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In February of 2009, my husband and I bought our first home located on a few acres in Johnson, Vermont. We live here with our dog, Ollie, two cats: Elvis and Atticus, six Nigerian Dwarf goats: May, Chutney, Poppy, Juniper, Willow, and Jokers Wild, and about fifteen laying hens. And to top it all off we welcomed our daughter, Isabel, into the world on January 11th, 2011.

We're slowly updating our 1850's farmhouse while steadily working towards a healthy, meaningful, self-sufficient life together.

This blog details our endeavors along with our successes and failures- all in good fun. Thanks for stopping by, hope to see you again soon!

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A New and Interesting Experience

Lovingly Posted by Melissa Saturday, October 24, 2009

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.


When the time came for cleaning the chickens we had quite the group- Kyle, Sean, and Viola standing by donning disposable gloves and my brother and I standing by trying to help with the instructions.  No one had any experience in this, all we had was Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens that was lent to me by a co-worker just a couple days before.  But as I am better with visuals I sought after some kind of video.  To my rescue I found the 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.


Oh, and I forgot to mention, that little home-made chicken-plucker worked like a charm!  After scalding the birds in hot water, Sean put his contraption to the feathers and they literally flew off.  It wasn't perfect, mind you, there were still feathers here and there that had to be pulled out by hand, but it was alot quicker, cleaner, and easier than doing it all manually.



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!

6 comments

  1. CONEFLOWER Says:
  2. I understand completely about doing in your roasting chickens. Tough thing to go through.

    I raised ducks once for food. They were a cross between white domestic and mallards so they were black and white and a bit smaller than the whites. I lived on 9 acres then and had a barn and a pond for the ducks. They would make the trip from the barn to the pond and back again every day. Finally I took them to an Amish family to dispatch and clean for me. They weren't pets though. One of them as a baby had gotten ripped open by a snapping turtle. I took it to my vet and he said,'What do you want me to do?' I said,"heal it". So he sewed it up and I had to squirt "purple sturr" into the wound a couple times a day until it was healed. I kept it in a dog crate and I had to move the crate everyday so he would be on clean grass. He lived and grew up just fine to be indistinguishable from the other ducks. When we got them back from being butchered, there was his big scar.

    I always had a big garden and this year after a gap of 26 years, I had one again. It was wonderful and there really is no comparison in quality and taste of food.

     
  3. Melissa Says:
  4. Wow Beth. That is an amazing story. Thank you so much for sharing that. It must have been difficult eating that duck knowing that it was the one you had so diligently looked after. Yet he was so lucky to have lived so long thanks to you.

    :) By the way I love the new picture of Rory, he's such a cutie.

     
  5. oxrayfarm Says:
  6. Hi I am new to your blog and I must say NICE JOB!! The home grown chickens look yummy! We are in the works for doing that ourselves. Can you tell me what the home made chicken plucker is? That is such a wonderful idea, I am sure it saved you TONS of time.

    Thank you for blogging it's good to find others who are on this crazy sustainable journey too! :o)

     
  7. Melissa Says:
  8. Hi Oxray! Welcome and thanks for stopping by!! :)

    Yes, the chicken plucker was just a 6" long piece of PVC pipe with a cap on one end that was epoxied onto an old drill bit or driver head. Then there were half a dozen or so 2" long pieces of those black rubber bungee cords that were punched through the PVC pipe at different levels. It was attached to a hand-held power drill. I'll try to remember to take a closer picture of it tonight and post it so you can see it up close, it was ALOT faster than plucking by hand.

    Thanks again for stopping by! Hope to see you again!
    M

     
  9. missamy Says:
  10. THANK YOU for sharing this! We're looking into raising chickens this year - but fear the slaughter part... You really made it sound do-able. Could I ask - is it realistic to raise chicks in the spring, harvest eggs in the summer/fall, and slaughter around November?

     
  11. Melissa Says:
  12. Hi Missamy!
    This is a really tight timeline. Chickens don't normally start laying until they are around 5 months old. If you got your chickens next month you would only have a few months of eggs- which might not bother you at all. Another option would be to buy chickens that are already laying eggs- depending on where you live this could be as easy as finding some (potentially free) on Craigslist. Some hatcheries sell older chickens as well which could be an option. You'll want to be sure you get a 'dual purpose' breed so it will be worth the effort.
    I definitely recommend raising chickens. They are super low-maintenance and are great at taking care of kitchen scraps.
    Good luck! Let me know if you have any other questions!
    Thanks for stopping by! Hopefully we'll see you again sometime soon.
    -M