Friday 1 January 2016

Task 36: Pluck a chicken

Back in April I was on the phone to my friend Linda about my sixtyat60 list. She'd just proposed an additional task for the list - to go for a spin in a Caterham car. "Wow Linda, love're such a ideas person" I said admiringly. "Any other inspired suggestions up your sleeve?" Quick as a flash - "How about plucking a chicken?" she asked. Well now, I didn't see that one coming. Turns out Linda was an expert chicken plucker in late childhood, courtesy of visits to her aunt's farm during school holidays. But do you know what? I didn't bat an eyelid at Linda's challenge. During my own childhood my GP father received more than the occasional brace of pheasants from grateful farmer patients. After a disastrous first attempt at pheasant-plucking, my mother always called upon the services of our kindly village butcher to prepare them for the oven. It seemed high time to have a go myself.  So onto my list went chicken plucking, with the proviso that Linda would be my fellow plucker.

For several months Linda and I scratched our heads over how to source two chickens whose clogs were popped and in need of plucking. Then during the summer I visited a local waterfowl breeder called Simon, to take delivery of a pair of domestic ducks to keep on our pond (that's another story......) "I'll have 50 fat chickens to pluck and gut this Christmas" he said. "You can pluck a couple of them if you like." Task 36 and Christmas lunch duly sorted - hurrah!

Three days before Christmas, Linda and I rendezvoused at Simon's small-holding deep in the heart of the country. Linda's partner Peter attended as official photographer and chief plucker-supporter. It was a dark and stormy afternoon. We donned heavy-duty wellies and waterproofs and I wore a woolly hat, which gave me the appearance of a bag lady. We followed Simon, who was holding a huge and recently deceased chicken casually by its legs, across a field through the driving rain to his plucking shed, where he'd thoughtfully placed three chairs for us. We sat down and readied ourselves for the pluckfest. Simon placed a protective dust sheet over our laps (complemented my bag lady look perfectly) and handed us our two fowl. 

The body of my chicken lay across on my lap in a relaxed fashion, with its neck draped rather gracefully down my right leg, which meant that I could avoid its baleful stare. Linda's chicken had a very fine pair of pins on display.  

The plucking process was surprisingly therapeutic and soothing. As we plucked away, we all got chatting.  In particular, we heard about Simon's recent distressing experience of being raided in the middle of the night by people calling themselves the ALF. They had let out his 100 prize ducks and chickens, many of which were then caught and eaten by the local fox population. I mean, how 'liberating' could that possibly be for the poor chickens and ducks??  

After about 30 minutes I had pretty much removed every surplus feather from the body of my bird (see photo on left). Not bad for a virgin plucker eh.  Linda found that all her childhood plucking skills came surging back, and Peter provided a grand supporting role at her side.  Simon was quite impressed with our efforts. Satisfaction all round!

Of course Simon had plucked at least two chickens in the time it took Linda/Peter and me to pluck a single one each. Here he is at work.

Then Simon worked his magic on the chickens' guts and other bits that were superflous to requirement. This created an odour reminiscent, as Linda said, of her baby grandson's filled nappy. But it was worth it, as the chickens were transformed into oven-ready birds fit for a Waitrose chiller cabinet.

Dusk was falling fast. The rain lashed hard and the wind whipped wild. Linda, Peter and I left the plucking shed, two bagged birds in hand, and battled our way, slightly bloodied but definitely not bowed, back across the field to our cars.  

I'm proud to report that my chicken went down a storm on Christmas Day - it fed seven hungry meat-eating adults with seconds all round!  


So that's my chicken plucking capabilities finally put to the test. I do hope my mother would be impressed. Perhaps it's time to step up to the mark and find out if my newly honed skills would be transferable to a brace of pheasant. Although it might be wise to give our local kindly butcher a heads-up first. 

A huge thank you to Simon for setting up such an excellent chicken plucking experience for me.  An equally huge thank you to Linda for coming up with a second great idea for a sixtyat60 task - and to Linda and Peter for being such plucky plucking pals.  Oooh, one final question - did you happen to spot the piece of jewellery I was wearing round my neck in the plucking shed?  Yes indeed, another outing for that special necklace of mine. 16 days down, 44 to go......

I'm doing the sixtyat60challenge to raise funds for Shooting Star Chase children's hospice care. For further information or to make a donation please visit my JustGiving page at

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