It began in the dark of night when this team scattered throughout the five chicken sheds and replaced light bulbs with ones of blue color. Before now, white lights burned constantly, tricking these chickens into thinking it was daytime, the time to be awake, eat and drink. Immediately the chickens were in the dark for the first time in their short lives. Apparently they cannot see the blue color range and took it to be night at last and just as quickly fell into their first good sleep. This made it easy for the crews to round up sleeping birds, stuff them into small cages and haul them out the now open shed doors and stack them onto a flatbed trailer.
The efficiency of this roundup was attested to by the fact that the sheepdog was only able to capture seven who managed to awaken in the commotion and escape. Rumor held that, this sheepdog was so proficient at his job gathering and gently returning runaways that if he returned seven, that was likely all that escaped. Before the end of our breakfast one of the hands related the story of what fate would be dealt to the chickens he just helped gather. Besides harvesting, this crew also worked at the processing plant. Some would join at that job later in the day.
As soon as our truckload of roosters arrived at the plant, a crew would begin unloading the crates of chickens. Quick hands would now snatch the awakened birds and hook their feet into a small claws that hung from an overhead conveyer. From here they would be slowly drawn into a gleaming stainless steel machine. There was no view of inside, but when they emerged from the other end, these chickens had no feathers nor heads. After being mechanically separated from their feet, the plump bodies would fall onto a large stainless steel table. Surrounding this table several workers with sharp knifes would quickly remove viscera and slide the bodies down to a conveyor. Here inspectors would cull any bird that showed evidence of tumors. These would have their growths cut away, discarded and the remains put into large stainless barrels. Rumor had the content of these barrels going across the street to another factory and made into Chicken Noodle soup. Chickens who made it whole past this point became wrapped, labeled Cornish Hens and headed to a freezer.
I felt grateful to have been relieved of my duties helping raise chickens commercially. The rest of my work for Ed and Billie consisted of preparing a spot in the woods for a log cabin that would house Billie’s dad. I was to confine my chicken raising to the birds I was able to rescue from the mill.