Mike the Headless Chicken

Update! See below.

Sometimes you come across a story that really, really seems too weird to be true. Sure we’ve all heard about chickens who run around the barnyard after getting their heads chopped off. But for over a year?

So in an effort to know, for sure, that this story really is True, I went looking for evidence that Mike was real. Here’s what I found — with the story from the 23 April 2000 issue of This is True:


The town of Fruita, Colo., wanted something a little less boring than the usual “pioneers” to focus on for Colorado Heritage Week, so the city revived the story of Mike the Headless Chicken. In the 1940s, farmer Lloyd Olsen went to get a chicken for dinner. Wanting to leave as much of the neck as possible, he lopped off the chicken’s head as tightly as he could. The chicken did not die, and continued to “peck” for food as it walked around the yard. Amazed, Olsen started feeding the chicken with an eyedropper. The headless bird, dubbed Mike, appeared in Life magazine and traveled to exhibitions around the country. Fruita’s Mike the Headless Chicken Festival is a smashing success, and a new Mike sculpture (“I made him proud-looking and cocky,” the artist says) was recently unveiled downtown. Mike lived for 18 months after his head was chopped off. (AP) …Big deal: politicians can live like that for decades.

A face only a mother could love: Mike the Headless Chicken. Note what’s down by his feet.

Addendum: In 2014, Scientific American ran an article that explained how Mike lived: his brain stem was left intact. It also revealed an interesting tidbit: the head shown at Mike’s feet in the photo wasn’t actually his: the Olsen’s cat made off with that one! I’m sure Lloyd had plenty of others available to act as a prop.


No, Mike isn’t alive again, but one of his cousins is. Collbran, Colorado, is just 50 miles from Fruita. Perhaps there’s something in the water in Western Colorado? From True’s 24 April 2005 issue:


Uegene Safken says he let his chickens out of their coop outside of Collbran, Colo., and went into his house for a cup of coffee. When he came back, he found one of his birds drowned in a tub of water in the yard. He fished the young chicken out of the water and thought, “what the heck, I’ll give it a shot,” and gave it mouth-to-beak resuscitation. His girlfriend told him to give it up. “Leave the chicken alone; it’s dead,” Denise Safford says she told him. But, he said, “I wouldn’t let that damn thing die.” It worked: the chicken, he says, came back to life and is now fine. It wasn’t so bad, he says. “I’ve kissed worse.” (Grand Junction Sentinel) …Let’s just hope he doesn’t mean Denise.

More on Mike

I was trolling around Youtube and found this clip of a PBS documentary that interviews some old-timers who remember Mike, as well as family members, and has some old family photographs and such. I’m not sure I knew that Mike even toured Europe!

So there you go: This is True!

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10 Comments on “Mike the Headless Chicken

  1. Oh I think it’s rather sad that after 18 months the owners didn’t make any money off Mike. Kind of makes it feel like Mike lived for nothing.

    I wouldn’t say they made “nothing,” even though someone in the video did. It was more like “nothing — except for the tractor, and a plot of land, and…”. But even without that, Mike “lives on” as an inspiration of wonder for millions, and that’s very valuable indeed — a lot more so than “That was delicious!” -rc

  2. I remember reading about this when I was a boy. Never gave it much thought though, figured it as a “Road Side Circus Exhibit” and disregarded it.

    Makes me wonder though, how many people tried to reproduce another “Mike” while slaughtering chickens for dinner. Though their attempts may not have been as successful, I am sure that they were delicious after all was said and done.

  3. I first heard about Mike while reading Bill Geist’s book about his travels for CBS to small town America.

    Nice to see I beat CBS News by well over a year. -rc

  4. I think I need to improve my reading comprehension. I had to read three stories about Fruita before I finally twigged that it is *not* in Florida!

    You know, from now on I think I might consider Fruita Colorado’s “Little Bit of Florida”! -rc

  5. This is the story that introduced me to This is True. A friend forwarded the free edition with this story, & I signed up shortly afterwards. I became a paid member a few years later when funds allowed. I can’t believe it’s been over 20 years for me! Still happy I signed up. 😀

    Wow! Glad you’ve been along for the ride. -rc

  6. I volunteered for the NPS at the campground on the Colorado Plateau above Fruita for three years. I snuck down to the town twice (I was on duty) for the Mike the Headless Chicken Festival. If you’re ever in the area at the end of May, you’ll enjoy it. I’ll never forget eating chicken “fingers” while watching a boisterous crowd involved in “Chicken Bingo”, a rather messy contest. I recommended it to campers and a number of European visitors came back saying, “You Americans have a strange sense of humor” but they admitted that they enjoyed it. I just laughed.

    Alas, I have been to Fruita, but never at Festival time! -rc


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