I know that people get a little squeamish when a farmer tells of the way butchering was done, but it was a way of life. It is still a way of life, but people are shielded from it and only see things in packages on the shelve of a grocery store.
Off With Their Heads
Every autumn after the egg-laying season was over, Granddad would summon the family to kill off the flock of chickens. The ratio for the cost of feed compared to the number of eggs would finally tip and make the hens non-profitable. On a farm, there is little use for an animal that didn’t earn its keep. A farmer’s dogs and cats worked. Cats killed rats and mice in the sheds, barn, and house and the dogs would fetch the cows, guard the hens, and other animals.
At each butchering of the animals, whether chickens or the pigs and the beef, it was almost a family reunion and with all of the helping hands, a large task was made easier. The killing and cleaning was an arduous and time consuming ordeal. But it needed to be done.
The chickens were familiar with my granddad walking among them and he would enter the coop. Using a stiff wire with a hook on one end, he would snag the leg of the hen. The foot on the bottom was thicker and would not allow the bird to escape. Granddad would hand the chicken out to one of my uncles. He would take the chicken and lay its head on an upturned block of wood. A quick downward stroke of a hatchet and the head was severed from the neck. The hen felt no pain, because it had no brain to register it.
The bird would be tossed into the grass to exsanguinate. When several were dead, they would be carried to the house where the aunts would dunk them into buckets of steaming water. They had to soak the feathers thoroughly. Otherwise feathers would be flying all over the place when the hens’ feathers were pulled out. The smell of wet feathers is not a nice smell at all, kind of like a wet wool blanket and wet dog mixed. I didn’t like the smell, but often I was roped into plucking feathers too.
After the longer feathers were removed, it was time to remove the pin feathers. Pin feathers are feathers that are just emerging. Something like a blackhead, fingernails and sometimes tweezers were used to get them out. There were only the hairs left on the carcass. They were singed off. An aunt would roll a piece of newspaper, light it from the coal cook stove, and pass the flame over the body until all the hair was gone.
The hen was cut open and the intestines, gizzard, liver, lungs, and heart would be removed. The gizzard cleaned and tossed in a pot of water with the hearts and livers. When cooked, these were snacks for the workers. The first few hens were tossed into the pot. They would be deboned and chopped up with dill pickles, salt, pepper and a little broth to make chicken spread for our lunch. Either homemade rolls or bread made it a meal.
If they found enough unlaid egg yolks, they would make egg noodles and cook them up too. Finally the chicken is cut into separate parts, bagged and froze them to be eaten later.