The Outlandish Story Of Mike The Headless Chicken

By Antonia Čirjak on April 28 2020 in Did You Know

On September 10, 1945, the life of the chicken changed forever. 
On September 10, 1945, the life of the chicken changed forever. 
  • Mike appeared in both Time and Life magazines, whose exact notions he challenged for long 18 months.
  • Mike was not alive, he was in a homeostatic state, meaning that essential functions of the body still continued to work, even without the more complex brain center present.
  • Ever since 1947, there have been no more cases of Wyandotte chickens surviving decapitation.

If we know anything about what are some of the key points of staying alive, we are sure that keeping your head on your shoulders at all times is one of them. However, there is one animal that debunked that myth or at least battled it for 18 head-less months. 

Surviving Decapitation

Mike was a chicken that lived in Fruita, Colorado. The life of this chicken was nothing out of the ordinary: born on a farm, supposed to be somebody's dinner one day. On September 10, 1945, however, the life of the chicken changed forever. 

Lloyd Olsen was living on the farm together with his wife and mother-in-law, and all three of them got hungry. Life on the farm can be relatively simple when it comes to appetite: you feel the hunger, you grab an axe, and see what is on the menu. That day, it was Mike's turn to satisfy Olsen's family hunger. However, as the farmer chopped off his head, something most unusual happened. Not only did the chicken not die within moments after beheading, but the Olsen continued to bring money to the table, thanks to Mike's headlessness. 

As the word spread, how a chicken continues to live after its head was removed, it soon raised the attention of many people. First, the story remained within local parameters, only to attract neighbors nearby, but Olsen took advantage of this must-see-to-believe chicken and drove it around the country, possibly betting (and winning against!) people in the game "Who Has A Headless Chicken?"

No Miracle To See Here, Move Along!

How is this possible? Sure you have either witnessed yourself if you live on a farm, or heard the fact that a chicken can stay alive even for a few minutes after the head is cut off. "Alive" is probably a wrong term, as the head is off, there is no life anymore, just the residual bursts of neurons.

Olsen took advantage of this must-see-to-believe chicken and drove it around the country, possibly betting (and winning against!) people in the game "Who Has A Headless Chicken?"
Olsen took advantage of this must-see-to-believe chicken and drove it around the country.

Even though the head is no longer there, the spinal cord still has some oxygen left in it, which causes such erratic movements of a headless chicken. But the supply there is small enough to create blood-spraying chaos around the backyard for up to 15 minutes maximum. How did Mike survive for 18 months?

The ax was, indeed, sharp enough. Still, it missed some of the critical components it had to cut off to perform a proper pre-dinner execution ritual. Olson cut off the head, but he missed the central jugular vein entirely and the base of the chicken's brain. Also, Mike was left with one ear after the incident. Now, that means, even though there was nothing to see upfront, there was no face to look Mike at, the brain was still there, and the vital oxygen link between it and the rest of the brain was intact. 

Final Days And Death In 1947

However, Mike's life drastically changed from that day forward. Mike was exploited in a circus freak fashion by his sloppy executioner, and could not perform any of his chicken-life daily activities. He tried to peck, but it is hard to do it without, well, - a head. Crowing was tragically more difficult. For a year and a half, Lloyd Olsen kept him alive, mostly feeding him with liquid food with an eyedropper. Through that place where the head was. 

Mike died, finally finding his piece on March 17, 1947. Allegedly, Mike choked to death.

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