Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Feeding the Family: Chicken

The chicken coop down by the road housed a lot of laying hens. It was a dirty, stinky place. The chickens would scratch around the yard all day eating seeds, worms and other such delectables. Sometime or other they would find their spot in the chicken coop and lay their egg. These would be picked up every day, taken to the house, properly cared for, and either used by the family or sold. I was quite young when the chickens disappeared and the chicken coop was mostly unused. I say "mostly unused", because there was yet another connection between that chicken coop and some chickens.

Early in the spring I would come home from school to find we were the owners of a bunch of freshly hatched baby chicks. They were ugly, with hardly no feathers. The delicate little chicks were put in the "brooder house", which was specially prepared with a heat lamp, water and special chicken feed. Throughout the summer these little chicks grew into full-grown chickens. I dreaded the day they were declared to be "just right". It was a family project. My older brothers would help mom catch the chickens, one-by-one. The head would go between two nails on a board and one swing of the ax ended it all. The head fell to the right and the body was thrown to the left. A brother picked them up and dipped them into a tub of boiling hot water. Meanwhile, down at the chicken coop, everything was set up for my job (and a brother or two). That sopping wet chicken was hung by its legs in front of my stool and I began plucking feathers. It's surprising how easy they came out. After a quick round with the blow torch to sear off all the little fine feathers, it made it's way to the basement. Mom and Dad were there, cleaning out the innards and giving them all a good washing. Then several of us wrapped them up in freezer paper, labeled it with the date, and into the freezer they went. After a day like that I said I'd never eat a chicken again. But who could resist the delicious fried chicken that came from mom's kitchen? Not me. You know, after all these years, I can clearly remember the smell of wet chicken feathers on a freshly butchered chicken. Weeding the garden wasn't such a bad job after all.

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