Like we did for the first time back on April 1 (not a funny fool’s prank for the roosters) we again processed some chickens yesterday, Independence Day.
– For the uninitiated “processing” means killing, dressing and causing them to go from live birds to food.
I’d always been a meat eater, and always plan to be, but had always felt a detachment from the original animal I was eating. A detachment that meat producers intentionally put it place I assume. I don’t think guilt is the right word, but there was always the sense that something died so I could eat it and did I deserve to eat it with total detachment from where it came from. While I’ve fished and done a little bird hunting, I started to feel that I should somehow honor that sacrifice by having a hand in it as well as knowing that the sacrifice was as humane as possible as well as the life leading up to it was good and as natural as is possible to do. We’ve tried to do that here. We’ve done our best to let our chickens be chickens.
Except for a select few life on a farm is often brief and does not end well for the male chicken. With no eggs produced, its tendency for very loud noises, randiness, and aggression with other roosters, most cockerels (males under one year of age, cocks after their first birthday) are not useful in the long term on the farm. As a result if they are not disposed of immediately, as in large scale egg-only facilities, they are eaten.
Large commercial chicken operations use Cornish Crosses or Cornish-Rocks which are specially bred (they can’t reproduce by themselves) for fast growth and the huge breast that we’ve been told we’re supposed to love boneless and skinless. They are the standard white chicken many think of when thinking of meat birds. Cornish Crosses fed a high protein diet can be ready to process in 5-7 weeks, usually the low end of that. Egg to 6-8 pound bird in 36 DAYS! At 36 days we were just taking ours off chick starter feed.
Needless to day, that’s not how we work things here on the WOF.
We wanted heritage breed chickens and did a lot of research into what breeds of chickens to use and decided on Dorkings and Brahmas. We selected these for both practical and impractical reasons. First off Brahmas are huge, 10-12 lbs huge. They are also hardy, docile, easy to raise and the hens are good egg producers. They originated in India, so the NC Summer is not going to be a problem for them. Dorkings are English chickens, but possibly of Roman stock, and were once prized for their meat and Winter egg laying ability. Also both breeds are lovely birds.
So we got 4 Dorking chicks (1 hen, 3 roosters) 4 light Brahmas (3 hens, 1 rooster) and due to some mix ups and deaths in a shared order 2 Silverlaced Wyandotte roosters. Originally everyone went into the chicken tractor but eventually the hens were all removed and added to the general, laying/breeding population. Our boys grew and grew, without the names or playtime the laying population receives, and after 134 days were ready to go to the processing tent. While this was probably a week or two late, still a far cry fromt he 36 days of a cornish cross. So we set up and sanitized the counter, sharpened the knives, put fire under the scalding tank and went about our business.
Back in April things didn’t get off to a smooth start with escapes and a general first-time jitters and lack of skill and process, but this time it went very well. We knew what our jobs were and we knew what to expect. I still get the feeling, right before it happens, that we are about to kill a living thing and eat it, but in a way I’m glad I still get it. And though its an up-close-and-personal operation, once we get started it becomes more mechanical. After an initial scare, the rooster does calm down and then it just happens. Once the deed is done it goes pretty easily. I do the scalding and plucking, Lisa does the dressing and then it goes in the ice to await vacuum sealing and freezing. Yesterday 4 went to the freezer 1 went straight to the smoker and 3 hours later we had some of the best bbq chicken I’ve ever had. 4 dressed out at btween 3-3.5lbs, one (a Wyandotte) was only about 2.5. Don’t know when the next batch will be raised, but its probably a regular happening on the farm now.
PS: You may have just done the math and thought “4 in the freezer and 1 to the smoker, I thought there were 6.” Prior to getting the boys out of the tractor, for their long walk home, Lisa gave the Presidential pardon to the Brahma rooster. I guess the docile, friendly traits they’re known for really worked out for him in a big way. So please welcome “Lucky” to the farm as a new permanent resident (assuming Col Woodford is OK with it.)