Please be forewarned that photos in the 2nd half of this post attempt to tastefully show the processing of our meat birds -- I have placed a warning at the point where those particular photos begin for your convenience.
This, my friends, is what it's all about...
One hardworking chicken farmer enjoying his well-deserved dinner of savory chicken and rice. :)
And it's also about this...
So exactly how did we fill our freezer with over 100 pounds of wholesome pastured chicken? Let's back up to May 9th, the day the husband came home with 30 cute yellow balls of fluff (otherwise known as cornish cross chicks). Adorable, aren't they?
After spending their first few weeks in our garage brooder, the birds were moved outside into our portable poultry pen. As much as we'd have liked to have moved them out onto the grass sooner, spring here in the Pacific NW tends to be cool and wet, two conditions young chicks don't do well in.
The husband rigged up an automatic watering system which made tending the flock much less work for Daniel who was charged with the task of keeping them fed throughout the day. In the past we've kept their food filled 24-7, but this year we opted to remove their food at night so they wouldn't overindulge (cornish cross will eat as long as there is food available to them). An added benefit of removing their food was to encourage them to forage on the abundant greens at their disposal!
Two weeks later (at 5 1/2 weeks), you can see how much they've grown!
An unexpected benefit of removing the feed trough each night was that when the husband went out to move their pen to fresh grass in the mornings, he would place the feed trough down in front of the pen (on the outside) causing the birds to all move forward toward him and their food source. This simple action allowed him to pull the pen forward without having to worry about stragglers who might be run over as the pen was moved each day (anyone who's raised meat birds knows what I'm talking about here...sadly, it happens from time to time).
Why the tarp?
Being awoken at 3:30 a.m. by a screeching chicken is why. It seems a local raccoon had discovered what looked to be an easy food source. Fortunately, said critter wasn't successful in stealing any of our birds; unfortunately, the bird that was doing all the screeching was severely injured, and, sadly, had to be "put down." The raccoon? Let's just say that homeowners have the right to protect their property... Nonetheless, we covered the chicken tractor with a tarp every night after this event and thankfully had no more raccoon troubles.
After only 6 1/2 weeks of excellent care, our flock was ready for processing. We owe a debt of gratitude to friends (with all the proper equipment) who allowed us to join them -- thank you!!
******** Warning!! ********
The rest of this post contains photos that may be offensive to some, but if you want to know how a chicken gets from the farm to your dinner table, please proceed...
Live chickens are placed upside down into cones where their arteries are cut to allow their blood to completely drain.
Chicken carcasses are then placed into a scalder which loosens their feathers.
After several turns through the scalder, the carcasses go into the plucker (which I failed to get a picture of) where they are quickly de-feathered. The next step is to check the birds for any residual feathers (yes, that is AnnaLynn -- cute apron, huh?).
Removal of heads and feet comes next...
The final step is gutting the birds which I did after watching and asking lots of questions. Each bird took me about 4 - 5 minutes which I was told wasn't too bad for a newby. Don't I look like I'm having fun? Not so much, but in all honesty, it wasn't as bad as I'd expected. You can tell by the sweatshirt and flannel (borrowed from the husband) that it was a cold morning. (If you're wondering about the hat, it poured rain that morning, and even though we were under cover for gutting, I kept the hat on to hide my messy hat hair. All in all, I think I've got quite the fashion statement going there with the addition of the apron, don't you think?)
Finished birds were placed into a tub of ice water until they were drained and bagged for freezing. Total time from live bird to freezer-ready was about 10 - 15 minutes per bird.
We kept the feet for making broth. Did you know that chicken feet are super rich in gelatin and other nutrients?
Are you thoroughly grossed out by this post? To look back at these pictures is certainly not an enjoyable experience for me, but I'm glad to have these photos as a reminder of this particular day in the life of our family. The quips about my wardrobe are simply an attempt to add some levity to what was, at times, a somewhat gruesome event.
I promise this to be the one and only post of this nature I'll ever do. BUT, think about it. Just where does your food come from? Who raises it? What is it fed? What was the animal's life like? It wasn't that long ago in our history that raising and processing one's own food was the norm. The activities in these pictures were in no way fun, but they certainly are a realistic part of life we're thankful to have had the opportunity to expose ourselves and our children to.
The husband's been reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and shared an excerpt from page 233 with me after we came home, filled our freezer, and showered.
Pollan, who'd been visiting Joel Salatin's Polyface farm and had helped with chicken processing there wrote:
When Daniel and I got ahead of the scalder, which could accommodate only a few birds at a time, I stepped away from the killing area for a break. Joel clapped me on the back for having taken my turn at the killing cones. I told him killing wasn't something I would want to do every day.We're with Mr. Pollan on that. Killing chickens is definitely not something we'd want to do very often at all.
"Nobody should," Joel said. "That's why in the Bible the priests drew lots to determine who would conduct the ritual slaughter, and they rotated the job every month. Slaughter is dehumanizing work if you have to do it every day." Temple Grandin, the animal-handling expert who's helped design many slaughterhouses, has written that it is not uncommon for full-time slaughterhouse workers to become sadistic. "Processing but a few days a month means we can actually think about what we're doing," Joel said, "and be as careful and humane as possible."
A rather serious ending to what I hope you'll have found to be an educational and, perhaps, inspirational post. And if you've made it this far, thanks for reading.
Comments, questions, and conversation welcomed,
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