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The Living Without Series

This is a series of posts that I wrote back in 2006 on living with less stuff. Check them out: liv011Living #2liv031liv04

Coal Creek Farm on Facebook

The Chicken Doctor

April

The Architect

Clay

Butchering Chickens Part I

It’s time to talk about the butchering of our meat birds.  This post does contain some blood and guts, but it’s not too bad.  However, if you’re squeamish you should probably just skip this one.

I have to explain that here at Coal Creek Farm, there are no persons that grew up on a farm.  Clay grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis and I grew up on four acres in western Kansas that was just outside of town, the only animal we had was a Standard Poodle named Thunder.

I have always loved country life, from the moment Clay and I started talking about where we wanted to live our conversations always drifted to a farm lifestyle.  So, here we are.  Everything we do on Coal Creek Farm is intentional, well, except the mistakes and screw ups.  What I’m trying to say is we try to take on projects that will enhance the life on the farm and we figure since we live out here we need to take advantage of the possibilities that owning a farm offers.

Raising meat birds was a new gig.  We bought 20 birds with me saying, “Just twenty?!”   I was set on at least 50.  There are times when Clay shows greater restraint with our projects and thank God he does or I would cause us so much work that life would become unbearable.

Two of the chicks died within the first few days we had them.  I had read about these Cornish Cross birds and was concerned that they would have all sorts of problems and we would end up with zero birds to butcher.  Because they are bred (emphasis on bred, not genetically altered) to grow very rapidly they are prone to heart problems and leg problems.  A lot of this can be avoided by keeping the birds cool, which is why we didn’t  raise our meat birds in the heat of the summer.  We also chose to restrict feeding to 12 hours a day.  This may slow the growth rate, but it also keeps your birds from gorging themselves 24 hours a day and then basically exploding.

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We kept our birds in our basement until they got too big then we moved them into the barn in the pen you see in the photo until they got too big then we moved them into the inside of our chicken coop and we kicked our six layers and one rooster out into the barn.  When the temperature started to get warmer, I opened the coop and gave them the outside run to use.

I had written BUTCHER CHICKENS on our calendar when the birds would be ten weeks old.  That day came and went.  When we finally had time to butcher them they were twelve weeks old.  The roosters were just starting to try to crow.  I like the suggestion that some of you gave me about butchering them at eight weeks.  At least then I would still have a two week window and no roosters trying to crow.

We moved the big pen outside to house the birds on butchering morning.  We hadn’t fed them so some of them started eating all the grass and weeds right away.  Those birds love to eat.

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Our turkeys got out when we were moving the birds and circled the pen wondering what was going on with their fat feathered friends.  When they tired of circling the pen they ate 16 of my tomato plants.  Turkeys!

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First lets talk about pencil lead marks.  How many of you have one somewhere on your body?  Raise your hands.  Mine is right there on my palm under my pinky.  Where’s yours?

Moving on.

It is vital, and I am talking crucial to the point of something really critical and very important and also absolutely necessary that you have a freaking sharp knife.  Not just a sharp knife, I mean one that if you tap it on your finger, it will skin your entire hand.  None of my kitchen knives are that sharp.  I wish they were, but no.  I used Clay’s hunting knife, it is wonderful.  And really sharp, I have the cuts to prove it.

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I don’t have any pictures of us chopping off the heads.  We originally thought we would have several people over to help us and make a fun day of it, but the response I got was either complete silence or HAYELL NO!  We were under the gun to get it done so we just pressed on with our two oldest helping us….sorta.  Once we were done setting up, my daughter made herself scarce.  After he had chopped off eight heads my son decided he’d seen enough.  My 7yo wouldn’t open his eyes when he stuck his head out the door to ask us something and didn’t come out to investigate until we were almost finished.  My baby yelled at us, “Why you killing my babies?!  I didun wan you kill my baby chickens!”  I had no idea he thought they were his or that he considered them babies.  sigh

We have a lot of work to do to make them full fledged country kids.  I thought we did a really good job not getting emotionally attached to these birds.  When you get into it knowing you are raising them to kill and eat you detach the ‘pet’ mentality.  I love animals, but I did not love these birds, obviously my 4yo did and he was prepared to raise them and send them to college.

However, he had no problem eating them….cannibal.

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Once we had chopped off the heads we held them tightly and lowered them to the ground until they were done flopping and most of the blood had drained out.  Yes, a chicken will run around with it’s head cut off.  these birds are so heavy that it would damage their meat if we allowed them to do that.  Several of them did some flopping after we had hung them up and it caused their wing to break, we tried to avoid that, but we’re just not experienced enough yet.

After they had stopped flipping and flapping, which is about a minute or two, we wrapped wire around there feet and hung them from our clothes line to drain out the remaining blood.

We decided we were going to skin our chickens instead of scalding  and plucking.  We rarely eat the skin and I mean only if we buy a bucket of fried chicken.

Unfortunately, the first one I tried to skin, I did upside down and it took me FOREVER!

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I mean FOREVER!

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Let’s take in this picture.

Four dead, bloody chickens hanging from the clothes line.  Tire ramps in the yard.  A trash can for guts.  A dog scavenging whatever chicken parts he can get in his mouth.  A big blood stain in the grass.  A child running to hide so she doesn’t have to participate in the madness.  A pile of debris waiting to be burned in the background, on the top of the pile is the sickly chicken we killed first.

What am I missing?

Oh, right.  What you can’t see is that the Sheriff is parked at the end of our road watching all of this….for hours he watched.  I wanted to take him a cup of coffee, but I was afraid to approach him with all the blood and guts splattered on me.

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I’d like to submit this to the Chicken Yearbook committee with this caption:

Ellen and Preacher playing soccer, April blowing her nose wondering if she will ever get that darn bird skinned while the Sheriff looks on.

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After I finished the first bird, wisdom finally sank in, I realized I was doing it backwards.  The remaining birds we took to the table and skinned from the neck down.  It is very simple, the skin and feathers pull off easily.  The hardest parts to clean are the wings.  Doing it this way you avoid having to cut out the oil gland, it comes off with the skin.

We kept a reference book close at hand to make sure we were cleaning the birds correctly.  After the first few we were good to go.

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Chicken parts.

In the white bowl I saved the necks, livers, hearts and cleaned gizzards.  The rest we burned, after we all played with the feet.  You can’t help but play with the feet.

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Look, my kids are doing something to help!  We filled two coolers with ice water and stored all the clean meat in them until we were done.

Um, maybe next year we’ll have the sense to raise the table for the giant woman that had to stand there and clean birds all day.

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At one point in the morning it was just Clay and I working on the birds by ourselves, he said, “I can’t think of anything I’d rather do on a beautiful Saturday morning than be outside with my lovely bride butchering some chickens.”  And he was serious.

Then we remembered the Sheriff was watching and our romantic moment turned into “WE DIDN’T DO IT!  WE’RE INNOCENT!  I SWEAR!  THESE BIRDS WERE ALREADY DEAD WHEN WE GOT HERE!”

…..to be continued, because why would I want to stop talking about guts and blood and chickens?

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