Rooster Slaughter Day, essay by Dena Rash Guzman

Part 1

(I Return In Muck Boots)

Wait­ing for the slaugh­ter with Ines and her daugh­ter, I have exhaust­ed my Spanish.

They are here to con­duct the killings. We are culling our flock.

"Hola. Mi hom­bre es Dena. Soy un Dena. Mi nino hom­bre esta Jackson."

Ines wants to know if I speak Span­ish. She asks me this in rapid-fire Spanish.


Ah,” says Ines. Ines looks at her daugh­ter. Her daugh­ter asks me some­thing I do not under­stand. Ines asks me again, for her daugh­ter. She asks me slow­ly, with few­er words. I still can­not understand.

I try to tell her my son is Puer­to Rican and that he is hap­py to assist with the roost­er slaugh­ter. The state­ment is out of con­text, in Eng­lish, and not at all under­stood. Ines smiles at me.

In Span­ish, Ines asks my son’s age. For a moment, I can’t remem­ber. Once I remem­ber, I can’t remem­ber how to say eleven in Span­ish, so I hold up ten fin­gers and then one. In Eng­lish, Ines says eleven.

Silence comes to silence the lit­tle room. We wait for the water to boil so the slaugh­ter can begin. Six roost­ers are about to die. My first slaugh­ter. Before this, I’ve only seen bugs and one cat die. I look at my hands.

I look at the women’s shoes: Ines in red can­vas shoes and her daugh­ter in blue suede sneakers.

I won­der if the blood will stain them. Ines and her daugh­ter are look­ing at my shoes. They are yel­low suede san­dals and I know the blood will stain them.

I beg their par­don. I run across the farm into the house.

Part 2

(Lan­guage Failed Me and Fails Me Again.)

In shoes that will repel blood splat­ter, I return to the shed.

Roost­er num­ber one, head hon­cho, is already dead.

I don’t mourn him. He sin­gled me out for the first attack last fall. Many oth­ers were attacked by him after me, but he took me first.

He got me by the mail­box from behind, mount­ing me like he’d mount a chick­en and leav­ing a per­ma­nent scar on my back. My third scar ever, only.

I am new to the coun­try. I was a sub­ur­ban girl. These are my first chick­ens. These are my first woods, my first closed-in sky, my first rain­for­est. I had no bear­ing. I asked why.

Did he think I was a chick­en? A coy­ote? Anoth­er rooster?Did he know I said I thought he moved like an inse­cure Mick Jagger?


Roost­er, strut no more.

The chick­en yard is a war zone when there are too many roost­ers. They rape like it’s a war crime.

Bosnia. Con­go. I can hard­ly look. They don’t stop. They mount and mount, leav­ing bald spots and scars on the backs of the female chickens.

I think of the poul­try world, in which birth con­trol means killing the men or smash­ing eggs or slaugh­ter­ing hens. I think of the human world. I think, “We all are made of stars.”

One down.

I’m less relieved and more sad­dened when the big, sweet, gold­en one goes. Ines takes a broom and places his neck beneath it. She steps on the han­dle on either side of the neck. She pulls the rooster’s body away from its own han­dle-trapped head until the roost­er stops screaming.

Snap. He slow­ly stops flap­ping. He has stopped his fighting.

Two down.


Num­ber four, the roost­er that looks like a turkey vul­ture, doesn’t die right. The broom doesn’t snap his neck. It kind of injures it and there is blood and the roost­er screams. Pan­ic fills the the shed. We don’t want the roost­ers to suf­fer. This is an organ­ic farm. We have to kill them to pro­tect the flock but we don’t want them to suf­fer any more than their fate strict­ly requires. His neck is some­how placed back under the broom despite his writhing and rallying.


Four down. One to go.

The fifth one gets away–he’s live­ly. He’s small. He’s the son of the son of a gun that jumped me. They look near­ly exact­ly alike, but Junior has far more spir­it. The three of us give chase. I’m no help. The oth­er two cor­ner him. The farmer catch­es him. The roost­er tries to beat him, goes for his eyes. He tries to fly back over the farmer’s head but the long, tall farmer’s arms prevail.

This roost­er screams the loud­est. Tini­est, but he had the most fight.

Eddie the farm­hand says, “Adiós, amigos.”

I think, “Too many roost­ers are not good for the hens. They eat food and don’t lay. They are extra­ne­ous. Every good farm has to cull the flock. It’s not bar­bar­ic. This is part of rais­ing meat ani­mals humanely.”

I don’t close my eyes or scream. I only imag­ine myself doing it.

Ines. Broom. Snap.


It is done. The clean­ing starts. The boil­ing water is used. The feath­ers are pulled out. Ines and her daugh­ter held the roost­ers like babies. The farmer did too. I have a pho­to­graph of him hold­ing one, and there’s noth­ing but kind­ness and curios­i­ty in the farmer’s eyes.

You can’t see the rooster’s eyes. I nev­er looked that day at their eyes.

They held them before they killed them to keep them calm. This was not cru­el, this slaugh­ter. It was as humane as it could have been but still, I feel tired and go inside, leav­ing my son to help clean the feath­ers and butch­er the roost­ers. He goes all the way. I can bare­ly speak. I have bare­ly spo­ken at all for the past hour. Feath­ers and cot­ton­wood drift across the land­scape as I walk home.

Part 3

(I fin­ish my wine and feel lucky to be alive.)

I’ve nev­er seen any­thing but a bug killed before.

We didn’t kill them for food. We killed them for being out of place. We killed the roost­ers for being out of place, but we will eat the roosters.

The boil­ing water, the feath­ers, the broom handle–all in their places now. The blood scrubbed up. The roost­ers are in bits. Look­ing in the bag of roost­er parts, I can’t tell which roost­er is which.

I hope I have at least part of the mean one.

Over at the main farm­house, they’ve already made coq au vin. I ask my friends what I should make. I look for recipes. I decide on Greek style roost­er stew. To make a roost­er edi­ble, it must be cooked slow­ly in liq­uid. Roost­ers are gamey, tough things. Same dead as liv­ing. I use toma­toes, olives, wine, spices and stock. I talk to my Greek friend and tell her my plan while the roost­er is sim­mer­ing. There are claws and even a neck and head in the stew. If I were to try to make a roost­er pup­pet out of these pieces, it would be a Franken­roost­er. There are three thighs, one wing, part of a rib, a neck, a head and three claws.

I don’t think the neck will be edi­ble but I use all of it.

My Greek friend is excit­ed and tells her mom about my din­ner. She calls me because her mom says, “Serve orzo.” The stew is on the back burn­er, sim­mer­ing on low. I dri­ve the 20 min­utes to the near­est town and get orzo. I become addict­ed to orzo for the next ten weeks.

Din­ner time. I wished I had a big tri­an­gle to ring. I wished I had a long prairie dress and a long apron. I wished my hair was in a bun like Ma’s on Lit­tle House on the Prairie. Hell, I wished I had a fan­tas­tic Bono lion’s mane like Pa’s.

I wished I had sev­er­al kids run­ning in, school books hang­ing off a leather strap, no shoes because it’s warm out and shoes are for cold weath­er. It’s not even rained here for a cou­ple of weeks. There’s not even mud. I wished for blue tin plates. I pour the last of the wine into my own lit­tle glass.

Sev­er­al of the farm work­ers come over. They set­tle in. They’ve already had the coq au vin and are ready to see what’s next. I serve up peas, Greek roost­er stew, green sal­ad and orzo.

My son is served some meaty pieces of roost­er, but asks for a foot and the neck. He starts try­ing to bite through the neck. Tim the Woods­man, who lives back in the groundskeeper’s cot­tage and fix­es every­thing from the green­house glass to air­planes, goes sen­ti­men­tal and speaks of his child­hood on a farm in the mid­west, eat­ing roost­er and rab­bit and of the won­der­ful things his moth­er did with win­ter squash.

Roost­er is all mus­cle, high in pro­tein at any rate, and our roost­ers were tru­ly free range. They had nev­er been in cap­tiv­i­ty of any sort. They had for­aged, wan­dered and bat­tled coy­otes their whole lives. They were cham­pi­ons of the flock. Nec­es­sary but in the end, expend​able​.At night they slept in one of the unused green­hous­es or roost­ed up on the sec­ond floor bal­cony of the farm’s old admin­is­tra­tion building.

The men exclaim over the fla­vor of the sauce, but no one real­ly likes the roost­er. My son and his father claim to, but they look sto­ic and hard­scrab­ble try­ing to chew the meat. I stewed it for hours and still, it didn’t pre­cise­ly melt off the bone. It’s free range roost­er. It’s noth­ing like a frozen chick­en breast.

I lis­ten and take in their silence and inter­est. This is the first time I’ve ever watched roost­ers and chick­ens live and grow. They came from eggs laid on the farm. I saw each of them as a baby. I saw them before we could tell their sex. I saw them mount and men­ace the flock, and felt one mount and men­ace me.I helped round them up ear­ly on, when they were lit­tle, cry­ing “Chick, chick, chick­ens!” Then I helped kill them, and cooked them.

I can’t bring myself to eat the roost­er. Maybe next time. The chick­ens are not pets, because you can’t eat your pets, but my attach­ment to them boils over, and I detach. I look around me at all these men and think of them being culled. I rear back, shaken.

That’s enough for one day.


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5 Responses to Rooster Slaughter Day, essay by Dena Rash Guzman

  1. Pingback: In A Farm Accident | Dena Rash Guzman

  2. Dale Favier says:

    "Just the facts," you say, as if that was easy! That's the hard­est thing. Love this: thank you!

  3. Sharon says:

    Pow­er­ful sto­ry Dena. It's easy to see the dilem­ma you faced.

  4. Thank you, Gina. It's just the facts, but I am so new to this kind of life. I am glad you read it and liked it.

  5. ginabobina says:

    Love this! Great storytelling.

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