The Executioner's Song


I came home last night to find Ethyl prolapsed, which is when the inside of a chicken is hanging outside of her "vent", the opening that she poops and lays eggs through. I picked her up and examined the situation; read through several threads of what to do on backyard chickens forum and decided this was a cull. Many people had managed to save their birds with prolonged, involved care, which included special diets, keeping them in a separate pen, breaking the laying cycle and washing the feces off their bottoms several times a day and more. I knew that i was not this person.

Not that i wouldnt go to extraordinary steps if i thought the hen would be viable. But let us be honest: the likelihood of her returning to laying well and not prolapsing again was not good. I informed mr. chickory (V) of my plans to which he completely balked. "give her a chance!" he cried. So i went to the store and bought some Preparation H, Pedialyte, yogurt and honey and returned. I washed Ethyl in the tub with warm water and some antibacterial soap; it was pretty rough, her entire bottom was red and raw and it smelled bad. I cleaned her up, blew dry the area applied the Prep H and pushed the innards back in. I held it there for a few minutes, and let her go only to have it pop back out only this time bigger and redder. The poor hen would let out a pitiful little screech as she strained to expel what must have obviously been quite uncomfortable. I tried the honey and again the insides popped back out. I gave her some pedialyte and yogurt which she refused, and then put her to bed in a carrier with some old towels i heated in the dryer.

Of course, V was not involved in this process. I tried throughout the evening to push the outs in and it just wouldnt hold. When i saw him next, i just shook my head no.

"We could take her to the vet" said V. "They could sew it up in there".

"and how will she poop" i asked?

"maybe Angela (our vet) can put her down for us"

"and charge how much? How much is it worth to avoid seeing blood"

"can't you break her neck?"

"im not sure i can get it done right the first time. do you want to see her flapping around paralyzed?"

"leave her out tomorrow and the hawks will get her"

"bad idea. it will train the hawks that our yard is a great place to pick up lunch"

I looked through the backyard chicken forum where i found this post. I read it to V and we couldnt stop laughing. It is a post on how to kill a chicken, written by somebody under the handle of "the city chicken":

.......I don’t take chickens to the vet (hundreds of dollars) and I don’t let them suffer and just die a slow death if they are terminal. The only way I know how to dispatch with a chicken is to chop its head off. I have never tried wringing their necks or the like; not confident enough to get that right. Dropping a hatchet, however, is a more detached feeling, because you don’t really have to feel the body at all. You just whack the hatchet and it feels like going through wood. But the process I take in order to chop a chicken’s head off is somewhat involved. I don’t just grab it and chop. First I put an old sock over the chicken’s head. This makes the chicken nearly fall asleep, as they are simplistic creatures. Also, with the sock, I don’t have to see it’s little face. Then I lash the chicken to a board in a certain way (if you really want to know I can tell you, but it’s all rather macabre.) Finally, after all these preparations (that I won’t go into) I drop the hatchet. The chicken can’t go anywhere because it’s legs are lashed to the board. Yesterday, however, the wire around its legs broke off of the board after I decapitated it. (Note to self: next time use stronger wire.) It started to flap around quite a lot, and sort of hop away, because its legs were still tied together but not tied to the board anymore. I had to get in there and grab the body by the wings and pin them back like I’ve seen people do. Then what do I do with it? I hadn’t planned for this possibility. I looked around frantically and saw a plastic bin and so I threw the body under that, and grabbed a nearby heavy flower pot and set that on top of the bin so that there was no way the bird was going to be able to flop out of there........

I went to her website and looked at the diagram which is similar to what i drew above. I got up before V this morning, went down and saw Ethyl was awake, but hadnt eaten and wouldnt drink. I rolled her up in an old towel, made some coffee and sat in the sunroom with her just stroking her and loving on her. I had made my decision and waited for V to get up.

When our eyes met, he knew i had decided. We built the execution board. V was worried the axe wasnt sharp enough. He suggested an alternative: the big paper cutter at the office. Bad idea said i, this will be messy and how are you going to secure the bird to the cutter? and, do you want to do this at the office?

"i hate this" said V.

"so do i, but honestly honey, what if we had to eat our chickens to live? we'd have to kill them. "

"I'll become a vegetarian"

"what about protein?'

"i'll eat fish"

"you dont have a problem cutting a fish head off"

"no. a fish wasnt a pet that i knew."

"chicken tacos dont grow on trees. Ethyl is a pet yes, and a food crop. now buck up and lets get this done. This is the right thing to do for her. it will be quick and painless and over. now c'mon."

I cut the toe of a white sock and fit it over her head. I couldnt help but smile at the odd familiarity of the scene - like westerns where someone is hooded before being hung. I pushed her head between the two nails and stretched her out long and tied the legs to the other nail. I didnt want the malfunction the 'city chicken" experienced so i wrapped the twine around Ethyls body several times.

she struggled a bit and the hood fell off. i didnt like the look on her face. she was almost certain to understand she was in mortal danger.

A long moment passed. The axe came down once, and then again sending Ethyls head into a soft landing among emerging spring columbines. The body did indeed flap and struggle, for almost a minute. But i mostly watched her head gasp for breath with no lungs to fill. the light died out in her eyes. I bagged her up as i was worried the dogs might dig her up if we buried her.

V did not linger and the look he gave me killed. He's mad at me. I am sure he is at his office right now, changing his power of attorney. I can see him in the hospital grasping the wrist of a friend or family and in desperate whisper say

"don't let Peanut pull the plug!"

It is a beautiful moment when you can say what you are out loud without regret. No i am not going to nurse this bird for weeks maybe months on the off chance she might return to a full laying life. However, in the future, and especially now that we have made the execution board, i will not ask V to assist me if we should have to cull another chicken. I am confident i can do all of it myself, and should have done so this time. Next time, I will say what parents say to their children: "Where is Rover? He went to live on a farm where he is very happy"


Ethyl was one of the two hens on top of the pecking order. The social structure of my flock will shift in the next few days and it will be interesting to see who emerges to take the second position. Ethyl was a brick of a bird, virtually impossible to tell her apart from Edith. She was a Plymouth Barred Rock, a good hen that rode nice and quiet in the car. Her eggs were brown and longer than the others. I will miss her but she will always be remembered as i have lots of movies of her happily scratching in the yard. She will most certainly reappear one day in a painting or drawing, and she will be shown for the lovely thing she was.

One more step up the ladder of country hardening up.


  1. So sad! You are really brave, I couldn't have done it x

  2. Chile'!!!

    Oh mah goodness, Chile'....oh oh oh.

    Thar's somethin' surreal about this account. Expect that some folks may have trouble leavin' ya a message.

    "changin' his power of attorney" heh...a giggle did slip out when I read that. V may develop a nervous laughter whenever youse in the kitchen wif' a knife.

    But, Sweet pea, Aunty knows it were a lesson, as ya say, in country toughness--an more to come, mayhap.

    Sorry Sugar, wish't I could comfort ya'. Few folks know that even the strong need some comfortin' onc't in awhile.

  3. You come over and rip me a new A*hole, and you're NOT EVEN COMPETING in the Culinary Smackdown ?!?!? C'mon !!!!

  4. I'm sorry to hear about the loss of your hen. I'm even more impressed with your compassion to not let an animal suffer in pain and taking matters into your own hands. No regrets is a powerful thing and if anything ever convinced me of your power, it's this. I don't know why V's worried, I'm pretty sure they don't allow axes in hospitals....although it is Georgia.

    Sending much love and comfort from the Midwest.

  5. on the contrary, I think you're just the person he'd want around. You are 100% pure.

    And despite such a somber post (because you know my heart is breaking) your Peanut comment made me smile.

    You did the right thing. Life is hard, but your Ethyl didn't suffer. xoxoxo to you, Mr. Chickory and Ethyl.

  6. What a first wife, er let's call her "Rover," is off living happily on a farm too.

  7. Oh dear, you open up a whole avenue of thought I'd tried to close. Going through a very similar thing with a Guinea Pig at this time. Rural has its drawbacks. If its not money, its snow, if its not snow its lack of skilled vets. Lately I've wished for a phenobarbital shot in the fridge. Probably something survivalists should have on hand when the need to end an animal's suffering comes around. It makes me think we might be wrong to keep our little pets at all. You were very brave Chickory. Your beloved hen can rest now.

  8. Laughing at Gnome. If I had a nickle for everytime I wanted to put the Mrs down...

    It's a good thing your a strong woman and rational too. Just tell yourself that you had no choice, because you didn't. I can't believe your husband wanted to let the hawks take care of it. You would have had no chickens by the end of the week.

  9. Oh, and your sketch reminded me of a Gary Larson Cartoon. Maybe you've discovered a new direction for your artwork.

  10. Sad for you my friend! >>>cyberhug<<<

  11. Hello.
    Nice axe.

  12. OK, I don't ever think I ever told you what to do.
    About anything, but that doesn't matter.
    What you need to do is search till you find PBS, The History of the Chicken.
    If you do find it, the quick flick will give you a new perspective of watching over your friends, a more attuned sense of the spirits inside those fine creatures, and...a way more simple and humane way to "dispatch" yon critter, the chicken, all the while being as a good friend.

    Do it...
    Dang, you're the best chicken farmer I know and it would be nice to see you er...
    "off" the lil guy (or gal) without too much laughter.

  13. Methinks you're becoming country-tough in your own unique way and will do okay if the Obamanation devolves into chaos.

    Not so sure about "V".

  14. Oh dear. I am laughing my ass off. Through the tears, through the tears! But, still, laughing.

    "don't let Peanut pull the plug!"


  15. what a post! you did the right thing.
    my relatives in mississippi just twisted the necks.
    they would put them against the side of their body with the head hanging down and pull down and twist at the same time. killing an animal for food or in order to put it out of it's misery is part of country life.
    this also brings to mind an incident where a pack of roving dogs tore apart a smallish pet dog of a friend who visited his dad out in the county i live in. animal control came out and asked if they needed to round up those dogs. my friend's dad said no... and i know exactly what that meant. those dogs are history. students of mine sometimes tell me that their parents had to shoot their dog because it had gotten old and was in chronic pain.

  16. joanna cake: you know, spending the early hours with Ethyl was helpful. really looking at her and stroking her to relax. i know she knows she was loved. i bet if you had a creature you loved who was obviously struggling, you could do it. thank you for stopping by.

    Aunty: thank you so much. you may recall that poor V had to off the little chick with the eye infection while i was visiting my mom last spring. i do feel for him as my program is not one he signed up for, yet he often is conscripted into unpleasant tasks.

    "Few folks know that even the strong need some comfortin' onc't in awhile...." thank you aunty, youre right.

    heff: first, let me say how happy i am your blog is visible again. second, i hate pepperoni and wasnt inspired and third, had the challenge been about chicken, i feel certain i might have won with my entry today.

    shamy: LOL!! no axes in the hospital. thank you friend, i can feel the love and comfort in your words.

    boxer: if you love, then you will certainly be hurt. the trade off is fair. i have a friend who lost a dog and said she will never have another. a sad response to the inevitable ending....i dont regret this because i know how spoiled these birds are! who cooks wheat pasta on a cold snowy day for chickens so they will have a hot meal? ME

    gnome: GRRRHERHEHRahhaha! i thought you might have said your current wife.....

    nina: unfortunately, this happened while i was in ATL to do my taxes. had this happened at CHickory i wouldve said the bird just "disappeared". you probably know better than anyone what i am prepping for here. i have done some gathering of materials like sutures and curved needles, syringes and stuff for field dressing my own animals. after Trouts various cuts i thought...and when i dont have 100's of dollars to pay vet, then what? thank you for calling her the beloved hen, she was. and thank you too, for being here and on your own page. i am so sorry about the guinea pig, but yes we should have the pets. we are better by loving and caring for them - but only domestic creatures. i would never keep a wild thing. put your name in the hat on the post below - a chance to win a free chicken piece! yipee.

  17. buzz: thank you. your words mean a lot.
    yes, after losing Red last march, and Dovey disappearing out of the yard, and knowing that i have to be outside with the Hens when they free range here, i was shocked at his let the hawks handle it solution. but he is tender hearted, a fine quality in many respects, and just did not want to be responsible for offing a pet. its my fault for including him.

    what he didnt understand is that having the insides out and exposed to feces no matter how clean the pen was, would almost certainly mean infection if i was able to reinsert the organs into the bird. then it would have been antibiotics and would you want to eat those eggs? it defeats the purpose of raising organic food. and the bird was suffering.

    NO you di -ent say that about ms BUZZ!!!

    be sure to put your name in the kitty for the friday drawing for a free art piece!

    rene!!! welcome to my blog. thank you so much. i know you understand. we have GOT to get together and make a decision about the free birds.

    mago: what a great day for you to visit my blog for the first time. grrrrherhahahaha the axe turned out to be quite effective.

    boney: you know, joni mitchell said laughing and crying...its the same release. i think V and i laughing last night was more about anxiety at the horror of the deed. a sense of humor will carry you through the roughest of times, and in no way does that make light of saying goodbye to a great bird.

    chickens are fine creatures: sociable, inquisitive, loaded with personality and beautiful. a helpmate in the garden and of course, muse.

    i think i did see the history of chickens...isnt that the one with the woman who had a chicken named "cotton" who rode around in the car with her and layed out in the pool on a float?

    i did see a tool that crushes the spinal cord of a chicken but i thought chopping off the head wasnt too bad.

    troll: thank you. lets hope so.
    V? no. he cannot imagine a world where he doesnt go to his office and roll along as he always has. im the family doomer, so it is right that i should be the killer too. i really regret involving him.

    moi: i know! i know! you should have seen V almost faint the time i pulled a wolf fly larvae out of a tiny hole in Eva's chest. im making a pie tonight and will spoil him as best i can.

  18. Oh!. My! Goodness!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I'm thinking I should send flowers and tranquilizers to your "V", a bottle of Jack to you and, strange as this sounds.....I think you need to invest in a good quality Bagel slicer. Er.... a good quality chicken guillotine. Er ... I think this post scrambled my brains.
    Er, maybe my judgement .... sorry.

    On the "country up" progress, well what is there to say? It is clear you have a strong ability to evaluate, formulate a plan, enact a decision. All good traits no matter what situation applied to.

    It will be interesting to learn if
    Mr. Chickory becomes nervous in your presence. It might be this is the end of his wishing you did not spend so much of your time in the mountains.

    I really don't know if I should say "Bravo"! or "I'll pray for you". Guess I will do both. Godspeed Chicken Lady.

  19. I've pulled a few wolf fly larvae out of the dogs over the years. (Hint: get one of those slim eyebrow tweezers from Sephora.) Pretty darn gross, but also at the same time fascinating.

    Good on ya for making V a pie. Nothing says, "Honey, I'm a bundle of love despite the kilt chicken," like something sweet to eat.

  20. i hope you are not making chicken pot pie ...

  21. spit my coffee out at Foam's comment.

    Came back to say as much as losing my animals always rips me up, there is no way we get through life without loss.

  22. This is life how it is meant to be lived; and not letting an animal suffer more than necessary. It is tough to lose a pet, but I think losing all those little critters prepares us for those big losses in our lives when they come along. Plus you know you can do waht you must to survive if it comes to it one day!

  23. OMG.... Foamy actually SAID what I was thinking.

  24. foamy: i read about the twist method and sort of held Ethyls neck and imagined how it might go. wasnt sure i could do it right (just like the city chicken said) no - the axe is a mess...but fool proof. im pretty sure old and dying dogs of my childhood were shot in the back of the head; i was told the "happy farm" story though.

    chicken pot pie! Ha! i couldve eaten ethyl, she wasnt diseased. not there yet. i did make a salmon pot pie, which V loved....of course, at some point in the process the salmon lost his head as well.

    thanks for being here.

    fishy: dont worry, fishy! V is self medicating right now! he look at me the way he did this am anymore. (you monster!) the problem with the bagel guillotine is its a bit close...the axe gives you about a foot and half of space away from the squirt.
    er,,,,it does sort of shoot out blood. thanks for the prayers and the sweet comment about resolve. everything isnt fun, and it was never meant to be.

    moi: i cut a wart off my knee with and xacto knife, again V freaked out i said "well thats what the doctor is gonna do!" he was worried about infection but i doused it with a solution of silver. never came back and i dont even have a scar!

    yeah, that wolf fly thing is weird. how does the fly manage to lay through the dogs skin? nutty!

    shamy: har!

    boxer: thats right. and we shouldnt be afraid of it either. sadness and depression are the appropriate response to certain things. best to feel it, embrace it and move through it.

    pam: i have been wondering what will i do when my hens get too old to lay anymore. i will need new hens and then there will be so many. most people eat them. mine are small - ive been thinking about this quite a bit. maybe i can rig up an old hens home and just pasture them...arrr

    i ve heard that pulling out all the feathers is the drag of prepping a chicken but i will learn this and will do it....someday. not today. thanks for stopping by and your kind words.

  25. Respecting life means, not just the mushy fluffy stuff, but also respecting its finity ~ respecting when it wants to draw to a close. Love means knowing that we must let go ... and having the balls to do it. I know all too well the story you recount here ... we have had a similar scenario with a pet.

    The temptation to acquiese to our cowardice and selfishness looms large. I was the coward. Mr Tinkerbell was not; he did what many would refer to as "the unthinkable" ... and reminded me it wasn't the easiest to live with. Love ain't for the faint of heart, that fur shur ....

    Wishing your flock peace and health.

  26. you are very brave, chickory. i admire your strength to recoginize what needs doing, and then doing it. :(

    sorry you dont like pepperoni. ;)

  27. I know how difficult it was to do what you had to do.
    I had a similar situation which I'll tell you about someday, maybe, after a few glasses of wine.
    What's really funny is I can clearly hear Mr. V's voice when you quote him.

  28. I'm so sorry about your beloved hen Ethyl, that prolapse would be so painful, you sure tried to do the right thing sweetie in trying to put it all right but remember that vent serves more than one would be very unlikely that she would be right again and it is sad to see a pet suffer.
    Pleased you gave her a goodbye cuddle, you had a difficult decision to make and I know it would not have been easy ...
    Poor you and poor V, but it is very nice to see some compassion in a man ... I don't think you will ever have to worry about him pulling the plug on you. :)
    Peanut, that is so cute, that made me laugh even though none of this was taken lightly, I did find the diagram of the 'contraption' odd as it reminded me of a Medieval rack.
    Big hugs to you both and a prayer for Ethyl. xoxoxo ♡♡

  29. Ain't jes' ole dawgs that got shot in the back of the haid...onc't when I'se 12 Pappy Cracker took me wif' him when he went to the woods to shoot a healthy dawg he said was jes' Plum Crazy.

    I minded mah manner real good around Pappy after that.

  30. oh, an iffin' I could git mah hands on Gnome his middle name would be Rover. Porch abandonment is a serious offense.

  31. Chickory,
    On the take your dogs on a final woods walk regimen, is it possible to apply the same methodology to chickens with a BB gun?
    The axe haunts me.
    Howl to Aunty's lesson on the importance of good manners.

  32. oh Chickory,
    this was macabre, sad and laugh out loud funny all at the same time. You're brilliant when you write these. Do you dip the quill end of your heart in the blood inkwell?

  33. I'm so sorry honey. It's hard loving our Girlz the way we do.

  34. aha ha ha...

    well, just one of several
    reasons we have no pets at all here

    RIP ethyl

    × × ×


  35. faery: beautifully stated: indeed its just as critical to love enough to let go when letting go is the right thing to do. thank you so much!

    emilio!! what a treat!! welcome, welcome. well you know all too well what a softie V is. but he did it, and by evening he was okay with me again. thats married life: gotta win your partner back again, and again and again. thanks for your comment. xoxoxo

    kym: thank you. pepperoni! it dont taste like chicken.

    dianne: yes V is a tender and compassionate man; solid as a rock. i know he always has my back. the sweetness he shows to all the critters means so much to me...though he likes to complain about them. you know, he call the hens the "shitresses" grrrhahahahha! thanks for your sweet comment.

    aunty: man! that is harsh! yeah Gnome has been a bit scare lately. hiding from the feds no doubt after diasappering "rover"

    fishy: the axe is sure. how would you shoot a hen with a bb and make sure it would work? have somebody hold her and shoot her heart? her head?? and what if she moves a bit and you just manage to paralyze her? no no. the axe is the way to go.

    sending pages: you just summed up life in general. the inkwell of the heart. mmmm very nice. thanks, friend. i think i finally have my direction for our show (at the last damn minute!!!)

    dani: in seven years of chicken keeping ive had to cull only 2. not too bad. of course i lost Red to the falcon, and dovey just disappeared so..not too bad over all. i may get a few chicks for me!

    /t: well, when you have a veritable wild animal park in your front yard, you get plenty of animal action. thanks for ripping E.

  36. Dovey! The girls are napping, and I thought I'd take this opportunity to check out your blog. Fantastic post by the way, I was glued to it. We "harvested" several meat birds late summer, and used the cone and slit method that Joel Salatin uses. Never easy, but at least these guys didn't have names.

    I love that your best poem is titled after one of the few remaining horticultural societies left on the planet. Your mind is so there.

    You know you did the right thing.

    Blueberry Jackson

  37. My grandparents had Barred Plymouths for eggs and cooking. Grandmother would grab a hen from the chicken yard and break the neck with a quick snap. No cutting until the chicken was expired.

    PS: I can't see the video, it's flagged as private.

  38. Wow. I was making faces as I read your post, knowing what was coming. You are a very strong person, and you did the right thing.

    I want chickens some day, but faced with the same situation, my husband would probably have to do the deed, and he doesn't want chickens.

  39. this was one of the "funniest" things I have ever read, growing up on a farm, the toughening up that you talk about, i know exactly what you mean, you do what you have to do and that is the order of things..... but my god can you tell a good story!!
    Thank you!

  40. "It is a beautiful moment when you can say what you are out loud without regret". A poignant and beautiful story.

  41. Chicory,
    How brave of you.
    And I wish I could have sent Sage or Cian over to you.
    A few times we have had a hen get the pox which is where they get these ulcerations that grow over their eyes and beaks. It is hideous and the first time we tried to clean them with Golden Seal tincture and get it into them internally.
    But after a while we learnt that this is definitely a call for euthanasia.
    By grace I have been spared having to do this myself.
    The first time the kids had to kill a chicken I could see they had to reach into themselves to find a confidence to ensure that the task would be well handled.
    It took some time.

    After wards I thanked them and mentioned how grateful I was to have people around me who could kill when needed.
    Cian who was then 11 looked at me with pure love and sincerity and said to me and if you ever need to die I would help you as well.
    Pretty profound I thought.

    We had some chicks hatch yesterday, have called one Ethel. Let the spirit continue.

  42. My husband has killed a few of ours, when we had too many roosters and couldn't find any takers. I haven't managed to watch yet, though. (We did eat them, though being kind of old, they weren't all that good.)

  43. Oh, poor dear. I'm sorry about Ethyl. But, you did the right thing. I can't imagine leaving something I love to be mangled by a predator though. Hubby gets a big thwap in the head for that suggestion. Your method was quick and without cruelty. This is one of the down sides of having pets. Dying and being ill just plain ol' sucks. I'm sorry. x

  44. where's my note? I left you a note! did you get my text?
    I hate technology tonight!

    Hugs friend ♥

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