the Chicken Butcher

I write this blog to be a pause in the storm; to document. The plan: go down to part-time Nursing work in order to spend two days a week working on the land. The goal: passively learn all about being a steward of the land, move my body, and meet people who rely on plants and animals. Incorporate what I learn to the art house I live at; chickens, Earth and metaphysical lessons. These sort of days will create a buffet-bounty of food for thought; all of which I would like to share, with you, in my monthly posting to The Collective.

I live in the Ozarks. I’m thirty. I’m a community health Nurse. I live in a 28 ft camper. I help run a local art house. I’m single. I’m in an all lady folk band. I’m scared almost half the time. I’m going to do it all anyways. 

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It was a warm day in May. I cranked up the truck and boogied North to volunteer for the day at a family-run farm outside Springfield. They were known for selling butchered animal parts to local grocery stores and farmer’s markets. Wild seeds hung in the air, blew into the truck. I was preparing for a 160-chicken-slaughter-kind-of-day.

“Does killing chickens make you uncomfortable?” Farmer Joe asked when I met them the week before, a meeting arranged so the couple could feel out if I was a nut. “I killed and ate off a deer this whole past year, I hunt, I eat what I kill,” I said point blank. “I’ve had backyard chickens, and they have all died from opossums, dogs, cats, or owls.” I’d been around death. After all, as Farmer Sally, Lady of The Farm, reminded him, I was a nurse.

The farm was down a gravel road, barns scattered about housing various animals. There was even a school bus used for housing chickens. A general store sat in the middle of the plot, cute and tidy, with hand painted letters on the door.

This family was some sort of religious, but in the wholesome we love one another and focus on service kind of way, and borderline on back-to-the-Earth-Libertarians. The couple did that thing that old people in love do, they catch eyes, they hold each other in little ways, they pay attention to the other. Their older daughter had traveled the country WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) , and then traveled Europe WWOOFing with her husband and their baby! We talked about birth politics, midwives, and food politics. Their younger daughter was fiercely independent. She was the one who stood at the beginning of the line and did the wiliest of the cutting. Farmer Joe glowed with pride, “She has the best hands for the job, better than anyone bigger or any man’s.” Their grand kids and church friends were there standing in a line passing the parts from hand to hand, carving and cleaning in stations.

We all laughed a lot about how it was a gamble meeting someone from the internet (since that’s how I found these wholesome farmers). I could be crazy, or they could be crazy! Then everyone would laugh in that maniacal way, under a plastic covered work area, wearing plastic aprons, pulling chickens apart to throw into a giant container of ice water.

Some Things Said & Learned:

“Don’t slit their throat, only their jugular veins, then put them in the cone upside down while they die. If you cut their throat they will suffocate and break their own bones struggling in the cone.”

“Hold them with both hands! Chickens are slippery!”

“When you clean the gizzard you have to be graceful with the knife, or the rocks will bust through! Chickens keep rocks in their gizzard to help with digestion.”

“Don’t bust the gallbladder! Green goo will go everyone and it tastes awful.”

“Separate the lungs, heart, gizzards, and necks. People eat/ use all those parts.”

We kept at it for 11 hours. Everyone descended into crankiness. It was the kind of crankiness which only family can settle into… where the humans become the chickens, pecking at one another. One of their church friends, a teenage girl, began having fainting spells that more and more resembled seizures. I caught her as she fell, ripped the plastic apron off her, got her out of the plastic sheeting overhead that was amplify the rays of the sun. I noticed scars on her sweet wrist from before she had been adopted. I assessed her, cooled her off, and talked with the family. They took her into town. They said God had sent me there, and I was meant to be with them. As a spiritually minded person, this always comes as a deep compliment. And I agreed, I was meant to be there.

Storms rolled in, and storms rolled out. The plastic sheeting whipped back and forth at our backs and rain fell sideways. And still we butchered.

At the end, I got back in the truck with a freshly butchered chicken to take home, and a bag of goodies. I was covered in dried chicken blood, and also by my own period blood (surprise!). I agreed to come back every week to learn about stewarding sheep, pigs, chickens, and cattle. I was very grateful for my time with this family.

Back in Springfield at least a hundred people were celebrating National Donut Day at Krispy Kreme. I joined the line that wrapped outside the building. My body felt like it was buzzing with 11 hours worth of learning. I thought of the sweet teenager who fainted from a possible eating disorder. I took half a dozen glazed beauties to a parking lot to talk the day out with my friend Sarah, who was parked there waiting to get a Grub Hub order for her to deliver. We passed the chicken parts back and forth, discussed the butchering process until it stuck into memory.

By: Brie Vonyo

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