Anonymous was correct regarding the bizarre tool I blogged yesterday. It is in fact designed to decapitate chickens, presumably with a spring-loaded mechanism released by the trigger. [I won't be featuring any more "What is it" entries - those are the creation of someone else; I just posted it yesterday to alert those of you interested to that blog's existence.]
But it turned out to be interesting because this type of equipment is all new to me. I checked with my mom yesterday, and in our family the chickens were dispatched by holding the legs, placing the neck on a post or stump, and swinging a hatchet. In the Depression years, the family didn't have money for "fancy gadgets."
I had vaguely remembered reading in Harpers or the Atlantic about a V-shaped metal chicken-neck-holder, so last night I Googled various terms without success. What I did find, however, is illustrated above. These comments were at the forum with the photo:
The wall mounted dispatcher is a wall mounted piece of galvanized metal, kind of like a vise. The bottom part has a U shape where the neck of the chicken goes, and there is a lever with which the neck is broken.It's very cleverly designed in that when fully closed there is still a little gap, so the skin isn't broken, just the neck; presumably much less bloody that way. It would certainly not have satisfied the revolutionary French peasantry, but for modern pragmatic farmers it appears to be quite efficacious.
I think it's really designed for two people. My husband holds the chicken, and I close my eyes and pull the lever down sharply.
It works pretty good, and the chickens have died instantly - we can hear the neck break.
The entry there also conveniently included photos of the "dispatcher" in action. Here are links to their two photos. The first one shows the victim's neck in place, and the second one shows the lever coming down. Too graphic for children.