Mike the Headless Chicken was a Wyandotte rooster that lived for 18 months after its head had been cut off. Thought by many to be a hoax, the bird was taken by its owner to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City to establish its authenticity.
On September 10, 1945, Mike’s owners, Lloyd and Clara Olsen, decided that it was time to slaughter a group of birds, some to sell and to prepare others for themselves. Mike was one of them. Olsen failed to completely decapitate the bird, missing the jugular vein and leaving one ear and most of the brain stem intact.
Mike was still able to balance on a perch and walk clumsily; he even attempted to preen and crow, although he could do neither. After the bird did not die, a surprised Mr. Olsen decided to continue to care permanently for Mike, feeding him a mixture of milk and water via an eyedropper; he was also fed small grains of corn. Mike occasionally choked on his own mucus, which the Olsen family would clear using a syringe.
Being headless did not keep Mike from putting on weight; at the time of his beheading he weighed two and a half pounds, but at the time of his death this had increased to nearly eight.
Once his fame had been established, Mike began a career of touring sideshows in the company of such other creatures as a two-headed calf. He was also photographed for dozens of magazines and papers, featuring in Time and Life magazines. Olsen drew criticism from some for keeping the headless chicken alive.
Olsen’s success resulted in a wave of copycat chicken beheadings, but no other chicken lived for more than a day or two.
Mike the Headless Chicken is now an institution in Fruita, Colorado, with an annual “Mike the Headless Chicken Day”, the third weekend of May, starting in 1999.
Events held include the “5K Run Like a Headless Chicken Race”, egg toss, “Pin the Head on the Chicken”, the “Chicken Cluck-Off”, and “Chicken Bingo”, in which chicken droppings on a numbered grid choose the numbers.