Saturday, July 2, 2011

Processing Chickens

This is not for the faint of heart.  If you get queasy at the sight of blood, please move on...

Today was chicken processing day.  We were totally anxious and nervous.  I was worried about how the kids would handle it.  I was anticipating getting super grossed out.  I was just waiting for the husband and I to get so frustrated that an argument would ensue.  I thought something horrible would go wrong.  I thought maybe the chickens would be infested with crazy worms or some disease and the meat would be green.  I expected to get sprayed with large amounts of blood.  I thought the cats would turn super-carnal and start attacking the innards. 

What I didn't expect was children who watched for a minute and then simply walked away because they took in all they needed and were okay with it.  I didn't expect this amazing community feel to the day because some wonderful friends showed up and helped and kept us company.  I didn't expect to be completely clean, except smelling like chicken.  I didn't expect the cats to go far, far away.  I didn't expect kids to want to help out, kill and eviscerate.  I didn't expect to learn that much about the anatomy of a chicken.  I didn't expect my bare hands to be pulling the innards out of a chicken. 

Here come some pictures:

This is the industrial chicken feather plucker.  I have no idea what the actual name is.  We borrowed it from the husband's cousin. 

Our first chicken...alive and in the starts to get last warning...

It takes a harder hand than expected to cut through the skin.  And the chicken flops around some. 
The husband fashioned the cones with some hard plastic ( I have no idea what it came from ).  The then put a ladder over two saw horses and put the cones ( 4 of them ) in the openings between the rungs. 

To help an easier release of feathers, hold chickens in 140 degree water for about a minute.  We used our burning can, a camping grate and a lobster pot.  We are not big time chicken farmers.

We hooked up the hose to the plucker and watched the chicken spin around and around.  It was weird and splashy.  It got all the feathers off, but split the skin a little. 
The chicken was not as big as we thought it might be.  It's all a learning experience...

Our work space:  A desk covered in a tarp with Rubbermaid container covers.  I scrubbed the station down with vinegar because I thought it mattered.  After the first few, there were flies everywhere.  Gross.

Eli was initially "all set" with everything.  After an hour or so, he put on gloves.  By the end of the day he was running around wielding a chicken foot trying to hit an egg-laying chicken in the butt, making jokes about chickens kicking themselves in the butt with their own feet. 

Our 9-year-old helper, eager to carry and process chickens. 

Our 6-year-old helper in the background.  These girls were amazing!

Yes, that is the 6-year-old helping out.  While I was taking a break earlier, she let me know that she understood that I'd need a break because gross work like that wasn't really for girls. 

  • We started our adventure at 10 a.m. this morning.  By 11 a.m. we had 3 chickens done.  We spent a lot of time staring at the flapping chickens and marveling at the whole process.  We had a lot of discussions about the process.  A little after 11 a.m. our first helpers arrived.  By noon, the next batch of friends came by.  We were done, everyone gone, everything cleaned up (including ourselves) and put away by 4 p.m. 
  • We did not eat chicken tonight. 
  • I saved the heads and feet for a broth-making, GAPS diet-following friend.
  • I composted the innards, blood and a couple of chickens who were boiled too long and ripped apart in the plucker.
  • I thoroughly enjoyed the day - loving that these friends and families could come and witness and take part in our adventure, fostering the feeling and presence of community in our lives and contributing to what we feel is important as a somewhat food-conscious and responsible homeschooling family.
Things we're going to do differently:

Instead of keeping the chickens in this coop for four weeks...

...and in this pen
( By the way...those are Cornish Cross and the brownish are the Araucana's...same age.)

  • I'm building a chicken tractor out of hardware cloth, 2 x 4's and plywood, possibly similar to this one.  This was our first go at chicken farming.  We've learned a lot and we're still learning. 
  • I'd also like to build a brooder outside instead of housing one in our kitchen...
  • We'll be investing in a scalder.  Trying to keep the temperature at 140 degrees was difficult.  Also, having a pot of hot water on the ground kept me on my toes with the kids around. 
  • We'll be investing in a plucker, but not a fancy industrial one.  Something a bit simpler... maybe like this one.
  • We're also tossing the idea around of how we'll process.  Today we killed, eviscerated and chilled two birds at a time.  Once we got half our flock done, then I took them inside and bagged them and tossed them in the freezer.  Next time around we might kill, parboil and pluck them all...chill them, then eviscerate, bag and freeze.  We're trying to figure out the best system for us to use. 
Having our friends there really made the difference, as it always does.  But the husband and I really needed to focus.  Having friends available for our children to play with kept us free to focus.  Our boys are really young and were enthralled for about an hour.  Chances are if we had done this alone, we would have had to spread the processing out over the entire weekend.  Having friends there to help really helped.  It also lightened the whole mood.  It turned into a real community feel.  I loved it. 

We thought we wouldn't do the Cornish Cross again.  When we first researched we read a lot about health and heart problems.  We read about these birds not being able to fly for risk of rupturing internal things (sorry, I can't recall exactly what they'd rupture).  They're a high risk for heart attacks if you're not careful and don't process on time.  We read that they weren't bred to move a lot.  Also, since I was kind of wiggy (yes, wiggy) about this whole thing, being a new chicken farmer and all, I didn't want to like these birds.  I love, I mean love, my hens. They are my girls.  They follow me to the garden.  When I dig, they know to come.  My baby boy can pick any one of them up without fear of being pecked.  I just couldn't even think about eating a beautifully amazing, egg-laying chicken.  After raising these birds the way we thought we should raise them, I would do it completely different.  I read some blogs regarding raising the Cornish Cross birds differently.  I would raise them like Joel Salatin does with his beautiful grass-loving chicken tractor birds.  I'd care more about them because they can be delightful birds, if raised right.  Raising the Cornish Cross is more cost and time efficient than raising an heirloom breed, I believe.  We've got ten more Cornish Cross chicks in the brooder.  I'm building the tractor this week.  We'll see what prevails.
And no, we did not have chicken tonight...

1 comment:

Scott A. Miller said...

Thank you for letting me participate, it was an educational day for all of us and an experience I will remember!