About Chickens

Warning: this chapter contains some graphic content

Another thing about my dad: he likes birds, specifically chickens. Now, if you haven't spent much time around chickens, count yourself lucky. They are pretty much the stupidest creature that breathes. Excepting perhaps brothers.

We get them when they're small - a couple hours old. Fresh out of the egg. The barn has to be unbelievably hot; I-need-to-go-sit-in-a-sauna-to-cool-down hot. They come in trays of one hundred, which we dump onto the straw. I'll admit they are very cute the first day. Small and yellow and even fuzzier than they look. But the noise in the barn. Put a couple thousand newborn chickens in a barn and sit in there for a couple minutes. If you don't die of heat stroke, you'll probably wish you had because your ears will be ringing for the next hour. You know those whistles lifeguards have? Imagine 100 lifeguards all tweeting on their whistles at once. It's enough to make a person as sane as I am go crazy.

They have a special brand of stupidity during the first couple days. You've probably seen pictures where a trail of chicks follow the mother hen? It's actually true. They do follow their moms like that. Or anything else that's big and moving. In a couple days, they'll be jumping every time you lift a finger, but for now, they are determined to run right under your feet. It's really not fun to step on baby chicks. Especially when they don't die. But perhaps I won't go into that particular story. They also have other suicide means: their water bowls. We have special automatic waterers, but during the first few days they are small enough to climb in and drown. Chicks may be super-cute when they're fluffy, but they're really quite disgusting when they are scrawny and soaked and squashed. Luckily, the ones that don't die will grow out of this stage.

Next they start to lose their down and grow feathers. They look really strange and ugly during the transition. They'll be yellow and fluffy, but with stiff, white wings.

Eventually they'll be fully-feathered. The roosters will start trying to crow. It sounds really bad, though. They won't live long enough to perfect it. Harsh, but true. This is where we come at night with gloves and cages and grab them. Their legs, although usually feather-free, are really warm. To catch a chicken, you grab the legs out from under it and carry it upside down. Then you shove it in the cage and repeat. We don't kill them ourselves, and for this I am eternally grateful. I'm sure you all want to know how it is done, but I really don't, so I never really tried to find out. I do know they hang them by their feet on hooks, and (correct me if i'm wrong) I think they are just electrocuted, and then defeathered in some kind of tumble-dryer-like contraption.

People do still cut their heads off. I don't really care to watch that either, but, unfortunately, there was this one time we were at somebody elses farm, where there was a whole chicken-processing assembly line. The older son would use a dull paper-cutter-guillotine, which sometimes wasn't as quick and painless as you would hope. Then he would stick the headless chicken in a funnel to drain it (and wait for the leg reflexes to stop). The grandma would snip the legs off, while the girls would pluck the feathers, and I guess everyone else was cleaning out the insides or something.

So, now you know way more than you wanted to about chickens. I don't ask to be an expert on this stuff - and I'm grateful I don't know any more than I already do. I'm just a farm girl.

The End

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