Last spring, I bought twelve adorable baby chicks at the Davisville Fleamarket. They were advertised as Barred Rock and Golden Comet “pullets.” I figured it would be good to have a small flock of new laying hens to get us through the winter. Tom was skeptical, and thought it was a mighty gamble to purchase our birds at the “Flea,” but they looked healthy and well cared for to me. I brought them home and made the fuzzy little chicks comfy in our coop under the glowing red light of the mother heat-lamp.
This fall, as the hens got larger and larger; I kept looking for the first eggs in the nesting boxes. Nada. I marveled at how beautiful these hens were becoming, with extremely large, bright red combs and wattles…and flinty, shifty eyes. Surely, any day now, we would be rolling in tasty fresh eggs.
At the crack of dawn several weeks later, my eyes flew open as I was rudely awakened by a harsh sound. Then another one. Then another. A whole flock of jubilant voices raised in praise of another sunrise.
I said, “What the hell is that noise?”
Tom sighed. “It sounds like a gay men’s chorus to me.”
Yep. Every single one was a cock. They were dubbed The Lost Boys.
When I complained bitterly about this to some other poultry people, I found that others had been bamboozled by the “pullet” vendor at the fleamarket as well. I was furious. If that guy is there next summer with his damn “pullets,” I’m going to stand there with a sign that’s says:
Beware! These chicks have dicks!
Now what was I going to do with all these boys? I stood in the chicken yard watching them pecking and scratching as I threw cracked corn to them. Another bunch of crack-heads. It was futile, I knew. We would never see our return on the cost of feed. I knew Tom was waiting for me to make a decision. I also knew it was just a matter of time before the testosterone kicked into high gear and they started fighting and flying at each other with lethal spurs first.
It was when I saw one of the boys actually mount another guy that I said, “That does it.” I’m all for gay marriage and everything, but pretty soon these guys were going to start singing Judy Garland show tunes.
I called my friend and local farmer extraordinaire, Derek Owen, to help me out with this testosterone poisoning. Derek very kindly didn’t laugh too hard when I explained my predicament. He agreed to show us how to process the birds for the freezer.
I got up early while it was still dark to try to catch the roosters while they were sleeping on their roost. I put on a headlamp and dragged two large dog kennels into the coop and snatched the first bird. He screamed bloody murder and alerted all his brothers that he had been abducted. Bedlam ensued. There was screaming and dust and feathers flying everywhere. Each bird fought and pounded his wings when I grabbed him. I was astounded at how heavy and strong they’d become. The biggest of The Lost Boys whipped around when I grabbed his leg and he knocked me down. I was lying on the coop floor with the wind knocked out of me. I was covered in chicken poop. Dammit! I chased him around until I got him in a corner and managed to nab him.
Tom was making coffee when I returned to the house.
“How’d it go?” he asked.
“Oh, fine.” I said as I picked some feathers and shit out of my hair. “But I think somehow they knew the jig was up.”
An hour later, we were at Derek’s farm and he had everything prepared for us. He was so kind and funny and knowledgeable. Derek had large white mutton chop sideburns, so he looked for all the world like that old-fashioned guy on the Luden cough drops label.
Derek was wearing a ball cap that said, “Farm Here to Eternity.” This made me laugh because I had on a T-shirt that said, “From Here to Maternity.”
The workroom in his barn was warm from the propane heater that was heating a large garbage barrel full of water. Derek handed me a long thermometer and told me to keep the water at 140 degrees. He and Tom went out to our truck to get the boys. I was wondering how I was going to fare with this plan, after all.
Attached to the wall was a funnel shaped metal cone, like an inverted highway marker cone. Derek showed Tom how to flip the bird upside down and stuff it down into the cone until its head stuck out of the bottom. Then he showed Tom how to feel for the jugular and stick a filet knife in the vein until the bird bled out into a bucket below. Watching the bird struggle made my stomach lurch and hurt my heart, so I didn’t watch this part again. I said a little prayer for the protection of the spirit of the bird. I didn’t let Tom know I was praying, though, because he seemed like he was doing just fine with this part.
Derek took the bird and dunked it into the hot water until the feathers came out easily by the handful. He hung the bird by one foot from the ceiling and I plucked out all the feathers into a garbage barrel below. This was surprisingly easy and the plucking went quickly. Derek said the hot water relaxed the muscles that held the feathers so they just peeled off. We got into a rhythm of Tom sticking and me plucking—until I realized that the birds’ insides still needed to be cleaned out. I asked how that was done.
Derek grumbled, “I was wondering when you’d get around to that part.”
Derek took his filet knife and cut off the head and showed me how to locate and remove the windpipe and esophagus from along side the neck. Then on the other end, he showed me how to insert the knife just below the anus and how to cut up in a “U” shape to avoid nicking the poop chute. Then using two fingers, how to go in and separate the fascia from the fat and remove the fat that is in a thick layer under the muscle. This was all very familiar to me somehow.
My hand entered the bird, which was incredibly warm and pliable from the hot water bath it had just had. I was astounded as my hand crept up into the bird and I could
feel the intestines, the large, hard gizzard, the liver and kidney (chickens only have one kidney), and lastly the heart. I pulled gently and all this came out in a slippery mass. I went back inside the bird and realized it felt delicious to me. I loved the way this felt.
Derek was watching this out of the corner of his eye. He said to Tom, “Oh good, the midwife’s here.”
Tom grinned at me. I know he was thankful that I was enjoying this—because he was looking a little skeeged out by this part himself. We were a good team. I knew we’d be able to do this in the future with meat birds, no problem.
As my hand traveled back inside the bird, searching the cavity, I located two large masses that felt about the size of Ping-Pong balls. I removed them and they were glistening, pure white orbs of remarkable beauty. There was the vas deferens.
Holy Rooster Balls! These nads were enormous!
Tom’s mouth dropped open. “Jesus, those are almost the same size as mine.”
No wonder roosters were so macho. They just couldn’t help it. It was their biological imperative.
Derek and Tom cleaned up the feathers and muck from the workroom while I cleaned the birds. I was thankful to Derek for his kindness and his expertise. Now we would have a dozen hefty cockerels in our freezer for the coming winter.
The next morning when I walked past the chicken coop, it was strangely silent. I felt a little sad. The silence made me nostalgic for just one more joyous chorus of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
Coming on Monday!
How Carol and Tom Hooked Up…Finally (definitely X-Rated)