How to murder a chicken and other poultry facts
“I held her underwater until I knew she was dead” said a woman. The rest of us nod, squirreling away this method as a future possibility.
I am among mothers congregating at the school gate, waiting for the bell. We look like the type of congregating mothers who give congregating mothers a bad name. The gutter stretching behind us is littered with abandoned 4WDs - doors resting open - some pregnant with healthy prams. A toddler, resigned to boring talk at this time of day, is spinning inconveniently on the footpath.
Another woman presses for more detail - keen to know if there was a struggle before drowning. No, she was weak from disease. Our voices jockey to make the next disclosure of killing.
Killing chickens is a very real consequence of the backyard chook revival. Therese Rein tweeted about keeping chickens at the Lodge, after a 60-year hiatus while we were mesmerised by battery farming. They were probably the shortest-serving chooks - a red fox, with a den at Parliament House, wasn’t factored into coop (also spelt coup) planning.
Back at the school gate and the most glamorous looking woman - wearing a shirt that has a high degree of difficulty ironing - suggests checking if the bird is egg bound first: “you need to lubricate the hen’s vent [cloaca] with olive oil or hold her over a pot of steaming water to relax the oviduct and then check with your fingers” she says. I look for permission to snigger. Denied. That’s probably because she’s done this. Twice.
Detecting she has placed first in the attention stakes, she continues. The first time she got comfortable, with her hen and implements, in front of a DIY YouTube clip. ‘Twas redundant the second time. When she stops speaking the group is uncharacteristically silent and an ache around my eyes materialises from forcing them open too wide. I don’t make eye contact with anyone for fear a smile will erupt. I focus on a bird that appears to be listening in - a worse move because I swear it’s trembling.
The flip side of fresh free-range eggs is the occasional slaughter. Most of those gathered had crushed the neck of a sick chicken, working hard to bury the newly-rooted instinct to prolong life, always. We’re not outsourcing death, or ferrying around poultry to vet appointments, but making learned helplessness a one or two generation wonder. Women and poultry go back a long way. In relative recent history, novels by Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte give cameos to the poultry flocks of some female characters.
In keeping backyard chooks, children are also being let in on a secret: living things die. A replacement-before-they-notice-chook is out of the question - pecking-orders do exist. And in this subcategory of animal husbandry, concocting stories about sleepy birds feel stupid.
Although we are doing a lot with eggs in the kitchen these days, not much is happening with chicken. Crafting perches, arranging roosting boxes, talking to ‘the girls’ daily, feeding them ‘scraps’, and killing them, is not-surprisingly a more catchy deterrent to eating them mindlessly than the alliterative ‘meat-free Monday’.
And taking the life out of something yourself fosters real thanks. As the bell goes, the final disclosure is no-one is having chicken tonight. No chicken tonight.
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