First, a shout out to T.M. blog follower, who sent me the most amazing email yesterday, thanking us for our work here on The Poor Farm and for sharing it on this blog. Contacts like that are rare in these times, we're all to busy to say Thanks most of the time, so when it happens it is deeply appreciated. Now, the topic of the day....
Today it is cold and windy, after a night in the low 20's. The ground, the water pans, the hoses not yet put away, are frozen hard. Leaves have crashed to the ground and the laundry on the line will be stiff before it is dry. Winter is gearing up.
Just five days ago though, the sun was shining warm at a balmy 71 degrees F and as we'd planned for some time, we got to work. It was the end of the line for our broiler chickens.
We purchased our Freedom Rangers late this year but timing still was perfect, as they grew well in our mild Sept. and Oct. weather on fresh grass daily, leftover raw milk and organic grain. They also dined on tasty garden surplus like too ripe watermelon and buggy tomatoes.
It took us about an hour to wash up equipment and set up our killing field, which folks, is how it happens. The animals must be killed before they can be grilled. So often we get these horrified looks when we tell people we butcher our own birds, as if they believe the dead meat in their McChicken sandwiches was never alive at all. Such a total disconnect the average American has from their food. It appears in a can, or a box, or on a restaurant plate, and you eat it. End of story.
But there is so much more, like the living conditions of the animals before death ,which to many, like these "cage free" birds below, must be a real blessing.
There is also the food they consume before becoming our entrees of the week, which make all the difference in the taste of the final product and the health of the consumer. The birds above receive grains laced with prophylactic antibiotics, weird by-products and due to their crowded conditions, and pure boredom. the droppings of their nearest feathered neighbor.
Our birds were actually "caged" but in a very large cage, which was moved everyday to fresh ground, fresh grass, fresh new bugs and worms. Our large box had open wire sides so fresh air was a constant, compared to the environmentally controlled atmospheres in chicken factories, allowing the fly and grasshopper buffet to come and go 24/7.
One at a time we brought them up to our designated outdoor kitchen, (above) tied them by the feet, hung them upside down, grabbed their head and a very sharp Mercer knife (Thanks again Chef Tab for tipping me off about these great knives) and quickly slit their throat. We then lowered their body into a PVC tube to control any flapping, which is so minimal, and within a couple seconds, their life's blood has drained away and they are quite dead.
From there a dip and a swish in very hot (145-150 F) water, and then feather removal by our automated feather plucker machine, an investment we made years ago.
Now, the head comes off as the bird is gutted and cut into handy cooking pieces: one breast, one back, two thighs, two legs. two wings.
Even though I know this formula well, I still mange to pack up a bird with either no wings or four wings. Don't ask.
After cut and rinsed, we rinse many times, pieces are patted dry, placed on a tray and partially frozen in our big freezer. Then they get sealed in our Food Saver. For years we just placed the meat in gallon freezer bags but the meat got freezer burn and many of our birds got made into soup or just chicken salad. Last year we bought the Food Saver and with the birds partially frozen, the air is vaccummed out easily making the final seal super tight.
Between set up, clean up, butchering and freezing, it took two of us 6 hours to do 22 birds. The Food Saver bags are too expensive and the chicks plus feed plus labor to feed and move them everyday, does not equal a cheap meal.
But it does produce an extremely tasty, healthy, self-satisfying one, well worth all our efforts.