To Horrify the Modern Sensibilities

 

“Dad slaughtered about 100 chickens each Friday to deliver to customers on Saturday. It was the job of the younger children of the family to hold the feet of each chicken as Dad chopped off the chicken’s head with a careful swift swing of the ax.” She goes on to describe her participation in the next step of de-feathering the carcasses.

From an account written by Mrs. Tabby’s mother (who would have been one of the aforementioned younger children in the family) recounting her childhood in Illinois, which would have been very late 1920s into the 1930s. Mrs. Tabby discovered the account, which had been written about thirty years ago, while cleaning out her parents’ house following their deaths in recent months. When she read that part to me, I immediately imagined how horrified many of today’s overprotective parents would be at the very thought of having young children participate in the process of slaughtering the animals that become our dinner. I know @cowgirl  and probably others are not. But I think many would be.

The account describes Mom’s childhood as subsistence farmers on land rented from a family member. Eggs and the aforementioned chickens were the primary source of cash for the family. Mom describes that her Dad figured out where in Peoria (the “big town” about 25 miles away) the fancy houses were that would be willing to pay top dollar on Saturday for fresh chicken (no more than three pounds, as the bigger birds were less tender) and eggs for Sunday dinner. She said he got about three times as much cash per bird selling door-to-door (retail) as he would have selling them all to a butcher (wholesale). So he was willing to put in the long day’s work needed to go door-to-door.

The account also describes occasionally butchering larger animals that they had raised for household consumption. Quite the interesting account of a life not that distant in time, yet worlds apart in culture. Mrs. Tabby will type it up, as Mrs. Tabby is the only person on the planet who could read her mother’s poor handwriting.

The contrast between the 1930 attitude of the subsistence farmer (of course the young children participate in chores, including the slaughtering of the cash-generating chickens), and the 2021 attitude of trying to protect children from every unpleasant detail of life (including that they might get sick from a virus) amused me.

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  1. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Grandma had no time for axes. Grandma’s method was to grab the chicken by its legs, hold it upside down so its head was on the ground, step on the head and give a jerk. No headless chickens flopping around the yard,  and as cousin Carolyn once pointed out, it gave the grandkids a fair appreciation of mortality.

    Plus a tasty Sunday dinner.

    I spent three year within about 15 miles of Peoria, or as we called it “Paris-on-the-Illinois.”

    • #1
  2. Nohaaj Coolidge
    Nohaaj
    @Nohaaj

    Those days still exist. Ask the Amish.  A couple of years back, I bought a pig from one of Mrs. Nohaaj’s Amish friends. There were many stories about buying that pig, but I will share one he shared with me about growing up. 

    As a young lad, he was sent to his neighbor’s to help slaughter a cow. Well his neighbor, tied the cow up between two fences near the slaughterhouse. The neighbor grabbed a pick axe up.  He gave that pick axe a mighty swing. right into the head of that cow.  Well… That made that cow very angry, and it took off with the pick axe in it’s forehead and two fences trailing behind. It took them most of the afternoon to trail that cow thru the field and after it was dead to drag it back to the slaughterhouse.

    I asked him how he killed the pig that I bought.  He commented that, he’s not one of those fellows that can slice the neck open. Makes him feel a little queasy. So he shot it in the head with a .44.  Ya know, he says, ya can’t use plain lead bullets, they just bounce off the skull, makes ’em pigs squeal.   Gotta use jacketed ones.  

    My pig weighed in at just over 200#’s field dressed and quartered. In addition to the 200 pounds of pig, I also got the head, and feet and a significant slab of fat for rendering. (I had a friend that wanted the head for scrapple, my mom wanted the feet to pickle, and I was just dumb taking the slab of fat, I should have left it for the Amish, who would have rendered it down.) The man only wanted 200$ for the pig. I gave him 250, because his price was too cheap. 

     

     

    • #2
  3. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    My mother’s family were farmers, and, when I was very young (probably 5 or 6), I remember my mother wringing the necks of chickens.

    • #3
  4. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    Ten years old on a Kansas farm, I watched chicken heads get chopped of and then I was trained to scoop out the guts and then use the mechanical feather plucker.

    My first memory of fully appreciating living in a city.

    • #4
  5. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    Percival (View Comment):

    No headless chickens flopping around the yard,  and as cousin Carolyn once pointed out, it gave the grandkids a fair appreciation of mortality.

     

    One of the problems I see with our increasing distance from animal life (farm or wildlife) is that most of us have no real contact with death until it happens to a person very close to us. As we (full fledged suburbanites) have visited among farmers on vacations, I have been struck by how much better acquainted with the cycle of life on this earth the farmers are. They (and especially the children) see birth, life, aging, and death regularly, and therefore see those as part of God’s designed order of things. Most of the rest of us have only sporadic contact with birth and death, and therefore fail to see (earthly) death as an inevitable event. 

    • #5
  6. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    Full Size Tabby: …an account written by Mrs. Tabby’s mother….

    I would love to read all of it.   

    My parents lived with my Dad’s parents for a while after they were first married.  Mom was not too keen on living with Grandma (which I totally understand).  She once mentioned that Grandma would get all weepy over some little thing and go outside and whack the head off a duck no problem.  This was in Toledo in the 50s.  I guess they kept all sorts of birds.  Grandpa kept racing pigeons in the garage, and everyone wondered just what he did to have roses that grew seven feet tall.  He never mentioned years of free fertilizer.

    • #6
  7. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    I just grab the chicken by the head and swing it around until I hear the crack, then I twist the neck to be sure.

    • #7
  8. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Mark Alexander (View Comment):

    Ten years old on a Kansas farm, I watched chicken heads get chopped of and then I was trained to scoop out the guts and then use the mechanical feather plucker.

    My first memory of fully appreciating living in a city.

    I helped with chicken plucking when I was a kid. When we raised our own chickens, I found it very difficult to chop off the head of the first one. But thinking about the cost of chicken feed for 125 chickens when they were still getting bigger and fatter (and soon stringier) I finally did it. The rest were easier.

    I told my daughter she would soon be the best 11-year-old chicken plucker in Calhoun County. She was not amused. 

    • #8
  9. Chuck Thatcher
    Chuck
    @Chuckles

    To this day I wonder how different I’d be if my mom hadn’t thought I was too young (4? 5?) to go with my grandfather and his brothers when they slaughtered a pig.

    • #9
  10. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher
    @HankRhody

    Full Size Tabby: It was the job of the younger children of the family to hold the feet of each chicken as Dad chopped off the chicken’s head with a careful swift swing of the ax.

    That part worries me. Not the exposure to guts and whatnot, I’m just saying those hands are awful close to the swing of an ax.

    • #10
  11. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    I wonder how the public would react if they saw how a McDonald’s burger patty or McNuggets were made from the feeding of the animals up.

    • #11
  12. Nohaaj Coolidge
    Nohaaj
    @Nohaaj

    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher (View Comment):

    Full Size Tabby: It was the job of the younger children of the family to hold the feet of each chicken as Dad chopped off the chicken’s head with a careful swift swing of the ax.

    That part worries me. Not the exposure to guts and whatnot, I’m just saying those hands are awful close to the swing of an ax.

    hmmm, not so close, you hold the chicken at basically their hip, they can’t move much.  The axe path is 4-6 inches away from where the hands are. When I was regularly splitting wood, if I couldn’t hit the same spot within a 1/16″ I considered myself a failure. That with the firewood not being in the exact same orientation or location as the first swing, and full over the head swings.  A hatchet swing had none of those variables.  

    Come on out to our place for a weekend.  We offer in-field training camp for minimum cost. I guarantee your money back, if you are not chicken head accuracy certified, by the end of the free labor sucker camp experiential, life resource, experience building, hands on, dude ranch camp.  

    • #12
  13. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher
    @HankRhody

    Nohaaj (View Comment):
    hmmm, not so close, you hold the chicken at basically their hip, they can’t move much.  The axe path is 4-6 inches away from where the hands are.

    I get that they were holding the chicken as far away from the blow that felled the bird, but that still puts them within a chicken’s length when I’d rather have them outside an ax handle. I’m sure you’re perfectly precise with your splitting maul (I never was, but I’ve only occasionally split wood myself.) I just think that method puts you one freak distraction away from a horrible accident. I’d be much happier with Babushka Percival’s chicken stomp, or Flicker’s ringing wringing. 

    I was generalizing from my experience with that splitting maul rather than thinking in terms of a short sharp blow with a hatchet. That does mitigate the risk in the process.

    • #13
  14. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher (View Comment):

    Nohaaj (View Comment):
    hmmm, not so close, you hold the chicken at basically their hip, they can’t move much. The axe path is 4-6 inches away from where the hands are.

    I get that they were holding the chicken as far away from the blow that felled the bird, but that still puts them within a chicken’s length when I’d rather have them outside an ax handle. I’m sure you’re perfectly precise with your splitting maul (I never was, but I’ve only occasionally split wood myself.) I just think that method puts you one freak distraction away from a horrible accident. I’d be much happier with Babushka Percival’s chicken stomp, or Flicker’s ringing wringing.

    I was generalizing from my experience with that splitting maul rather than thinking in terms of a short sharp blow with a hatchet. That does mitigate the risk in the process.

    Remember, you can wield a hatchet with just a 5″ or 6″ swing.

    There are other ways, too.  One way is to put four nails in a square pattern in a tree stump and slip the chicken’s neck between the nails with 2 nails below the head and two nails lower on the neck; then the cutting is fairly easy to guide.

    The one I like is putting a hole in a bucket.  You cover the chicken with the bucket.  When the chicken sticks its head out of the hole, you grab it and chop it off yourself; it stops the chicken from running around.  I’ve though of using a .44, but that’s too loud.

    • #14
  15. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher
    @HankRhody

    Flicker (View Comment):

    I’ve though of using a .44, but that’s too loud.

    More of a garrote in a darkened alley kind of a guy?

    • #15
  16. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher (View Comment):

    Flicker (View Comment):

    I’ve though of using a .44, but that’s too loud.

    More of a garrote in a darkened alley kind of a guy?

    Actually I was going to write too messy, but I’ve never done it so I can’t testify to how messy it would be.  I’ve never seen it on youtube with a high speed camera, but I bet it would rather messy.  So I went with loud.

    As for garroting, then you need someone to hold the chicken again.

    • #16
  17. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Flicker (View Comment):
    I’ve though of using a .44, but that’s too loud.

    A chicken’s head is a pretty small target.  It would be embarrassing to miss.

    • #17
  18. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Flicker (View Comment):
    I’ve though of using a .44, but that’s too loud.

    A chicken’s head is a pretty small target. It would be embarrassing to miss.

    True.  Plus, this is not something you want to do in your driveway.

    • #18
  19. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Nohaaj (View Comment):
    hmmm, not so close, you hold the chicken at basically their hip, they can’t move much.  The axe path is 4-6 inches away from where the hands are. When I was regularly splitting wood, if I couldn’t hit the same spot within a 1/16″ I considered myself a failure. That with the firewood not being in the exact same orientation or location as the first swing, and full over the head swings.  A hatchet swing had none of those variables.  

    I split wood with a splitting maul, and give myself a lot more margin for error than 1/16″.  As long as it opens up the original split further, I consider it a success.   But yes, swinging a hatchet at a chicken’s neck on a block is a totally different thing.  I’ve done it a few hundred times and don’t recall ever missing.  

    If you want to do something to make onlookers nervous, try splitting wood into small kindling pieces with a hatchet.   Hold the piece upright with your left hand and move that hand away as you bring the hatchet down with your right. I’ve missed often enough when the pieces are already pretty thin, but have never endangered my left hand. 

    • #19
  20. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Nohaaj (View Comment):
    hmmm, not so close, you hold the chicken at basically their hip, they can’t move much. The axe path is 4-6 inches away from where the hands are. When I was regularly splitting wood, if I couldn’t hit the same spot within a 1/16″ I considered myself a failure. That with the firewood not being in the exact same orientation or location as the first swing, and full over the head swings. A hatchet swing had none of those variables.

    I split wood with a splitting maul, and give myself a lot more margin for error than 1/16″. As long as it opens up the original split further, I consider it a success. But yes, swinging a hatchet at a chicken’s neck on a block is a totally different thing. I’ve done it a few hundred times and don’t recall ever missing.

    If you want to do something to make onlookers nervous, try splitting wood into small kindling pieces with a hatchet. Hold the piece upright with your left hand and move that hand away as you bring the hatchet down with your right. I’ve missed often enough when the pieces are already pretty thin, but have never endangered my left hand.

    I’d probably chop my whole hand off.  Now, if I was able to hold the hatchet in my left hand, it would be a different story.  But then I’d be sinister or something.

    • #20
  21. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Randy Webster (View Comment):
    I’d probably chop my whole hand off.  Now, if I was able to hold the hatchet in my left hand, it would be a different story.  But then I’d be sinister or something.

    If I held a hatchery in my left hand it would be a different story, too. A more exciting story, and also a shorter one,.

    • #21
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