Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The chicken project - Part 2

These were our chickens yesterday morning.  Or 4 of them anyway.

I feel the need to preface this post with this fact:  These were meat chickens.  From the day they were born they were destined for someone's plate.  Through selective breeding, mankind has totally screwed up an animal that our good Lord created, in order to make the animals you see above for human consumption.  No hormones, no antibiotics, and still they were freaks of nature.   

First, they grew at an abnormally fast rate.  They were approximately 8 weeks old, and were the size of a small turkey.   If left to their own devices they would have died pretty soon because their bodies could no longer handle the stress of being so large.  In fact, we lost two the week before we butchered due to this very fact. They just couldn't handle being alive.  I had not allowed myself to get attached to these chickens, and really it would have been impossible because they were so gross, but I did start to pity them in the end.  

When I first put them in the coop, it took them a full day to figure out how to get out of it.  They had a hard time walking, due to their size, and would eat and drink sprawled out because they had a hard time holding up their weight. Either that or they were just lazy.  By the time we butchered, all but 2 of them had finally figured out how to get back in the coop at night, but it was pitiful to watch them try to do it. 

Now, when I was doing all my coop design research, I discovered that typically, the coops for this type of chicken keep them from moving around at all.  They are literally raised right on top of each other, never moving, just eating and drinking and pooping all over each other all day long.  So at the very least, I can feel better about the humane life that my chickens were allowed to live.  And I know that they did eat *some* natural foods, because when we cut open the gizzard, we could tell what they had been eating.  So, better than a grocery store chicken, yes.  But they don't exactly meet my definition of "natural."  

Now, having said all that, we fully intend to eat every single one of them.  

My first attempt at butchering actually went a lot more smoothly than anticipated.  Mom and I had read a bunch of blogs, and watched some You Tube videos, so we felt pretty good about what not to do, and which parts of the insides we didn't want to puncture and get all over the meat.  But we were still nervous, just because neither one of us had ever done anything like this before.

This was our "station."  We had the turkey fryer for heating up the water, and a sort of workbench made out of some sawhorses, a piece of plywood, and a pallet.  It was like 41 degrees when we started, and I think it probably made it up to a whopping 48 or so by the time we finished.  And the wind was killing us, so we moved our station up to right in front of the shed so that we could have some protection from the wind, and to keep the fryer lit.  In retrospect, I'm glad it was cold.  We were miserable, but didn't feel like we had to rush in order to prevent meat from spoiling, it kept the smell down, and we only saw one fly the whole entire day.

We started at around 10:15 or so in the morning, and decided that we would kill and pluck the 12 birds first, and then we stored them in coolers of cold water while we took a lunch break and put the babies down for a nap.

We tried to use a homemade killing cone (i.e. milk jug), and it was apparent on chicken #1 that this method was not going to work.  The cone was defective.  Don't anyone waste your time on this.  Either buy a real one, or just cut off their heads.  We tried to make the gaps in the pallet work as our killing cone, but by the 6th chicken, I just decided I'd had enough of that (because I was holding the thing by the feet the whole time while mom did the "killing" and I was getting blood all over me), and so we started cutting their heads off, and just throwing them out in the grass. Here's a picture mom took with her phone of me cutting off the first chicken's head.  I'm not sure if I had that look on my face on chickens 2-12.

Plucking went pretty quickly, although  Mom and I both agreed, that the absolute worst part of the whole butchering process is sticking a dead, smelly chicken in the hot water (which, i.m.o the perfect temperature is around 160 degrees or so.  I had read between 140 and 180, but at 140 the feathers didn't come out as easily and at 180 the skin started to cook if you swished them too long).  If I do a whole bunch of chickens at one time again, I may invest in the automatic plucker.  We finished this part at 1 pm, and it took the rest of the day to get the wet chicken smell out of my nostrils.  I still think I get a whiff of it every now and then.  And I'm not really a K-State fan, it just happens to be a very warm and black sweatshirt that I didn't care if I got blood all over.

After lunch, reinforcements arrived, and someone who had actually butchered a chicken before showed up to help with the gutting.  While he and I took all the insides out, which was a whole lot easier than I thought it would be, the kids ran the gutted and rinsed chickens in to mom, who finished plucking and cleaning them up in the house.  We had seen a blog where the lady cuts the chicken open at the bottom, scoops everything out, and cuts the whole tail end off so you don't have mess with the oil gland, and we followed that method. It was very easy, and quick actually.

We also kept the hearts, gizzards, and livers.  I have to add in here, that I have been eating chicken hearts and gizzards for what seems like my entire life.  My dad and I used to fight over who got them.  Never in my life have I seen these organs as large as what we pulled out of these birds.

Here is mom cleaning up the chickens.  She really is fantastic (after all of this she babysat the kids, so Russ and I could go out, and then sterilized my kitchen and steam cleaned the floor! She's my hero).

She scrubbed all the chicken feet so we could use them in stock, and she said this was the second worse part.  I didn't get to experience that, but as creepy as they look, she was probably right, and I'm just gonna take her word for it.

We bagged them all with these vacuum bags that the chickens were almost too big to fit in, and then put 8 of them in my freezer, she took 2 home with her, I paid Scotty in poultry for his help, and then we ate one for dinner tonight.  It tasted like chicken.

However, when Jin Li first came home from school, he thought we were eating this: 

Which is really stock from the rest of the carcass, and that long thing floating on top is a chicken foot.  I probably would have let him believe that for a few minutes just for fun if he didn't look like he was about to get sick.  And they even eat chicken feet in China. 

Overall, I am very thankful for the experience and I still intend to eat any roosters (except for one of course) that we get from our dual purpose breed when we get to that point, but I don't think I'll do the broilers again.  I'll do a real breed of chicken. One that can actually survive past 8 or 10 weeks of life and be a productive member of it's chicken society for a few months.  One that knows how to fly and stand up while eating and do other chicken things.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The chicken project - Part 1

So, I was waiting until d-day to write this, but then I realized.  There's just way too much.

First there was the coop,  I am not sure how long it actually took, as I sort of lost track of time and went into a chicken-coop-coma of sorts for several weeks. I had chicken on the brain if you will.  Let's just say, I'm glad it's done.

Russ brought home pallets 3 days in a row, and Colin and I got them mostly disassembled. The floor was leveled and mostly finished, when we got the stomach bug.  The first time.  Then it started raining, and then we went to Florida.  Twice.  Then it rained some more.  Then my dad came down and finished the floor and got the two side walls stabilized.  Then it rained some more.  At this point, I had taken no pictures because I was honestly just too frustrated.  I had chickens on the front porch growing and stinking. Then we got the stomach bug a second time.  But 3 sunny afternoons, and one pretty much entire day later, we had this structure, except with a roof:

I must say, I'm a little proud of it.  It's made entirely out of pallets.  The only thing we had to purchase to get it to this point was 10 cinder blocks ($15), to level it (it's 5X10), some hardware (probably around $50 worth for the floors and roof - I overbought by a couple pieces), and a couple boxes of nails or screws ($17).  The roof cost $32, which you will see in a later picture, and there is chicken wire over the windows, from scraps.  So basically my enormous coop cost only $114.  

The run on the other hand, was a little more expensive.   I actually purchased wood for this.  It's together, but not square at all.  It's only chickens, right?  I'll probably go back in at some point to reinforce some of the longer sections.  But nothing is sagging anyway, so I'm satisfied.  This part cost about $215.  That was lumber and 150 feet of chicken wire.  Here is the mostly finished coop/run:

It still needs to be painted and prettied up a little bit.  I also haven't put in nest boxes or roosts yet, because the chickens you see pictured are all meat birds and don't need nest boxes and aren't supposed to roost, so I wasn't in any particular hurry to get those in.  Not nearly as much of a hurry as I was in to get them off of my front porch.  So.  Meat birds.  They will all be gone Monday, Lord willing.

These are the nastiest, smelliest, deformedest chickens I have ever seen.  Not that I've been around all that many chickens, but these seem kind of on the dumb side.  They have grown at an abnormally fast rate and have defecated at an equally abnormally fast rate.  Hence the stench and why I couldn't wait to get them off the front porch.  Until about 3 days ago, I had to put most of them in the coop at night, because they wouldn't (couldn't?) get in there by themselves.  They finally figured it out.  Well, except for 2 of them.

It's been a learning experience thus far to say the least.  We started with 15.  Lost one to an unfortunate water-bottle accident where it fell on him/her and I'm assuming broke it's neck due to the state at which we found it.  Then one got sick, and I had to wring it's neck, which is a whole 'nother story.  Then this morning we found another one dead in the coop. So we're down to 12.  However many are still alive Monday will promptly be butchered and put in the freezer.  Then we can clean it out, put in the nest boxes, roosts, paint it, etc.  and put the sweet baby girls in there that are not nasty.

We have 7 little pullets right now that are actually cute, and not nasty in the least. A much as I am revolted by the dozen freakish chickens in my coop right now that I cannot wait to process, I am equally enamored with the 7 baby chickens in my living room. They have almost reached pet status in my mind.  They have names.

I thinks that's all for now.