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.

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