Barbara J. King

Friday Animal Blog

Celebrating Mike the Headless Chicken

June 18, 2010

Every spring in Fruita, Colorado, festival-goers celebrate the life of Mike the Headless Chicken. This startling fact I discovered only last week while browsing online to learn about life in small-town Fruita, a destination of my husbandís during his recent hiking trip.

Since then, I havenít been able to get Mike out of my mind, or the numerous questions raised by his the events of his life.

A Wyandotte Rooster, Mike would have become a Fruita familyís dinner one night in 1945, if all things had gone as normal. They didnít. The chop to Mikeís head went at a peculiar angle; following this, Mike continued to walk about and peck for food.

The chopper, a man called Lloyd Olsen, was an unusual man, I think. He decided to care for Mike in his headless state, and to feed him with an eyedropper that funneled food right into his esophagus. Olsen also took Mike to a university where experts explained that Mikeís jugular had gone untouched by the blade. Blood had then clotted at the site of the blow. Because the brain stem was left intact, Mike was able to live in a healthy state (with eyedropper feedings) for another 18 months.

I should clarify that Mike was no obscure, small-town bird. He toured nationally and was featured in Life Magazine. Now in the computer era, he has a fan club, a You-tube presence, and a Facebook page. Itís only that his story is still unknown to many non-Coloradans.

If you would like to see what headless Mike looked like, and read more of his story (and why he died after 18 months), click here:


Now to the spring festival. Held each May, it celebrates Mikeís will to live. That, I like a lot. And at this point itís only fair to note that, as I discussed in my April 16 blog post (to see it, scroll down), I do eat some chicken, although I eat no beef, pork, or veal. I can hardly bluster on indignantly about Mikeís near-fate as a delicious fryer.

But Iím left uneasy by some aspects of this whole headless-Mike cult of celebration. OK, I can handle the near-tasteless jokes on the festivalís website, like ďAttending this fun, family event is a NO BRAINER.Ē

What bothers me is this: How can we celebrate Mikeís will to live, happily acknowledge his spirit, and then proceed to eat chickens (and of course many other animals) who presumably have an equally strong spirit? Can we look this animal spirit straight in the eye and thenÖ. consume it?

For me, making a complete commitment to vegetarianism has its challenges because of some medical-dietary issues that I wonít bore you by detailing. I will say this, though: When I eat chicken nowadays, increasingly I feel bad about it, and Iím working on cutting back. If Mikeís celebrity pushes me (and maybe others too?) to find alternatives to even minimal carnivory, maybe thatís his best legacy of all.


  1. June 18, 2010 5:53 PM EDT
    Okay, I'll dive in. Chickens are the butt of many jokes, and they are evidently not very cute or intelligent or even very nice to each other. But they are cheap to raise and maintain and are a source of protein for many people who might otherwise do without. The main reason not to eat chicken would be those inhumane chicken farms that animal protection advocates rightfully abhor.
    Hope this helps
    - Peggy Trawick
  2. June 18, 2010 9:03 PM EDT
    Thanks, Peggy. I don't want to discount the reality of needy people here; your point that chicken is a source of needed protein is key. So I agree, it's not the small poor farmer I'm after, mostly, but the corporate pain factories. Still, I guess it's evident that I'm engaged in trying to work out my own responsibilities here, my own tolerance for meat-eating...
    - Barbara J. King

Selected Works

Why are animals so irresistible to us? Why do we live with and care so deeply about them? From the famous "art caves" of ice-age Europe, to the ancient villages where animals were first domesticated, to stories of apes, whales, dogs, and cats doing fascinating things today, King weaves together a scenario about the animal-human bond that encompasses our past, present and future.
Can scientists discover a prehistory of religion just as they have traced the evolution of technology, language, and art? What does compassion in chimpanzees, or burial patterns in our human ancestors and Neanderthals, tell us about the origins of religion? In Evolving God, named a Top Ten Religion Book for 2007 by the American Library Association, Barbara King explores these questions.
How do chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas-- the African apes -- communicate using body postures and gestures? Using her many years of experience studying these apes, Barbara King answers this question in a book that offers a new perspective on the evolution of language.