Ian Hensel grabbed two white chickens from a pickup bed filled with crated birds and put them upside down into metal cones.
"Do you guys want to learn how to do this?" Hensel asked Rogue Valley Brambles farm interns Travis Bott and Caitlyn Cross.
"Sure," said Bott.
"She's in there all the way and then I pull her head out," Hensel said, making sure the chicken's head and neck poked out of the bottom of the cone. Fitted snugly into the cone, the chicken was calm.
With gentle passes of a sharp knife, Hensel slit open the chicken's neck and blood began to stream onto a pile of straw below.
"They basically just pass out," said farm co-owner Susan Muller.
Hensel cautioned Bott and Cross not to cut too deeply and hit the trachea, which would cause the bird to begin suffocating.
At Rogue Valley Brambles outside Talent, co-owners Susan and Ken Muller train upstart farmers and people raising their own chickens how to humanely slaughter the birds, pluck the feathers, disembowel them and remove the feet and heads.
Anyone is welcome to learn the techniques in return for several hours of hard work on chicken slaughtering and processing days at the farm. On the most recent slaughtering day on Monday, the Mullers and almost a half-dozen other people killed and processed 107 birds.
The next scheduled slaughtering day is April 23.
More people are raising their own farm animals as they embrace the local food movement. But when the day comes to kill an animal, many lack the traditional knowledge and skills for the job, or are emotionally unprepared.
An increasing number of people may face that situation in Ashland, where the City Council will decide on April 17 whether to loosen restrictive rules on keeping chickens in town. A draft ordinance would allow more people to raise chickens — up to 20 birds based on lot size.
Even people who keep chickens only for eggs may face the prospect of killing an animal. Some chicks turn out to be roosters, which are not allowed in Ashland because of noisy crowing. Laying hens eventually stop producing eggs, and some hens face a torturous death if an egg gets stuck inside and a human is not willing to kill the bird.
Susan Muller said when she and her husband began butchering chickens on their farm about four years ago, they didn't have anyone to guide them.
"The first time we slaughtered chickens, we had a book on the table to tell us how to do it," she said.
The couple has a thoughtful attitude about the killing of animals.
"Whenever you're going through it, you try to thank the animal. It is a living thing," Susan Muller said. "You feel kind of heavy at the end of the day."
Many people who are experienced in raising farm animals recommend against naming the creatures or bonding with them. Susan Muller said she doesn't name the meat chickens on the farm, but there's nothing wrong with feeling some connection to the birds she harvests.
"That's a part of eating meat," she said.
Back at the farm's outside chicken killing station, some upside-down birds calmly waited for death, while others put up a struggle. Hensel, who worked for the Mullers last year and now raises his own chickens, put a wood panel on top of the cones to trap the escape artists.
The first batch of birds had bled out and died. Their bodies went into a tub of scalding water heated by propane. After several minutes, most of the feathers had loosened and fallen off.
Then the Mullers, their helpers and the trainees began plucking out the last stubborn feathers with specialized pliers and using knives to cut off heads and feet. They slit open abdomens and pulled out intestines and other organs.
The team plopped feet and heads into large, washed-out yogurt containers and put intestines in buckets.
The pasture-raised chickens had had no food for the previous 12 hours, but mashed up grass occasionally oozed out from accidental tears in intestines. The workers flicked the grass away and regularly hosed down the birds, their own hands and the stainless steel work surfaces.
Ken Muller instructed Cross, the intern, on how to sweep out internal organs with her hand. She had trouble removing the spongy lungs.
"It will go real slow on the first few," he said. "Have you found the lungs yet? Let me see if I can loosen those up for you."
As the butchering of the white Cornish cross meat chickens went on, fawn-colored laying hens who freely wander the farm waited like dogs at the dinner table for any scraps to fall on the ground.
One opportunistic hen grabbed an intestine from the edge of a bucket and hurried away with her mid-morning snack.
Ken Muller said chickens are omnivorous feeders.
"Chickens are not bothered by other dead chickens. They will eat any pieces of dead chicken that they can get," he said.
As team members finished killing and processing each chicken, they put the bodies into tubs of icy water — keeping them fresh for customers who order the birds from the Mullers at local farmers markets and then pick up the chickens on slaughtering days.
Regulations prohibit the Mullers from selling butchered chickens directly at farmers markets.
Marissa Grasso, who used to have her own farm and helped on the chicken slaughtering day this week along with her husband, said if people are considering slaughtering their own chickens, they should visit a farm like Rogue Valley Brambles to learn in person or at least thoroughly research all the steps beforehand on the Internet.
"Definitely research all the equipment you need. You have to have everything on hand before you start slitting throats," Grasso said.
For more information on Rogue Valley Brambles, call 541-210-2278 or visit http://www.roguevalleybrambles.com/.
Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.