It’s a widely-known fact that a chicken can live for several minutes without a head.
The domesticated birds can survive because of their brain position, which is in a small space of the skull at a 45-degree angle. The cerebellum and the brain stem, which are responsible for most vital functions, are in the chicken’s neck, so when the head is severed, the body can go on for a short time. Most of the unlucky birds die moments after they lose their head, running around frantically before giving out. There is, however, one case of a chicken that lived for a year and a half without its head.
Mike the Headless Chicken, also known as Miracle Mike, was a five-month-old male, who lived a happy life on a farm in Fruita, Colorado. On September 10, 1945, Lloyd Olsen — the owner of the farm — decided it was time for Mike to become a part of someone’s dinner, so he beheaded the animal.
The cockerel refused to die, though, and after a short run around, he settled down as if nothing had happened. Mike even (unsuccessfully) tried to peck for food, so the farmer decided to let the chicken be. The very next morning he found Mike sleeping, still alive, so Olsen decided to take care of the freaky miracle. He began feeding Mike with water, milk, and small pieces of corn. The farmer would deposit food directly into chicken’s throat, using a small eyedropper.
Mike survived the beheading because the farmer’s hatchet missed his jugular vein, so the cockerel only lost his sight and a piece of his brain that wasn’t responsible for the vital functions of his body. Mike only became clumsier than he was when he had a head. Soon, the local newspaper wrote an article about the miraculous chicken, and Olsen received an offer to take the headless bird on a traveling sideshow across the United States. Their road adventure began, and Mike’s fame grew as they traveled between cities.
People would pay to see the headless rooster, so at the peak of his fame, Mike earned his owner around $4,500 per month. The value of the chicken was estimated at $10,000. Mike frequently appeared in the news, including in Time and Life magazines. For 18 months the chicken traveled around the US, until his last trip to Phoenix, Arizona.
Mike lived like a star and died as one too. On March 17, 1947, while Mike and his owner were spending the night in a Phoenix motel, the chicken choked on a kernel of corn. Olsen didn’t have the necessary equipment to save him, so Mike died, leaving his tour unfinished.
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Olsen did not want to admit that Mike was dead, so he told the press that he’d sold the chicken. Miracle Mike remained famous, and residents of Fruita erected a statue in the town to commemorate him. There’s even an annual Headless Chicken festival organized every May, held in honor of the chicken that lived headless for 18 months.