January 6, 2012 § 3 Comments
Oh yes, there is another slaughter story. If you are sensitive, sharing this with youngsters, or just downright don’t like dead birds (like me) I advise a certain amount of caution in proceeding. In the following pictures, it’s pretty clear what’s going on. That is, the killing and processing of eleven roosters, with hopes that they are educational and not tasteless.
Back in the spring, we made a minimum order of chicks (25) with the intention of eventually only keeping 12 for laying. After all, how many eggs do you really need? The roosters we planned to use for roasters. They grew, roamed, and fed on all of the delicious grass and bugs and food all summer, and in November, they grew too big for their britches and it was time to take them down to Lyme CT to a friend’s farm for processing. Interestingly, this was just a few days after the pigs went in, and days after that, Andy shot a deer and we processed that as well. We came to call it ‘Kill Week’ and really felt like we were depositing a lot in the emotional bank account. It was a bountiful but sacrificial time.
Several days before, we separated the roosters from the hens and popped them in the stationary chicken coop. I was really not looking forward to it. I like chicken meat, but for all my other experiences, had never killed an animal on purpose before and felt a bit sick about it. This though, is exactly what getting food should be like; working for it, both emotionally and physically. It’s not pleasant, but it is satisfying. Despite all my convictions, my stomach fluttered as Tuesday approached.
On the morning we were set to do it, into a wooden box they went (actually a converted dog house) and we strapped them into the back of the truck for the hour’s drive to Lyme. At White Gate Farm, David and Pauline had everything set up for us. They grow organic chickens and usually process up to 200 at a time. There were the cones, buckets, hose, scalder, plucker, and scalpels, and even two or three of their farm staff to help us. We unloaded the box, and watched as David demonstrated the technique, generally considered to be the most humane and sanitary method. A rooster is taken from the box and placed upside down in the cone. His head comes through the hole in the bottom and his feet restrained by the board lid on top. With a sharp knife, you hold the bird’s head and stab though the top of the beak into the brain and scramble it, rendering him unfeeling. Then you cut the large veins on either side of the neck (NOT the windpipe) and allow him to bleed out into a bucket.
You always hear about a chicken running around after the head’s been cut off, but it’s hard to imagine what that really looks like. Seeing the first rooster die, and the thrashing that took place as he did, it was easier to understand. Jarred but surprisingly calm, I grabbed the next rooster and worked the knife. You can’t be a farmer if you can’t kill a chicken. The blood was very hot.
We worked our way through the rest, moving groups on to the next steps as they were prepared. After killing, the birds are rinsed of blood, and then four at a time go in the scalder. They soak in the hot water for two minutes, then move on to the plucker. A cylindrical spinning bucket with rubber fingers and a rinsing spray, the plucker is an amazing but grisly machine. The chickens emerged naked, yellow feet and beaks bright. Then the heads and legs were removed, and they were brought inside for gutting. After a final rinse, they went into the cooler packed with ice and that, as they say, was that. Ugh.
Three are ready to be scalded, which loosens the feathers for easier plucking.
Whizz, bang! Plucking the chickens.
Starting to look like dinner.