The Killing of September

Published on 31st December 2017

My Father brings home 50 yellow chicks every May

I try not to get too attached

I'll cut off most of their heads with a short knife in September

I say most because not all of them will live that long

They are genetically engineered to grow big, and grow fast

and not much else

Heat will kill them, Cold will kill them, Insects will kill them, I will kill them

In the end, they just aren't engineered to live

We built a coop for them

A barn, with a door, so they can go outside and peck at the grass

Twice a day I feed them

Two high silos of water and feed

They peck at my ankles

On the day of the kill, I wake up early

We set up two road cones, nailed to a board upside down

They sit about 3 feet off the ground, so I don't have to lift the chicken that high

The first few chickens are easy to catch

They are overly fat, or don't yet know what's going on

I grab their feet, and lift them up, upside down

They try to peck at my wrists to let them go

They don't try very hard

I lift them above the cone

And drop them with enough force to keep their wings encased

I wear a glove, because that's the only distance I get

I reach up, grab their head, pull it down

I try to cut their head off in one stroke, but most of the time it takes two

I throw the head in a bucket

Sometimes, there's just enough life left in it to look at me

The eyes will stay fixed until I cover them with another head

After you cut the head off, you have to let them bleed out

The legs will continue kicking until they drain

The dog watches with a smile on his face

He's just happy you're outside

If you take the body out too fast, the legs will kick when you lower them into the boiler

The boiling water makes the feather easier to pluck

The kicking legs makes it more difficult to hold

After the boiler, you take the wet body to the plucker

A simple box with a spinning wheel, covered in stiff, plastic fingers

The wheel spins with enough force for the fingers to pluck most of the feather out

This is when it stops looking like a chicken

After the plucker, I put the body on a table for my father to gut

and pluck the remaining feather

I turn something off this morning

You have to

Chasing chickens, knowing they are running for their lives

and you're running to get a job done

It's different stakes

The most difficult chicken isn't the first chicken

It isn't the last chicken

It's the second last chicken

Chickens are flock animals

They feel safe in numbers

And when you walk in on 42 chickens

They run and cluck and peck

When you walk in on two

They hide together

In a corner

Next to the last refuge

When I tear that second last chicken away

They screech for the final time

Once they are alone

They stop fighting

They are resigned

The last chicken doesn't fight

There's no reason to keep them alive at all

I don't write this because I enjoy the process

The reason I do is some kind of moral imperative

What kind of person would I be if I could eat a chicken without killing it myself

Contributing to their deaths without being able to end their lives myself

What would that make me?

I lived in China and ordered chicken noodle soup

It came in a bowl, with the head of the chicken resting on top

Looking at me like the head in the bucket

We see this practice as barbaric

From a society that doesn't know any better

They keep the head on to confirm the health and size of the chicken

It's a sensible reason

The reason we make our chickens into burgers and nuggets

Is to distance ourselves

To pretend we didn't contribute to the pain and fear of another living thing

At best, denial

At worst, cowardice

When I kill that second last chicken

I turn everything off

But there is no distancing myself from the fact

That I'm causing pain and fear in this world

The last chicken is easy.