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Points East

An old 'chore' revisited


It’s not like learning to swim or riding a bicycle after all.

I discovered, last Saturday morning, that there are some subtleties in the art of killing and butchering chickens that I had lost over the decades that have fallen between the last time I’d performed this chore and the recent weekend’s undertaking.

I have a friend who lives way out in back country of rural Madison County and who, like many other of my acquaintances, prefers not to have her name mentioned in my column.

However, one of the things that this friend and I have in common is the satisfaction we get out of raising chickens. I can’t do it anymore because coyotes, roaming dogs, weasels and other varmints have found ways to breach the stoutest of enclosures I’ve erected so I finally gave up trying.

My friend has far better circumstances. So last summer she helped a teenage daughter get into raising chickens as a 4-H project by ordering 50 or so straight-run, mostly Rhode Island Red baby chicks from McMurray Hatchery in Iowa.

The flock has thrived. But when one orders straight-run chicks, they are about half cockerels and half pullets. When they reached frying size last fall, she butchered several of the young roosters but as of Saturday morning there were 16 or so still on the place.

Said friend had done me a huge, huge favor by spending most of one weekend putting up a new website for me and I owed her one in return. I volunteered to help kill the remaining chickens.

I’d talked another friend/coworker, Layne Hawley (who is not ashamed to be mentioned in my column), into helping out and so, armed with a bucket of coal, a #2 washtub, a huge stockpot, dishpan and an array of knives we arrived in the Waco backwoods around 11 a.m.

I started a fire between some cinderblocks while the women filled up the tub and various other buckets and utensils with water.

The wood was wet. My fire hissed more than flamed under the tub from which I planned to scald the roosters. Noontime came and went and finally just after 1 p.m. I judged it hot enough to scald off chicken feathers. By then the rain was coming down pretty hard and the wind had picked up.

Now, let me say that when I was growing up on Blair Branch my mom and I along with a couple of my aunts could dress out 50 or more fryers on a single afternoon without raising the sweat. But I don’t recall ever trying it in the rain.

But notice that I said fryers. My friend’s roosters were full grown, already starting to grow spurs and large enough to do some damage if they’d wanted to put up a real fight. These fowl were more akin to turkeys than any chicken you’ll ever see in your grocery store.

I will not bore you with the gory details, but in a few short minutes I had three of the roosters ready for hot water. The original plan was that I would cut them up and get them ready for the freezer while the women plucked off the feathers until we’d slaughtered all 16.

By 3 p.m. we had managed to get the feathers off these three and I had two of them cut up and another dressed out whole for baking. By then the rain was coming down hard, the fire was out and the temperature had dropped several degrees.

So Layne and I left the tub sitting on the blocks at our friend’s place and decided that we’d come back in a couple of weeks when the weather is warmer and the wood is dry. I believe I counted 15 roosters that will eat another 100 pounds of feed between now and then.

In the meantime I am content that I at least remembered how to clean and skin a chicken gizzard.


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