Sourdough. And Beheading A Chicken.

This post is just going to be random rambling, since I don’t really have anything educational to share really, but just a few things I’ve been up to lately.

For a few weeks now, I’ve been trying my darndest to learn to make sourdough bread. I was able to get a starter batch going from whole wheat sourdough starter I purchased from Cultures For Health. It seemed like it wasn’t doing anything for about a week, and then finally the starter began bubbling and growing, and showing some potential after all. That was exciting!

But now that I have an active starter, I’m having the hardest time figuring out how to turn it into a delicious loaf of bread! First I made pancakes. They had such a strong, sour flavor, none of us could stomach them. Next I tried a loaf of bread, but again it was so sour we ended up having to toss it to the chickens. What was I doing wrong?? I thought I might be letting the dough sit out too long before baking (I think I let it sit out for half the day that first time). The longer the dough rises, the stronger the “sour” flavor tends to get. I don’t know what I was thinking. Maybe that it would be healthier the longer it cultured?

I made a third attempt at a loaf of bread, and only let the dough rise for about 3 hours that time. Although it was definitely better, it still wasn’t something that we would enjoy eating. Ever. Another loaf to the chickens.

Then I started reading up on sourdough a little more, and I learned that the starter really doesn’t like freshly ground whole wheat. It prefers the flour to sit for about two weeks before you use it to feed the starter. Maybe that’s what I’ve been doing wrong? I had my husband pick up a bag of all purpose flour from the store today, and I’m going to experiment with feeding the starter this type of flour to see if I might have better luck.

If you’ve never tried making sourdough starter or sourdough bread, I’m sure none of this makes much sense to you. I apologize. I do hope to master this skill, and write a complete how-to on sourdough one day… hopefully.

Oh, we also had an unfortunate event with one of our hens last week. My three year old decided she wanted to feed the chickens, and failed to close the door to the chicken run when she went in. Of course, our dog immediately sprang at the chance to play a fun game of catch the hen. I was just a few feet away when it happened, but my back was turned as I was planting my celery and it wasn’t until I heard the commotion before I realized what was going on.

I saw the dog mauling one of our black hens, and I began yelling as I ran to free the chicken from the dog’s mouth. The poor thing. She was alive, but scared to death. Xia had immediately melted down and was crying hysterically. Through her tears she was saying, “I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry! I love the chickens!” Poor chicken and poor Xia. The hen seemed to be okay, just shaken up, so I put her in the chicken “hospital” to give her some time to settle down.

Xia was still sobbing uncontrollably. I didn’t scold her, but I did explain to her that she has to be really careful not to let the dog get to the chickens, because it will kill them. We talked about it for a little bit, about how she must not go into the chicken run by herself. She was devastated at what had happened. I couldn’t be mad at her, she’d just made a mistake.

I went back into the coop to see how the hen was doing, and realized that she was dripping blood. I took her out of the cage and examined her backside. The dog had bitten a good sized gash near her tail. I considered what I should do for a moment, then I took her inside our house and poured some Betadine on the wound, hoping to at least stave off infection. I put her back in the hospital ward to rest again.

About 10 min. later, Jada and I peaked in on her again, but this time I quickly realized it was worse than I thought. Her intestines had fallen out, and were just hanging on the outside of the wound. Oh gosh! I gasped. Now what?

I went back and forth mentally for a moment. Is this fixable? She seemed to be fine. She was standing, looking around, alert. Her guts were just exposed. Gosh, what do I do? I knew she was going to die. Should I try to save her? I decided I would at least try.

Quickly, I ran inside and pulled out my medical supplies. I found a suture kit and more Betadine. I was surprised I didn’t have any more latex gloves in there, though! Yikes! (Note to self: get some disposable gloves for the med kit.) I fished around underneath the kitchen sink and just happened to find a pair of rubber gloves. Good enough.

I grabbed Jada as my assistant, and together we prepared for surgery. She was to hold the hen while I attempted to stitch her back up. Have I ever given stitches before? Nope. Would the chicken stay still while I tried? I had no idea. But she was pitiful, and dying a slow death. I had to do something!

We laid her down on the table, and I lifted her wing to examine the wound. I was so discouraged to discover that the “gash” was actually a huge hole in her side. I was peering straight into her body cavity, and could see most of her internal organs. For a split second I considered whether I could shove her innards back into her body and attempt to sew up the hole. But I knew in my heart that the wound was much too large to fix. She was going to die.

And in that moment, I had to make another hard decision. Let her die a slow, painful death, or put her out of her misery.

Now, I’m sure some of you are thinking, “No big deal, right? You are a homesteader, after all”.

Um. No. Beheading chickens is not my thing. That’s actually my husband’s job. I’ve never beheaded anything in my life. Except a bee one time, but that was different.

There I was, cradling the bleeding hen, blood dripping down my pant leg. I wanted to save her so badly. But instead I was contemplating whether or not I could kill her.

When word got around that I was considering butchering the hen, thanks to Jada, the other two kids quickly took their seats on the ground nearby. I laid her, still quite awake but very weak by now, on the butchering stump. She didn’t struggle or protest. She just laid there on her side and closed her eyes. It was as if she wanted me to end her misery for her.

In my hand was a butcher knife from our meat processing/hunting kit. As I slowly put it to the hen’s neck,  I was suddenly mortified that it wasn’t going to be sharp enough. What if I don’t make a clean cut? What if I don’t sever her head with one whack? Oh gosh, I can’t do this! I can’t do this!

I looked up anxiously at the kids, who were giving me mixed advice from their seats a few feet away. From one I was hearing, “You can do it!”, and then the other would plead, “Please don’t chop her head off!” I had to explain to our son that the chicken was dying, and that I didn’t want her to needlessly suffer.

I struck the edge of the log a few times with the blade to judge how sharp it was. It just didn’t seem sharp enough! There I stood, for fifteen minutes, no lie, trying my best to muster the courage to make that final blow.

I can’t do this. I can’t do this! I’m so sorry chicken. I CANNOT do this!

Finally I looked up at the kids and told them that maybe I could do it if they weren’t watching. They all protested, but finally they slowly trudged inside and out of sight (and then snuck around the other side of the house and spied on me).

There I was. Me, and the chicken who would open her eyes every now and then and look at me, her executioner, and beg for a speedy death.

I raised my arm, and then lowered it, practicing my chopping action. Okay, I can do this...

No I can’t!

I’m such a sissy.

I wished I could just let her die, then practice cutting her head off once she was dead just so I could get a feel for how much strength was needed to sever a head in one blow.

It occurred to me that maybe I should try the ax instead of the knife. I went and got it, and was much more confident feeling the weight of it in my hands. Even if I struck a weak blow, the force of such a heavy item falling would surely make up for my sissiness.

After raising my arm, then chickening out (no pun intended), and trying to gather my nerve again about 20 times… I finally let the ax fall.

And I didn’t sever her head with one blow. Oh my gosh!

She turned and looked at me, halfway severed!

Oh my goodness!! Panic. It’s a good thing chickens don’t scream out in pain or I’d be seriously scarred for life.

I quickly struck again, then again just for good measure. Her head was off, and her body was twitching as the muscles slowly realized they were no longer connected to the brain that had once controlled them.

She never made a sound. Thank you LORD for making chickens die silently.

I stepped back and sighed a sigh of relief. I did it. Done. No more suffering. The kids peaked their heads out from their hiding places and I announced, “I did it”! They were proud of me. And although I was still a little freaked out, I was proud of me too.

I buried her in the woods.

I learned a few valuable lessons that day.

1) We definitely need to sharpen the ax.

2) I think a kill cone would have been so much easier on my nerves.

3) Chickens don’t seem to experience pain at all. If they do, you’d never know it.

4) Beheading a chicken really didn’t need to be nearly as dramatic as my first experience was. But I had no idea what it would feel like to intentionally kill a living animal that I was just trying to save minutes before. I think I’ll do better next time.

So, there you have it. That’s what’s been going on in my world lately. Other than that, my days have been pretty much consumed with planting new stuff, tending to the plants I have growing, and cleaning up around the property.

Looking forward to warmer days ahead!

37 thoughts on “Sourdough. And Beheading A Chicken.”

  1. Something you may not have thought of: have you ever considered asking your vet for some euthanasia solution to have on hand? In this case, you must have known you were’t going to consume the hen, and a little shot could have given her a quick and non-violent death, and let you still feel like a healer instead of…well, an ax-er. It’s just a thought, and your vet may not cooperate, but I consider my bottle of solution one of my most treasured possessions. I know this is an old post, but I’m still sorry y’all had to go through all that.

    • Paula,

      I had no idea that I could even get euthanasia from the vet. I wonder if I could find that here? It’s hard to find vets that deal with chickens and goats in this area… even though it’s rural. I’ve been surprised by the lack of experts. Most of my veterinary advice comes from other homesteaders who also have not been able to find a vet who knows much about farm animals. Thank you for telling me about this. I’ll have to look into it and see if I can find some also. Blessings!

  2. I was JUST thinking about the chicken thing last night!! Omg, this post made me cry because this is exactly what I was afraid that I was going to encounter. *sigh* Your kids are adorable and I love that they were proud of you and told you. So stinkin’ cute. I’m so incredibly greatful for your journey and that you DOCUMENTED

  3. Oh, my nightmare is to be home alone and having to do that. I’ve figured it’s going to be my husband who does the beheading when Autumn is here… Well, we’ll first see how many of the hatched eggs will be hens…

    As for the sourdough, I have it quite simply. I’ll take 2 cups cold (!) water, 2 teaspoons salt, about 4 cups of mix of any flour and just a tiny pinch of yeast. I mix them in a large bowl in the evening and let be until next morning. Then next morning I pour the dough in to a greased baking tin, in which I’ve sprinkled some seeds, let rise for an hour or so and then bake it in 200 degrees Celsius. It first has to have some kind of lid on for the first 20 minutes and then bake about 25 minutes more without the lid. This is easy as anything, don’t have to mess your hands nor use any machines. The flours that I use are always organic, probably 1/4 of them rye, 1/4 oat and Spelt and 1/2 wholegrain wheat.

    After pouring the dough off the bowl, I just lightly scoop it with a spoon, and let some of the dough dry in the bowl. When baking the next time, the dried dough will fall into the water and start the process again.

  4. I look forward to the day that I can have chickens, but I’m terrified that I may be in your shoes one day! I hope that if I am ever in your shoes and needing to kill a suffering animal that I can do it as bravely as you!

  5. I SO appreciate this post!! You responded exactly the way I would/will. I’d be chickening out all the time.

    The funny thing is I want to raise meat birds! But… I have a different perspective on them so…. maybe it’d be easier? Definitely getting a cone though….

  6. You did good Kendra. I always felt the same as akaGaGa (as long as the food would come to me in nice little packages I was fine) until my son spoke up and told me that if I eat any animal meat at all that I should be able to kill the animal myself, or watch the process. This way I would have respect for the life and death of said animal that I was nourishing my body with and have respect for the fact that this animal gave it’s life for my sustenance. I am totally in agreement with him.

  7. Your story struck a memory from my childhood. I grew up in upstate New York in the Apple Orchard growing area. Needless to say, we lived in very rural America and in a very money poor manner. As children we help out the orchard owners and was usually paid with very little money, but always bags of fruits and veggies. One year, my parents decided to get a spring calf to raise and fatten up for a winter slaughter. The big mistake is that they allowed us to name it. Elsie, after the Borden Farms cow. My brother and I spent the summer with our new pet. Playing games, riding her, feeding her and bathing. Well…one day Elsie was gone. No one could tell us what happened, then the nightmare happened. My father came home one day with the back of the pickup full of wrapped packages of meat. That did it. No matter what was said, dinner was just a crying meeting and my brother and I refused to eat Elsie. I can tell you there was hours of sitting at the table with cold, cooked meat just staring at us, but we would not yield. So never again did we have another meat cow, but then we were taught how to go hunt rabbits, pheasants, woodcock, quail, goose, turkey and deer, and it was our job from then on to fill the winter freezer. The mistake my parents made is that they never told us from the beginning what the future held for the calf. Maybe they should have, it might of been ok if we knew from the beginning that we should not treat it like a pet and not allowed to name it. But that was almost 50 years ago. I am sure that I have eaten enough beef since then to get over it. 🙂

    • Bruce,

      Oh my goodness! I totally feel for you. That would have been awful as a child. We are definitely very clear with our children what the purpose of the animals is. The only exception we’ve had was our rooster our daughter named Dirty Wilson. He was strictly off limits, lol. Although we did threaten to put him in a stew when he misbehaved 😉 Nature took care of him for us… which was sad, but a blessing really because we had too many roosters and he was less desirable than some of the others, in my eyes. My daughter loved him dearly, though. They say you should never name an animal you plan on eating. So true!

  8. I totally understand the whole chicken thing, only, my husband is a true city boy and can not kill anything other than a fish. WE recently had to ‘dispatch’ a hen. I couldn’t do it, there was no way he was going to do it. It wasn’t an emergency situation like what you experienced, thank goodness. I found a friend of my daughters whose husband recently culled a few roos they ended up with. I offered them a free chicken dinner, with a catch. One of these days I will be faced with what you were and have to act, till then, I will give out free chicken dinners. Thanks for being so honest and sharing your experience, makes me not feel like I am the only chicken keeper who doesn’t come easy to this whole thing…baby steps…

  9. Well said, I agree that it’s definitely a choice, and people really DO feel like their spirituality gives them permission to eat animals, which I completely respect 🙂 I’m Muslim (obviously) and our religion is the same way! It’s just us weirdos over here hugging trees HAHA!

  10. You poor baby, I surely do sympathize! I’ve always said I’m not a vegetarian, but I don’t want to know anything about how my meat gets in that nice, neat plastic wrapping.

  11. Oh Kendra-
    I read your post aloud to my husband and we were both cringing in the beginning and then laughing by the end. You are a wonderful story teller! 🙂

  12. Kendra, sourdough loves to be fed a lot. Constant feeding keeps the sourdough yeasts active and thriving, and cuts back significantly on the sour taste. Also, when you feed, try feeding your starter at least triple the amount you currently have. For instance, I often only keep about 1-3 T of starter and will feed it about 1/2 cup or so of fresh flour. This can also keep the taste fresher. A strong sour taste can mean your starter isn’t very healthy. Feed, feed feed and use it often. I wrote a simple little series on sourdough on my blog, including my favorite whole wheat sourdough bread and several other recipes.. The first several posts are recipes, then you will get to the helpful info.

    As far as the chicken goes, man! I’m not sure I could have done that!!

    • Christy,

      Thank you so much for your advice! I have about 2 cups of starter in a mason jar in the fridge right now. Maybe I’ll take out a couple of Tablespoons of it, and toss the rest, and start feeding that little bit with the store bought flour. Maybe that will help. I’ll check out your site, too 🙂 Thanks!

  13. Yup, I totally hear ya. I think you handled it like a champ, and your kids learned something about Mommy that day—you’ll do what you need to when the time comes. That IS plucky! 🙂


  14. Wow, thank you for being so honest. We’ve culled two of our birds, and it’s an extremely hard thing to do. You should be very proud of yourself for doing the right thing, it’s much better to end it quickly when you know it’s coming anyway.

    On another note- I’m trying sourdough bread this month too! I just know my first few loaves are going to be messed up, but I’m trying it anyway. Please keep us up to date on how it’s going, and if changing the flour helped at all!

  15. Kendra, I am so proud of you. I liked that you didn’t give up on a hard job. On the homestead there will always be hard jobs like that to do, now you know you can do them. For any animal you have you need to learn the best way to put them down without them suffering. Blessings Hope

  16. Kendra, you really should write a book. I felt as though I was right there with you and felt your pain. You kept me in suspence, hoping the chicken would jump up and be fine, lol.

  17. Hi Kate,

    I appreciate your thoughtful response. Although it is hard to kill an animal, I personally feel that God gave us particular animals (and their milk and eggs) to be our food, and I have no remorse in enjoying meat with my meals. You never know if I’ll become convicted otherwise at some point in my life, but for now I can’t see us becoming vegans 😉

  18. I can empathize with you. My parents are raising butcher chickens this year and we are going to help butcher. I’m stuck between thinking I really don’t want to do it and the idea that if I know how to do it properly it will help me. Thanks for the article though! Sometimes the right thing is the hard thing.

  19. Oh Yuck! It is my husband’s job, too. But, maybe this butchering season I should have him show me how to do it in case I ever need to. Yuck. He breaks their necks first. I had a hard time killing a mouse that was in a trap, but not dead, let alone one of my hens. Yuck. Yuck. Yuck.

    Thanks for letting me learn from your story!

    🙂 Krista

    P.S. And did I mention yuck?

  20. I love my sourdough! I have tried adding half whole wheat half white and I just don’t like the flavor as much. I also have a hard time actually getting my sourdough super sour. It always makes amazing tasting bread but with just a hint of sour. I have been making sourdough pita bread and the most amazing English muffins!!!
    So sorry about the chicken! That would have been me for sure! Good Luck!!!

  21. I’m sorry to hear about your hen. It really is much more difficult for me to butcher one of my hens than it is to kill a meat bird. I’ve prepared for that.

    Add to that the trauma of seeing her mortal wounds and I think you did great. I completely understand your hesitation. It’s taken me a long time to get ‘used to’ killing my chickens.

  22. Oh Kendra! Your post was like a rollercoaster ride for me, I totally felt like I was right there with you. If I had been, I’d have given you a big hug afterward, because I know I’d have needed one!

    So glad you got through it and were able to learn from it. You and your poor hen, though. I can’t imagine how you both felt. She was a brave girl and so were you. I hope you never have to do it again, but as an urban homesteader with chickens, I know that’s not realistic. Still, I do hope it.

    Have a good evening!
    [email protected] This Mind Be in You

    • Hi Kristi 🙂 THANK YOU!! My daughter was so funny. Later, she said to me, “Mommy, I’m proud of you for plucking up the courage to cut the chicken’s head off.” LOL! I think it’s important for our children to watch us struggle with doing something that is very hard to do, yet finding the courage within to follow through with what must be done. I’m sure I’ll probably have to do it again… but it would be nice if hubby can take that job back over from now on 😉


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