Monday, January 4, 2010

Harvesting?! Pishaw!

We dispatched 40-some chickens on Sunday....

I tried this with my friend Lisa last year. We did it the old fashioned way: woman, clever, and chicken. Armed only with enough knowledge to be dangerous, rudimentary tools, a few internet images, and purpose, what we did is surely a felony. Oh it was humorous, for us. We wore black garbage bags over our clothes, had mentholatum stuffed in our nostrils to reduce the aroma (nice word) of wet feathers. Our neighbor stopped and asked if we were performing animal sacrifice. God bless that first chicken, the one that I practiced on.

So, this year we are processing in bulk and improving the learning curve - we hired a tutor. With the help of our dear poultry farmin' friend, Daniel Dover, hard messy tasks are a breeze. It's all about the right tools and experience. He has both. Daniel farms and lives with character and conscience. I love talking to him. What's more is that he is generous with his tools, his time, and his knowledge. He wants everyone to be able to raise chickens too.

The politically correct term for our actions today is harvesting (hahahahah.) This is the word that agriculture teachers are using in public school ag classrooms across the country. In the year 2010 we don't say butch_ _ anymore. That sounds messy, barbaric, and carnivorous. Actually, that sounds like us! There is no euphemism for what we did on Sunday. In fact, if you soften the truth about eating meat it creates several problems. First off, it's lying. Dressing animals for consumption is not the harvesting of a fruit or a vegetable, a gentle plucking from the plant. It is the taking of a life. If you properly acknowledge that truth it creates awe, gratitude, and frugality. When the chickens are gone we must do this again. Because of that we will use them more wisely than any bird ever purchased from the store. This it the eating and consumer style of generations past, and I hope the future.

I think the most significant thing that I learned with this particular brood is about cost. I didn't plan our butchering date very well, it came too close to Christmas, and we went over by two or three weeks. That was disastrous for our feed cost. My cost per bird with purchase price ($1/chick,) feed (? ,) and processing ($2.5/bird) came to somewhere around $14! I didn't calculate feed cost carefully but it was up there. It is difficult to put a dollar value on the time that went into keeping them safely housed, full with fresh water (they are two-fisted drinkers,) and preventing their untimely death. They are not bright. Daniel sells his birds for $3.5-$4/lb. My cost would have been the same had I bought them from him. I will get better at this.

Compare that to the cost of that pretty little package at the store. One must ask, "How can the poultry industry sell them so dad gum cheap?" They do it through governmental slight-of-hand. The HUGE poultry manufacturers get subsidies. They report losses to the government. These losses are not necessarily fabricated. They are probably very real. It costs more to raise poultry than the public is willing to pay. That unrealistic price expectation has been generated by the same subsidies of which I speak. It is estimated that poultry businesses have a twenty percent loss. That loss is then compensated by our tax dollars. So don't be fooled. You are paying the same price that I did in raising my own birds. You just aren't paying it all in one place. You pay a portion at the store (so that you won't freak out at the cost) and the balance in your taxes (where you can't feel it. ) There are so many middle-men in getting your chicken from farm to store it should be MUCH more costly than my bird.

Did you pay attention to where that chicken money just went? Contemplate the value of government subsidies someday when you have time. Do the research. Why does the government even get involved with the cost of my chicken (or any food?) Do I really believe that they have my personal food interest at heart? Why have they made it so difficult for small farms and families to grow their own food? Why do they want livestock micro-chipped? Subsidy equals control. I am no conspiracy theorist. I actually believe we have a good government model. But what in the world history should cause me to trust government? Where is the benevolent leader seeking his position truly for the good of the people? Why do you need to pay attention to this paltry poultry diatribe? Because you think, therefore you eat. Food sovereignty is important. Ultimately you can be controlled by your hunger, controlled by the one(s) with the food that is. Subsidized food is not really your food. It would be best for you and me, in the political sense, for our food to really be our food. Then we get to pursue life, liberty, happiness, and chicken as free people. Read about the collectivization of farms among communist nations sometime. First they got the food, then they had the people.

Enough preaching, you get my point. *Cleansing breath*

O.K., so there is a process, a system of efficiency in all things. Chickens from farm to table are no exception.

Step 1 - Catch said bird. Not hard, they are fat, slow, and their ankles look as if they have congestive heart failure. On my slowest day I can do this.

Step 2 - Kill bird. Into the "killing cone" they go, head first, wings compressed, eyes...wary.

Step 3 - Bleed chicken. Daniel was kind enough to show me exactly where to cut in order to speed exsanguination. In the frigid temperatures the steam was rising from the blood, pretty neat. Scripture says, "The life is in the blood." This is never better illustrated than when you see it leaving the body and the color in living tissues become - not so rosy.

step 4 - Scald chicken. This loosens the feathers prior to plucking. It is a very important step. No amount of tooth floss can get those suckers out of your teeth. Daniel said to dunk and swirl the birds fifteen times. Perfect. The feathers came off but not the skin. That's a good thing.

Step 5 - Pluck chicken. This is the best part. Daniel has built an ingenious little invention called the Whiz Bang Chicken Plucker. It looks like the inside of a washing machine with black rubber fingers. It's done before you can say "Naked birds."

Step 6 - Eviscerate chicken. This is the worst part for some folks, especially those who have been buying chicken in neat little packages. No one in our party was effected the least. Daniel had a great plan for this too. It really wasn't unpleasant. On the contrary, it was very interesting. I learned that chickens keep their testicles in the most unusual place. I can't tell you that. You will have to ask your mom. The most entertaining part is when air goes into the headless chicken through the trachea and makes chicken sounds while you are cleaning out the bird. Air escaping any part of the body unexpectedly is always funny.
*Note my nine year old daughter (dressed as a homeless person) doing this independently. I was immensely proud of her. She completed four birds alone. Yes, we give our children real knives. She has a BB gun too, and she helps the animals during their births. She is prepared to blaze a trail into unknown land if she takes a notion. *

Step 7 - Chill chicken. Into the icy water you go. Obviously you need to stop any bacteria in its tracks. Ice should pretty well do it.

Step 8 - Package chicken. Daniel gave us some awesome shrink wrap bags. The final product looks very professional. You simply bag and seal the chicken. After a quick dip into 190 degree water the bag molds to the chicken. The birds all weighed between 4 and 5 1/2 lbs! That's what an extra two or three weeks of grow time will get ya'.

Step 9 - Age chicken in fridge for 24 hours. That is self explanatory.

Step 10 - Freeze chicken. That's easy too, but where is the beef going to go!?

Step 11 - Eat chicken... but only if you are really hungry, and don't waste a bite. This was hard work. This picture is of our very first roasted chicken mmmm. I know, she looks like she is at the gynecologist. This bird was fresh and had not been frozen into a more "lady like" position.

We genuinely had fun today. Visiting with us were our long time friends Mary, Billy, and Josiah. They brought us three new friends: David, Amy, and Hillary. These folks were all wonderful workers and it was really fun listening to their stories of travel and life. David and Amy recently bought a bus to live and travel in. Hillary and her husband Rene' live in a refurbished ambulance that runs on vegetable oil. Everyone had their more favorite tasks. David enjoyed the killing part and the scalding. I personally like the killing too. I want to be sure they go quick and easy like. Amy, Mary, Hannah-Jo, and Lisa seemed to be the best eviscerators. For Lisa I think this comes from too many forensics t.v. shows. Hillary was super good at removing feet and heads. Plucking wasn't really a skill, but everyone enjoyed looking into the plucker and watching it happen. Thanks guys for all of your help. Please come again someday.

Can enough be said about Daniel Dover? (double click the picture for the true effect) He is a hugger. I knew that. Everyone else found out for themselves. He is passionate about what he is doing, and he is an excellent teacher. We all learned how to process chickens today. We really learned how, like, good and learned how. I feel like I could do it again completely alone. Daniel does have one little Achilles heel. He is a bit squeamish. I find that amusing.

I had such a good time with these folks. It was truly one of our best days on the farm. The kind of day that you didn't plan and it just came out golden. The chicken coop and yard are very quiet now, and very clean, thanks to George. All the beautiful manure that they left behind and the spoiled hay of their winter bedding has been moved to the garden. Here's to spring!

Thanks Daniel. Thanks chickens. Thanks chicken helpers.


  1. Great writeup and pictures! My professor friend who sells me eggs won't raise chickens for slaughter and sale because no one would buy them, due to the cost vs the gov't-subsidized ones, as you write about.

  2. Hi Darryl,

    Your professor friend thinks as I once did. However, there is a unique niche market of localvores, foodies, chefs, and individuals of conscience out there who are creating quite an income for our friend Daniel. His business has expanded considerably. He loves his work and has found a way to make it profitable for himself. If you are in the Athens area you can get some chicken from him. Thanks for commenting, it makes this blogspace more fun for all of us.

  3. Thanks for including me in this fun day. I made some new friends, helped some old friends, froze my tail feathers off and became an efficient eviscerator. That's what I call a productive day.


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