We were watching Jerry Clower one night, and the late and great Mississippi-bred comedian was talking about times when people in the South got together. Oh, there are pea-shellins, corn-huskins, and taffy-pullins, sure. But no one really gets excited about chicken-pluckins. Here’s why:
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: Broiler chickens are nasty.
I love animals, but broilers AKA meat birds AKA Cornish crosses are just….gross. They can hardly help it, I know, because they were bred to make one thing: chicken nuggets. (Well, other things, too, but “nuggets” is just a funny word.) They eat and then they poop. Continuously. And then they laid in said poop. If you are familiar with chicken poop, it’s obviously gross, but there is no poop like broiler poop. Imagine Old Faithful. Need I say more? Yes, it really is THAT bad. Please see above photo for reference.
Anyway, last fall, my dear friend Big Rig and her husband, PeeDee, brought over a passel of meat birds to send to chicken Jesus in the sky. Big Rig was to the point where so many of us find ourselves with farming: either the chickens had to go or she was moving to a new place where you never had to move a chicken tractor much less see a chicken ever again.
So, because we have chicken processing equipment, they came to our farm and we got everything set up. Now, Big Rig and I haven’t ever done a ‘chicken-pluckin’ together, so this was a whole new experience. You have your cages full of ‘pre-nugget’ AKA live chickens, your ‘killing cones’, a giant pot of boiling water, and then a processing table. Obviously, chickens go in the cones first and that’s where it’s “off with their heads”. But anyway.
Big Rig volunteered to put the first chicken in a cone. They go upside down and their little heads stick out of the bottom of the cone, and their feet out of the top. Ideally, they don’t wriggle around too much, but, this isn’t always the case. As Big Rig went to put the wildly thrashing nugget with legs in the first cone, something terrible happened. Remember the visual of Old Faithful? Yes friends, at the very moment chicken was going IN, something else was coming OUT in a steady stream RIGHT ACROSS BIG RIG’S MOUTH. As I looked up, there was a weird strangling noise and she was wildly gesticulating with her hands, eyes as wide as a turkey platter. Her lips were so pursed, I thought that maybe she had lost them permanently. With arms flailing and loudly throat-screaming, “MMMMMMMGGGGGGGDDDDDKKKKKKKKMMMMMM”, I grabbed a roll of paper towels and threw it at her. PeeDee and Jason had a horrified look on their faces which quickly dissolved into a fit of doubled-over laughter.
It was a day to remember, that’s for sure.
Revenge of the Nuggets.
Then, as if I didn’t get enough of fecal-laced lip balm, when my friend Dubyacee called and said she would have about twenty more nuggets to process, I immediately said, “Yes! Bring them over!” At least I had given myself 6 months to recover.
This day went without any face-painting incidents, but I did learn that I never want to skin a chicken ever again. It was a long, gross, wet, and feathery day, but in the end we had twenty or so little birds in the coolers. The only issue was, I hadn’t bought enough ice. When you are butchering birds, you really need to live next door to an ice factory. I don’t care how much ice you buy, it isn’t enough. You will always, ALWAYS be short by 2 or 3 bags.
So, I got in our truck and drove down to the little general store down the street. Before I got out, I took a look at myself. My mud boots were soaking wet and covered in things we won’t discuss, but that did include feathers. My freebie t-shirt and shorts were sprayed with who-even-knows what. My hair was sweaty and in a tall bun that looked like I had slept in it for two days, not to mention looking like I had grabbed a hold of a bare electrical wire in my sleep. Make-up free, I was the perfect advertisement of how NOT to go out in public. I grabbed my purse and fumbled around in my side pocket. Grabbing my candy red lipstick, I smeared it across my lips. Because, I may be a grubby old chicken processor, but I’ll be danged if I’m going out without my lipstick.
Lipstick & gizzards. Welcome to my life.