As promised, I took a bunch of pictures of our chicken processing on Sunday. All in all, Josh, Patrick & Jamie butchered 28 chickens (15 roasters and 13 laying hens for stew and stock) in about five to six hours with Everett and I looking on. Someone asked whether Everett understood what was happening. I let him watch for awhile and he seemed fascinated and attentive, not bothered at all. He spent most of the day in the sandbox, more absorbed with his shovel and tractor than the chickens. He is very used to the chickens by now, so….He did really like the broilers while they were alive. He would wander over to their coop, open the door and go in and hang out with him. Yesterday while we were finishing up in packout, he wandered over to their coop and they weren’t there. I’m not sure what he thought about that. I wonder if he made the connection with the events of the preceding day.
I did have an opportunity to slaughter a chicken, but I wasn’t able to bring myself to do it. I’m not sure why it was difficult for me. Life and death are so much a part of the farm, but when I went to do it, I just couldn’t. I was happy to read a very thoughtful post from Val from Mossback Farm about raising animals for slaughter. Check it out here. She reviews the book Compassionate Carnivore, which I think I’ll order from the library today.
The poultry equipment belongs to a cooperative of ten farms that share the equipment on a lottery system. Everyone paid a share to join the cooperative and buy the equipment and then we pay a per bird fee when we use it. It works out great. So, for, all of you who don’t know how to butcher a chicken, here’s the process.
You start by putting them in kill cones and cutting their jugular vein and then letting them bleed thoroughly before scalding them. The kill cones keep them calm and prevent them from flapping around. Here, Josh shows Jamie how to do it.
And then you scald the bird to loosen the feathers. You do this in water that is 140 degrees. This particular scalder is heated by propane. Josh woke up at about 4am on Sunday to start the scalder and have it ready to go by 8 or so.
And then the birds go into the plucker, which is this very efficient round machine with plastic fingers that when you turn it on, the birds go round and round until all the feathers are plucked off. It saves so much time to use this plucker! Doing it by hand takes so much longer. You let the birds spin for about a minute so you don’t bruise their skin. The feathers come out a little chute onto the ground. Great for the compost!
And then the birds go to the eviscerating table. This is an actual old-time eviscerating table that Margaret from Rogue Valley Brambles donated to the coop. It has a hole in the middle for the innards to fall through and lips all around the side of the table so the birds don’t slide onto the ground. The eviscerating isn’t really very fun. You have to cut off the oil gland, pull out the crop, the gizzard, the intestines, the heart, cut off the feet and head. For the laying hens, we left the neck and feet on so I could make stock. The feet have a lot of nutrition and provide gelatin for broth. Jamie & Patrick kept a lot of the other parts like the head and other innards to make stock. For the roasters, we took the feet, neck and heads off so we could just roast the chicken whole.
Jamie and Patrick happily eviscerating. They really rocked it! And that’s it for the birds. They get rinsed with water, thrown into cold water with ice until they are packed into freezer bags and put in the freezer. We are so happy it is done and look forward to raising more meat birds next year.
On the poultry front, Josh ordered 150 baby laying hens to arrive on November 7th. Oh boy! He assures me that he has a plan for this — new housing, new pasture, new feed, an egg handler’s license. While this is all in his head, I’ve asked him to put it all into writing for me in the next few months–I want to see the number crunching and the plans for marketing the dozens and dozens of eggs we are going to have in the spring. I am really hoping this won’t be a money losing endeavor, but he assures me that he is up to the challenge. Really, the challenge is finding cheaper sources of certified organic feed and getting an egg handler’s license, so we can move eggs into restaurants and stores. That’s the big plan anyway. I’m being supportive, but skeptical at the same time.
This week is the last of some of our markets. Sigh of relief. The Siskiyou CSA ends this week as does the Saturday Ashland market. That leaves us with one farmers market per week until November 18th, our restaurant accounts and some wholesaling to the Ashland Food Cooperative. I keep thinking it is going to slow down, but it hasn’t yet. I’m looking forward to slow mornings, coffee in bed and sitting by the fire with a book, while Josh takes Everett out to play in the snow.
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