Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Meat Chickens: From chick to freezer in 6 ½ weeks

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?

So...

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.

An afterthought...

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.

"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."
We're with Mr. Pollan on that. Killing chickens is definitely not something we'd want to do very often at all.

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,

~Lisa

I hope your visit to Dole Valley has been a blessing and encouragement--thanks for joining us on our journey! To follow or subscribe, look to the upper right. :)

**Sharing with Farmgirl Friday, Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Simple Lives Thursday and...

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22 comments:

  1. We just butchered chickens ourselves last week and GUESS WHAT??? We had the broth for the boiled chicken feet in soup last night. It is supposed to be high in glucosamine which is a supplement my hubby needs so I was pretty excited about that. BUT, try having your children eat the stuff knowin that! I did have a hard time with the feet myself and I attempted a blog post too. Like you, I wondered how barbaric it all looked. The bottom line though is… If you eat meat then you are a part of this too :) We have been butchering out chickens for many years now but the chicken feet was a first! Thanks for sharing your day. I am visiting from DEEP ROOTS AT HOME :)

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    1. JES, You are so very welcome! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment and for your encouragement about the chicken feet broth. From what I've heard from friends, I know I won't be doing a photo-type post of that process, but I do hope to share more about different ways we cook our chicken and well as how we make broth. We've only raised and processed our own birds one other year, but I didn't participate in the processing that time which is why this year was a first for me. We didn't keep the feet last time either. Baby steps all the way for us! Blessings, ~Lisa :)

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  2. It's funny that you posted about this because I have just finished a book called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsglover. I REALLY recommend it! I have never been squeamish about this topic, but I have chosen to be a vegetarian unless I know where the animal came from and was raised in a healthy environment. Also, my boyfriend and I hope to raise our own chickens one day and grow most of our own food. Thank you for the inspiration.

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    1. Thanks for visiting, Kathy, and for the book recommendation. If you haven't read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, may I recommend that one to you? After raising and processing our own meat and vegetables, I cannot tell you how good it feels to know what we're eating and how good it is for us. Hope your chicken and garden dreams all come true! ~Lisa :)

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  3. My Grandparents had chickens when my mum was a girl, and she remembers Christmas as being the time to kill chickens. She's thankful it was not done everyday or even every month.

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    1. Sarah, Thanks for visiting. Christmas as the time to kill the chickens? Oh my. We, too, are thankful this isn't a common activity for us! Blessings, ~Lisa :)

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    2. I'm guessing it's because people wanted to eat chicken at Christmas.

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    3. Well, I suppose that would be a good reason! :) Blessings to you this weekend, Sarah.

      ~Lisa

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  4. I am not in a position where I can raise my own meat but I talk about it. I strongly feel that I need to be able to do it all myself - the raising and the butchering otherwise I need to be vegetarian. I just bought a butchered rabbit because we'd like to start with rabbits but I wanted to make sure we like the meat first. It's tough and gruesome work. It makes me nervous but if we can't stand the process then we shouldn't reap the rewards of it.

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    1. I'm curious how you liked the rabbit, Sara. We've considered raising rabbits for meat and have friends who do so, but we've not even tried it...

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  5. You all look so cute! Where is Dan in all this??? Is he behind the camera? You guys are set for a while now, what a blessing!

    If we I had my way we would be raising chickens next year. Praying it will happen plus some laying hens too. I think with the cost of getting real good chickens it may motivate it to happen sooner than later. As I told you before we are on the hunt for chicken feet. I hope the farm we bought chickens from before will sell me some. I want some GOOD chicken stock to heal my gut.

    Blessings and ((HUGS))
    -Mary

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    1. I had a couple shots of Dan, but they were blurry. His job for the day was to load chickens into the cones (he actually cut at least one if not more, can't remember...). He also helped with scalding and the plucker. The men mostly handled those jobs and got soaked in the rain that fell most of the morning.

      I'm sure you'll be blessed with chickens of your own soon, my friend! Praying you find those feet you're looking for soon!

      Blessings, ~Lisa :)

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  6. Okay, so I made it through most of the post just fine, until....I came across the chicken feet in a pot! So gross! I'm sure it's good for you, or at least Zack assures me it is, but I don't think I'd want to know! Wish I could have been there to experience it all firsthand with you, Dad, and the kids!

    Love you, Mom!
    Jess~

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    1. I know!! You, city girl who milked a cow and proved everyone wrong has a mom who's now gutted a chicken. You'd have been proud of the kids. :) And yes, broth made from chicken feet is supposed to be exceptionally healthy -- I'll save some in my freezer for you for next time you're home for a visit!

      Love ya back!! ~Mom :)

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  7. Great post, we are currently raising our first batch of meat birds. We have six families involved. Thank you for a very informative post, now I know what to look forward (?) to in another month or so!

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    1. Nancy, Thanks for taking the time to comment. :) One thing I did to prepare myself for the reality of processing our chickens was to watch some videos on You Tube -- there are plenty there and just watching a few made everything not quite so shocking for me. I promise, home-raised chicken is oh-so-good and completely worth all the work! Blessings!

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  8. Thanks for the post. Chickens are in my future and all the information I can find helps. maybe next time you can take a picture of the plucker, I'd like to see what you're using and how well it works.

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    1. Mike, the plucker we used (thanks to our friends who had all the equipment) worked amazingly well. The girls doing the "after-plucker" feather check had very few to remove! Altogether, the entire process we used is based on that used by Polyface Farm's Joel Salatin and really is as humane, safe, and quick as can be. Hope you can get your hands on a small flock of your own soon!

      Blessings!

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  9. Wow! My grandparents always did them one at a time, so there was less to take in at once.

    I think in a lot of ways modern society keeps us way to far removed from our food sources. Thanks for sharing the photos. Daughter and I looked over them and talked about them.

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    1. Shara,

      I agree! Our modern lives do tend to shield us from the realities of just exactly where our food comes from and how it gets to the store. As a girl I actually thought that green beans came from a can. Literally! I can still remember the day I made the connection and realized they were plants that grew. Sad, huh?

      As I was writing my post, I wondered about the "old days" when a farmer would butcher what he/she needed for the day's sustenance and how different that would be than our filling of our freezer. Would love to interview an old-timer about how that all was...such a simpler time to be sure.

      Blessings! ~Lisa

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  10. Amazing!!! Thank you for sharing with us at Healthy 2Day Wednesdays! I sure wish I had a freezer full like that! :)

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  11. We were just blessed with 30 fertilized eggs. We bought a dozen from a micro farm to go under our broody hen, but the lady gave us someone else's order as well who didnt pay! So I have been investigating whether or not I think we can butcher our own chickens. I think we have come to the conclusion that we can. We plan on butchering the roosters first as they become mature. I cant believe it only took 6 1/2 weeks! I was thinking 4-6 months!

    Job well done.
    And I plan on sharing the chicken feet for chicken stock idea with hubby. Thank you for letting us know about that.

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Thanks so much for visiting; your kind thoughts and questions are always welcome. :)

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