was very popular with the kids in the neighborhood. He had funny stories and he had a ferret in a cage and chickens out back and this was in a John F. Long subdivision. So while he was tying up Eggberta the little kids would wander over quietly and stand just off to the side. Dad was probably not entirely comfortable with killing the hens, if only because they had names now. He'd be focused and intent and when the kids yelled it would scare the pee waddling out of him and he'd chase them all away. So you get this image of my Dad with a bloody knife in his hand chasing four little screaming kids out of the yard. Blood is dripping down his apron and some on his face and he's nervous-mad. Idiot ran with a knife, no offense Dad but really...
We didn't have clotheslines so I got hold of a buddy of mine who swore he knew how to do it by watching his Dad kill their hens. I got the big pots together with boiling water on the barbecue. We got a log with two nails in in and a hatchet and a butcher knife and just for fun a machete. The idea was to place the hen's neck between the nails and gently pull to stretch the neck out. Then a whack of the knife or axe would do a quick kill and the silly corpse would flop around, just like in the movies. The hens did not like having their heads laid on the stump. Like the flamingos in Alice's Looking Glass Land they would turn their heads to look you right in the eye. Chickens are masters of irony and they have an excellent accusatory look. After several tries one of us got to kinda hold the head down while the other tried to cut only chicken neck and not fingers. My friend(who shall remain nameless for this anecdote)did poorly on the quick kill he had promised me. Seems, like me, he had never actually killed a chicken before and he wasn't happy with the concept. The first bird was almost beheaded and the grossness of the floppy head and the blood squirting was too much for us and there followed a silent film gag of me, my buddy and the mostly dead chicken running in circles with limbs flapping and nobody flying, blood everywhere and a boiling tub of water on a barbecue. In the end we got the chicken back on the stump and properly beheaded. Then we threw the corpse into the water, held it under (maybe to drown it as well) and then pulled out a steaming, moulting, bloody dead chicken. With my fingers burning I pulled the feathers off. Where the bird was good and hot they came off pretty good and elsewhere I had to struggle. Now it's a dead, greasy, bloody chicken. In a few terrible minutes we had a scrawny old chicken carcass worth maybe a couple of dollars. It only took a total of maybe two hours and two grown men to accomplish this. I began to have some very powerful emotions when thinking of Col. Sanders.
By the end of the day we had done in seven hens and roosters and made a huge mess of feathers and blood, cut ourselves in several places, although we both had our fingers intact. Ironic that last part, eh? I suppose in the end we could have said that we saved money but certainly if you factor in minimum wage we lost a lot of money and took great risks for a fairly inferior product. It was around this time I determined that I was a lousy serial killer and if I could not do at least a mediocre job I should not do this again. I built a bigger, more comfortable hen house with a nice metal insulated door for me to walk through. I kept my flocks down to a dozen or so. And when they stop laying, when they evolve into a flock of philosophers and open mike poets I continue to feed and water but I do not kill. I see no need to slaughter living things simply because they have stopped doing what I brought them here to do, ie lay eggs. It's part of Nature, part of the Great Plan that hens will lay for a few short years and then retire. In much the same way I have retired and nobody wants to cut my head off, as far as I know. I have to go out there every day, twice a day usually, and see that they are okay for food and water and no fox has found them. It doesn't always work out, which is why we have but four hens. Hawks and foxes and coyotes have benefited greatly from our retirement home and I get some exercise I wouldn't normally get. So it's a win-win for us all, feathered and not. This spring we may decide to go ahead and bring a dozen more hens into the yard. Then I'll be once again able to justify the hauling of the food and water out back to a bunch of critters who will give me that squinkey eye and make some sarcastic remark about the hairless ape.