A Chicken Experience

Warning: This post is about killing a chicken and includes disturbing content and photos. {Take me to Vegan for a Week.}

killing a chicken

Would you kill a chicken?

Grocery store chickenI suspect vegetarians will quickly shudder and answer no, but what about we meat eaters? Do we have a responsibility to face the truth of where our food comes from?

And a plastic-wrapped package from the grocery store isn’t where chicken meat comes from.

This is where chicken meat comes from.

killing a chicken

My friend Alicia and I signed up for a workshop on keeping backyard chickens, where we had the opportunity to kill and dress our own chickens before taking them home to eat.

I am squeamish when it comes to killing anything. I will leave most insects be, and I don’t mind seeing spiders walking around my house occasionally. I have never cooked a lobster because I don’t want to drop it into boiling water. I know this makes me a hypocrite. If I eat the food, I should be able to face the poor creature’s death, right? This intellectual idea, though, is different from holding a live chicken in my arms and preparing to kill it. I didn’t know whether I would be able to kill one myself.

We gathered in a semicircle and watched in somber silence as the farmer demonstrated how to kill a chicken. The hardest moment for me was seeing the bird calmly watching and letting out a little squawk as the knife approached. Debra stuck the knife into the chicken’s open beak and pithed it, or pushed the knife into the brain. She then slit the throat and let the blood drain.

killing a chicken

Alicia and I exchanged stunned looks and whispered that we wouldn’t be harvesting a chicken today.

By the second or third time we saw it done, though, we were both getting used to it and decided we could do it.

Aside from feeling guilty, I was mostly worried about messing up and causing the bird to suffer more than necessary. I did all right. I quickly pithed the chicken and slit her throat, and Alicia and I held her wings against her body as she quivered, her life slowly draining away into a bale of hay.

Scalding a chicken

After scalding the chicken to loosen the feathers, I plucked it. Just as I was surprised that milk from a cow tasted exactly like milk, after a few moments of plucking, I was surprised how quickly the chicken began to look like the grocery store chickens I was used to.

killing a chicken

I removed the feet, head, and neck, and made a slit to eviscerate it. This was another hard moment. Reaching deep into the body cavity, I twisted my hand all around its insides, loosening all the membranes that attached the organs to the body. I pulled out a bulging handful of warm, squishy organs. If you’ve never had your hand full of warm, squishy organs, let me tell you it is exceedingly gross.

killing a chicken

killing a chicken

We rinsed the birds and put them on ice, and our work was done. As we walked to the car, we realized we were both exhausted.

I once heard that there are few creatures in this world that are born to suffer more than a factory-farmed chicken. These farm chickens’ lives were short, but they lived relatively happy ones with room to peck on fresh grass each day. Or maybe that’s just what I tell myself.

harvesting a chicken

cooked chicken

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About Marcy

I blog about trying to get out of my comfort zone, completing 101 things in 1001 days, and writing my memoirs. I am a teacher and writer living in Connecticut.
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24 Responses to A Chicken Experience

  1. Kristin says:

    I gave up chicken when I was 16 due to the intolerable conditions — however, I still eat eggs…the overproduction of which causes almost as much suffering. Call me Hypocrite.

    That said, I don’t deny that the idea of free-roaming, cleanly-kept, well-fed chickens might change my mind. In fact, were I to live in Laura Ingalls’ time, I’m sure I would have been just fine with it. As you say at the beginning, it’s the cozy and apathetic separation we have from the reality of our food sources that make me uncomfortable.

    Thank you for sharing this experience!
    Kristin recently posted..Raising Voices: Mid-October Gun SenseMy Profile

  2. Mamarific says:

    Oh, man, you are braver than I. I’m the hypocrite who eats meat but can’t even think about killing the animal.
    Mamarific recently posted..I’d Like a Side Order of Stubble with my Guitar Solo, PleaseMy Profile

    • Marcy says:

      I don’t think you’re a hypocrite for not wanting to kill the animal. For me, though, I felt like I wasn’t facing the truth of the situation. I think I had been fooling myself that as long as I buy a certain type of meat than I was not choosing to have an animal suffer for my benefit.

  3. Abby says:

    I tell myself I could kill a chicken (or a rabbit, or a…) if I had to, but I’ve yet to have to. I might have to watch some “Walking Dead” episodes to build myself up, but I think I could do it.
    My mom did it all the time growing up, she doesn’t seem to miss it. Thanks for sharing this one. I like to think that the chickens are pretty content up until the pithing.

    • Marcy says:

      After I had this experience, someone challenged me to go along hunting and “finish off” a deer that a hunter has shot. Oh my goodness, I am certainly not ready to agree to trying that.

  4. I give you a lot of credit. I eat meat but I can’t consider killing it myself. I have a hard time pulling the innards out to roast a chicken. The thing that I hate the most about my meat eating hypocrisy is that I eat pork, bacon, ham, etc. with reckless abandon but I love pigs. I had to scroll through the pictures with my eyes closed because we’re having chicken tonight and I’m too chicken. ;)
    Linda Roy – elleroy was here recently posted..Chipping Away At My Diet…and Wrecking ItMy Profile

    • Marcy says:

      The innards were so gross! But I do find the cold grocery store organs gross too, and–grossest of all–when cold juices are dripping everywhere. Ewww. I need to go wash my hands just thinking about it.

  5. Christie says:

    OMG, you are so brave and I am so happy that you wrote this and posted all the pictures. My hubs and I are starting to look at these issues and they are so important. I want to know more and also, I don’t. Great great post.

    • Marcy says:

      Thanks, Christie. I have thought of getting backyard chickens (for eggs), and being able to put one down that gets injured would be a part of it. I don’t think I want to anymore, but I am glad I learned about it. After I saw “Food, Inc.,” I cut down on meat and started paying more attention to where my meat comes from, but I had gotten lazy about it again.

  6. Good for you for not only doing this, but honestly writing about it and sharing the pictures.

    There are things I don’t want to do because I don’t want to invest the time/energy to do a good job, I don’t have or want to buy the tools, and even if I did both of those things, I know I’d do a half-assed job anyway. Making a pair of boots and rebuilding a car engine come to mind.

    But there are things I don’t want to do because I’m squeamish AND all of the above rank higher on my list, and killing and cleaning an animal – even though I do eat meat – is pretty high up there. I don’t kid myself that the golden brown roasted chicken on my table got there via magic; I know SOMEBODY had to kill it. I just don’t want to be somebody, at least at this time of my life. But I totally admire people like you who are willing to get your hands full of warm chicken innards.
    Beverly Diehl recently posted..Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, Turquoise Circles, and Dead DogsMy Profile

    • Marcy says:

      It is definitely way beyond my abilities and aspirations to ever make a pair of boots or rebuild a car engine. Even something like making beer or wine would require a big investment in equipment, so I don’t plan to try to do things like that on my own. And I have been thinking about whether I could kill my own cow or pig. I don’t see myself doing that, but I guess I should be able to, according to my chicken reasoning. Hmm.

  7. Do you think you will mark this off your list and say “never again!” or can you picture yourself raising your own chickens?
    that cynking feeling recently posted..Blog Action Day: do betterMy Profile

    • Marcy says:

      I do play around with the idea of raising chickens for eggs, but not for meat. I doubt I will ever do it. My friend was looking into raising them, and the experience of killing one made her less interested in doing it, at least for now. It was a good learning experience all around. I have heard of people getting chickens and then losing interest pretty quickly without really knowing what they are getting into. And then there are all these unwanted chickens (like the pot bellied pig craze from a few years back).

  8. I could not stop reading this post, because I never really understood how it was done. Your description and narration was perfectly done.
    William Dameron recently posted..Saint Peggy and The Ugly SinnerMy Profile

  9. Janelle says:

    Cool experience, one I think more people should have so that we can be more aware about the choices we make, be more connected to where our food comes from. I had a similar experience in the Philippines when I was given the “honour” of killing the pig that would be the day’s feast. I felt barbaric, but it’s a way of life for a lot of people and we all (us carnivores, at least) are connected to it.
    Janelle recently posted..What Does A Canadian Look Like?My Profile

  10. Every time I think about where my animal products come from, I contemplate veganism. I was vegetarian for a short while years ago, but my husband has no interest and eating meat is easier much of the time. This post may have pushed me back to being vegan, except that I just bought a whole chicken to roast because it was only $.98/pound this week.
    Michelle Longo recently posted..Wellness Wednesday: RIP Edition.My Profile

  11. LyndaS says:

    Kudos to you for having the guts to do what you did and to write about it. I hate that Americans are so far removed from our food chain that we have no clue as to the inhumane conditions most of the animals are in. If people were to become more knowledgeable, perhaps that would be the undoing of the confined animal feedlots.

    While I am an omnivore, I wish to change to a diet that is more plant based. If I had to kill my own meat, that would probably happen a lot faster.

    I think everyone should visit farms and watch Food, Inc.

    Thanks for writing this article.
    LyndaS recently posted..Lambert’s Throwed Rolls Bread Machine CloneMy Profile

  12. I once helped process 100 chickens in one day. Grandpa did the butchering, Mom, Grandma, and me did the rest of the work. It was hard work, stinky work, but it didn’t gross me out. I’m not sure I could do it today, but maybe that’s what people need to do to understand the food cycle. Thanks for the reminder.
    Sheila Skillingstead recently posted..Clear weatherMy Profile

  13. Terra Heck says:

    Wowzers, I bet that was quite an experience! I’m a big time meat eater but I think I’d be too squeamish to do something like that.

  14. Pingback: COMPLETED: 101 Things in 1001 Days | (Don't Be) Too Timid and Squeamish

  15. Pingback: Year in Review: 2013 | (Don't Be) Too Timid and Squeamish

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