Number One’s tweaked toenail eventually fell off and his toe recovered quite nicely, all yellow and plump and dexterous. While it was still hurting him he didn’t do much walking because his limp and poor balance meant that his brothers and sisters knocked him over every time he stood up. When I moved him to solitary he saw no reason to do any more walking at all – he just plopped down with his head in between his food and water dishes and stayed there. I moved the dishes just about every time I walked by so that he would have to get up and take at least a few steps to get more. This wasn’t enough exercise either, and all that sitting encouraged a condition called “splay-leggedness.” (Or, as I put it, “he went all splay-leggedy”.) His legs began to move out from underneath him since he wasn’t using the muscles enough to keep his hip joints reinforced. Despite my attempts to hobble him per the instructions of my chicken bible (Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens) his legs continued to spread until they were at right angles to his body. This meant that Number One’s days were numbered.
I didn’t need to think too hard about when to do the deed: he was pretty much unable to get around as of Monday the 9th and on Tuesday the 10th he refused food and water. That did it for me. His friends had moved outside on Tuesday, and though he had been physically separated from them for weeks, he had surely benefited from being able to peep at them from his little box next door to theirs; chickens are social animals. He was uncomfortable, undersized, and about as depressed as I imagine an animal with a pea-sized brain can be.
Wednesday morning, after forcing down a breakfast I didn’t taste, I put Number One out of his misery all by myself out in the miserable drizzle. The slaughter was far more difficult emotionally than physically, even though I thought of Number One as dinner and not as a pet. In truth, the physical matters could have gone better – but they could certainly have been much worse. Two chops of the ax may not be the expert method of dispatching a chicken, but it’s a fair sight better than the slow death he was facing in that produce box. I will also say that scalding (immersing the carcass in hot water to loosen the feathers for plucking) is a huge help – but you’ve still got to have a light touch if you want to keep the skin on. Number One was a little less than half the size of his brethren, and when plucked and drawn he was about the size of a grocery store Cornish Game Hen (which, incidentally, is not a special breed or a wild bird – it’s precisely what Number One was: a young Cornish Cross chicken).
We didn’t end up eating him until just a few days ago when we got back from our trip to Portland, OR, but at least we didn’t repeat our mistake from the last time we ate one of our own chickens by consuming him during the window of time at which the meat was at the very toughest. We had intended to eat The Rooster the same day we killed him, just an hour or two after his death. After all the drama and gore of our first slaughtering and butchering, we weren’t so hungry anymore and I decided to marinate the carcass in buttermilk and fry it up later in the evening. By neither eating it immediately nor letting it sit in the fridge for at least 24 hours, we ate the meat when it was rock hard from rigor mortis. Number One spent some time in both fridge and freezer and was definitely out of the window by the time he made it to the roaster. At just one pound, even rounded out with apple-spiked stuffing and roasted potatoes, the first meat peep to meet his end was not a large meal – but he was tasty.