Our Own Chickens For Sale

Written By: Thomas A. Ford

“Do you know the two rules of chicken slaughter? The first is keep your mouth shut. The second, if you feel something on your lips don’t lick it.”

Harry Ludlow, my boss and the owner of Fairview Farm, where I spent a few summers in high school, was neither the first nor the last person to tell me these rules pertaining to the slaughtering of chickens. The first person was Barbara, Harry’s wife, who was my boss in the kitchen. On a typical summer day at Fairview, my job was in the kitchen baking delicious pies and cookies to be sold at the farm stand. Over the years I had other assignments on the farm, such as working in a corn maze or serving ribbon fries during the autumn season, but the one job that I still think about to this day is the slaughtering of chickens.

Due to a hurricane, many trees in the area had fallen, taking with them power lines and a lot of the farm’s business. I was scheduled to work in the kitchen that weekend, but due to the lack of patrons, and pie sales, I was reallocated to help with other chores around the farm. The most notable of these jobs was slaughtering chickens.

When I got to work I was warned about what was on the schedule of events for that day, and I was given the option to leave early if I didn’t feel up to the gruesome task; I shrugged it off, looking forward to the opportunity of gaining insight into the life of farming that was more than just baking and washing dishes. After relating the rules to me, Harry asked whether I was up for it. Although worried about what I was getting myself into, I swallowed and told him I would be fine. And with that verbal contract, my fate was sealed. I hopped into a pickup truck with Meredith, Barbara and Harry’s daughter, and headed over to the chicken coops.

I had seen chickens before. I had petted them and collected eggs from them before. In kindergarten I remember my class incubating eggs and watching them hatch into the cute little yellow balls of fluff that you see in children’s books. But you haven’t seen chickens until you are tasked with catching them and putting them in the back of a pickup truck. Chickens, upon sensing danger, become feather-covered demons, capable of surprising feats of strength despite their scrawny appearance. After a long struggle between man and chicken, twenty-five chickens were waiting, like sitting ducks, in the back of a swelteringly hot truck. We tried to make it more comfortable for these unfortunate fowl, but we were unable to open the windows for ventilation; it was a horrifying scene.

We reached the other end of the farm where preparations were being made for the upcoming carnage, with a tub of cold water and a pot of boiling water ready and waiting for our victims. I found myself leaning against the side of the truck, wondering why I was there. I mean, my job is in the kitchen baking cookies and pies (albeit some are chicken pot pies), not killing animals. So I promised myself that, no matter what happened, I would not be the one to kill a single chicken.

Then it was time to begin. I watched as Meredith selected a chicken  and, as gracefully as one could with a squirming mass of feathers, shoved it into a large cone shaped device that holds the chickens upside-down and prevents them from moving too much. She picked up a small knife and then turned to look at me. She saw my ashen face, a good deal paler than it had been a few minutes ago, and asked, “You don’t look so great. Are you still okay to do this?” Again, I swallowed and, not out of pride but out of a morbid curiosity,  replied, somewhat half-heartedly, “Yeah”. “Great. Then could you please come over here and hold the legs”?

An hour later, the job was done. Over two dozen chickens had been slaughtered, scalded and plucked, and were now floating in the large tub of cold water, a rather macabre image. Other than the stray feathers that were scattered about the ground and the area of grass that was now crimson, there was no sign of the slaughter that had just transpired. By this point I was splattered with blood and had inadvertently broken one of the rules (I won’t admit which one), but it was over and I had survived the experience. I went home, soaked my clothes in soapy water, was sprayed down with a hose, and all the physical evidence of the gore that had happened that day was washed away.

At the end of the day, I went to bed and felt unscathed by what had happened. I got to experience a very real part of farm life, and gained a much greater appreciation or where our food  comes from. I wasn’t scarred for life, and I wasn’t visited by twenty-five feathered ghosts that night. It’s not something that I would actively seek out doing again, but I’m very glad to have had the opportunity to do something that most kids not raised on a farm never get to experience or understand. A couple days later, it was time to leave Bridgehampton and return home until the next weekend. On the way we stopped by the farm to pick up a pie to bring home with us. Outside the farm stand was the “Fairview Farm” sign that always lives out there, but inside, hanging behind the counter next to the list of pie flavors, was a new sign that read: “Our Own Chickens For Sale”.