So last weekend was not only our big APPLE weekend, it was also when we had scheduled to butcher our fifteen broilers that we'd been raising. This was more of my husband's project as I wasn't sure how ready I was to really actually kill anything. So, for fear of becoming attached to them as I have with my laying hens (I use that term lightly as they haven't actually started laying yet), Kyle was in charge of the feeding and watering of these chicks during their time with us.
They arrived and were little balls of fluff, cute and peeping, but after a month they were already the size of our 5-month old hens in the side yard. We knew this type of bird was bred to grow fast and grow fast they certainly did. Of course, they required an immense amount of food and water to support their amazing metabolism so I'm not sure that we had saved any money in raising our own chicken for food. The point, though, was not to raise our own broilers to save money, it was to be responsible consumers. This was our own little boycott on big commercial poultry organizations that claim to sell free-range birds but in reality keep them crammed in pens above eachother with just a small door allowing a few of them at a time into a slightly larger yard. No, I did not feel good supporting that.
So the time had come. Thanks to the hard work we had done with the apples the day before I was able to sleep through the night. Otherwise I probably would have tossed and turned thinking about the chickens and their fate. Sunday we woke up to a cool and cloudy morning and got to work.
Kyle created a workbench from some old wooden boards we salvaged from the part of our barn we had to tear down which I wrapped in some plastic wrap to try to keep things a little more sanitary. He cut a hole into one of our 5-gallon buckets we had kicking around as sort of a make-shift "killing cone" and attached it to the tree next to the bench. Much to my relief Kyle's brother, Sean, arrived who was going to be helping us with our task. He is a hunter so we decided his experience and input would be invaluable. He showed up with his very own home-made, McGyver-estque chicken plucker. We all looked at it, basically a hand-held drill with a bit made out of a piece of PVC pipe with some pieces of rubber bungee cords attached to it, with a little bit of humor and went on with the preparations.
After some hot coffee (or tea in my case) Kyle and I began bringing the birds outside to keep them in our chicken run that we created for our chicks back in July. Perhaps it sounds a little silly but I said a quiet 'thank you' to all them as they went outside. It was an extremely poignant feeling as I looked at our birds for the last time as they laid calmly on the grass. We had raised these birds from two-day old chicks, tending to their every need to be sure they were healthy and comfortable. Now they would nuture us in return.
The boys grabbed the first bird and I stood by. I was not ready to take a hand in the killing, but I wanted to be respectful to the lives that were being taken, so I stood there as a witness. There were no axes, just a sharp knife and a quick hand. I watched as the silent bird slowly drifted off into a hazy sleep with a few tears in my eyes. This was going to be tough. Just in time, my brother and sister-in-law arrived to help as this was going to be a long process. My sister-in-law, Viola, is almost always up for a new experience and I think she was, frankly, a little excited to be involved in the cleaning that would come later. She's a tough gal, that one, and I love her for it.
Featherman website which is a company who not only makes some great poulty-processing equipment (too rich for my blood, we were doing this old-school) they also provide links to a few videos on Youtube that are amazingly informative on how to process your birds. So I brought the laptop out to show to the crew and they got to work.
At this point my dear mother arrived to help with more of the apples (she wanted NOTHING to do with the chicken activities of the day) so after watching and trying to give pointers (having dissected animals in college during my brief stint as an animal science major) I adjourned to the comforts of the house to help peel and and slice some fruit.
It was a busy day. I gave the birds a final wash in the sink, packed them in zip-lock freezer bags and tucked them away into our chest freezer. While I had planned to roast the first-to-go to feed the group in thanks for their help, no one was really up for eating any chicken that day. While the experience was relatively positive, let me tell you: these birds don't exactly smell like a bunch of flowers. When I saw my sister-in-law last night at a little birthday dinner for yours-truly she mentioned that she still wasn't really ready to eat chicken, the smell had been that bad.
The "thank-you" chicken we sent home with Sean was the first to be consumed. His wife, Andrea, cooked it rotisserie-style and they said it was delicious. Zach and Viola's chicken is still in our freezer until they have room to house it themselves; we have more than enough room. Mom didn't want one. We have yet to cook one of ours but with this cold and rainy weather we're looking at for the next few days I might just have to pull one out of the freezer to try it out.
We're already making plans to raise our own turkey next year- probably a heritage breed after reading a blog on Antiquity Oaks- and we're going to raise another group of dual-purpose birds for slaughter next fall. I would not recommend the Cornish x Rock broilers, they grow too fast for their own good. I'm thinking of getting a straight-run of Sussex to add to the Dominiques, Black Australorps, and Easter-eggers that are in residence currently. With this plan we should be able to dispatch the roosters (to keep peace with the neighbors) and whatever older birds that are no longer laying well in the years to come.
This was a difficult experience for me being such an animal-lover. But I feel good knowing that we gave these birds the best life we could. We could have brought the birds to a professional to be butchered, there is one just in the next town over, but we are thriving for self-sufficiency; the more we can do ourselves the better.
How you do you feel about raising animals to feed your family? Have you had any experiences with raising your own food? If not, do you think you ever could? Let me know what your thoughts are on this, its nice to hear back from you. Thanks for stopping in- take care!