The Messy Side of Being a Farmer

7 10 2008

Today we did something that I have long wondered if I would have the stomach for. We killed 3 roosters.

Roosters are pretty unnecessary in laying hen production. The hens don’t NEED roosters to lay eggs. They need roosters to lay FERTILE eggs. So when we got the chickens, we tried to get as many females as we could. But, it is impossible for an uneducated person to know the difference between a male and female baby chick. There are people who have the job title “chicken sexer” who go through the batch of chicks and tell the males from females. But they are bound to be wrong sometimes.

We have 2 separate groups of chickens–one in the field (often referred to among ourselves, for some strange reason, as the downstairs chickens), and one in the backyard. So, at max, we need 2 roosters. We had 5. And only 4 of those were from the chicks we bought and raised. The fifth was named Zelda and came to us from Ben’s brother in Portland.

Dan showed up one day to visit with a chicken in a sewing machine box. They keep chickens in their yard in the city, but due to noise ordinance, they can only have a few, and they can’t be noisy. This one was noisy, and they decided to let it come have a nice life in the country where it could be as loud as it wanted. So, Dan showed up with a chicken in a sewing machine box. He said “her” name was Zelda Myrtle and she was just a little talkative. 3 days later, when all we have heard out of this bird is crowing, I decided they gave us a rooster. Everyone assured me, No, no. It is a hen. So, I do some research, dutifully Googling “Do hens ever crow?” It turns out they do sometimes under periods of stress. I give the bird a break, reasoning that 4 hours in a sewing machine box would be stressful to the best of us. When “she” was still crowing 3 weeks later and had taken to mounting the other hens, we knew something was up. I don’t mean this bird crowed a couple times at dawn. I mean this bird crowed every 3 minutes from the first blush of day all the way through til it was pitch black outside. And he attacked us when we went into the coop to get eggs. Full blown throw himself at you with his spurs flying and his wings beating you and his neck feathers as big as he could get them. And as many times as you tell yourself as you are walking up to the coop, “It’s only a chicken. I am MUCH bigger than it.” It still scared the crap out of you…

And for that reason, Zelda was picked as the one of the 2 coop chickens to go. Of the 3 roosters in the field, 2 were Rhode Island Reds and one was an Aracauna. The Aracaunas are much prettier birds, and they are more docile. So the 2 Reds from the field were caught today to be “processed”.

A guy Chad works with volunteered to come over and help us with it. His family used to raise broilers to sell, and he has been helping kill and clean them since he was in grade school. So we trusted him to show us how it is done. The first thing you need to do is set up a bit of a station where everything is going to happen. It helps to have a hose nearby to wash everything down when you are done, and probably do a few rinses along the way. So we set up our large pot of boiling water on a camping stove and we made a work table out of some plywood and sawhorses. And then, or course, you need a butchering block. We found a decent sized old stump and set it in the leaves, and then we went to wrangle chickens.

If you have read this blog for a while, you know our history of chicken wrangling, and today was no exception. We went down to the field, and promptly lost 4 out of the ark, only one of which was a rooster. The other rooster remained in the ark, and we caught him no problem, but the one loose in the field kept us running around for a good hour (all four of us) attempting to corner it. As I write this, there is still a hen loose.

And then came time to kill them. It was less dramatic than I had imagined. Yes, they flop around, the basis of the proverbial “chicken with it’s head cut off”, and yes, it smells weird, but altogether, not so difficult to be around. I would feel worse if I wasn’t going to use them as food, I think. But I will, and so they haven’t given their lives in vain. And they had pretty good lives. We fed them well and often, and kept them safe. And that is all you can hope for with this whole circle of life thing.

So once you chop off their head, it comes time for a plunge into the boiling water to loosen up the feathers. Tracy showed us how to use a propane torch to really loosen up the big quill feathers and singe off the little hairs and everything.

Then he showed us how to gut them. This is the tricky part that requires patience and a sharp knife. There are things inside of a chicken that you don’t want to cut into because they are nasty and can potentially ruin all the meat if they get broken (the gallbladder is one. The chicken version of a colon is another).

It took us longer than I had originally anticipated to go through everything. But in some ways, that is right. You can’t fully honor the animal unless you take the time to do it correctly.

Here are some pictures from the day (nothing too gross, don’t worry!):

Boiling Water Station for easier plucking

Boiling Water Station for easier plucking

The Block

The Block

Blanching

Blanching

Getting ready

Getting ready

De-feathering

De-feathering

Singeing and Pulling Quills

Singeing and Pulling Quills

All three

All three

Ben and the bird

Ben and the bird

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2 responses

17 10 2008
Shelley

Hey!

Sorry I missed the harvest party and trying your chickens.

I am enoying your blog though.

P&L, Shelley

4 02 2009
farmingfriends

Hi,
I prefer not to do the killing of the poultry but I don’t mind the plucking. You are right it is much easier to pluck them after the boiling water.
Kind regards
Sara from farmingfriends

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