Friday, February 17, 2006

Learning About Chickens

Tonight I was preparing a couple of our chickens to cook for chicken pot pie that will be served on Sunday at the Country Living Skills Workshop. We are asked to bring food items which are made with items grown in the area. The pot pie is my son's request, as he is proud that he raised the chickens. I had to ask our friend Paulette for some of her potatoes, onions and carrots from her garden, since we have run out of the ones we grew. Hopefully this spring we can plant enough to last us through next year's winter.

We have friends near Fargo who offered us a hen and a rooster to help us get started with chickens. When we went to Fargo last March for the ND homeschool convention they met up with us after the meetings to get us the chickens. My poor husband; I stayed one extra day to do some shopping, and he went home with 2 chickens, 2 boys and a dog in the station wagon! Our sons built a chicken tractor out of peeled logs, chicken wire and cattail leaves and stalks, so everything was ready. They decided to name our new chickens "Lewis and Cluck." It took a while, but Cluck started laying close to an egg per day, and we were thrilled.

In June we picked up 27 or so baby chicks down at the post office. They were so cute! Originally our son Jonathan was thinking about starting them out in our basement since it would be too cold outside at night, but friends gave us enough information to make us decide that we better think of another place to keep them. Instead, Jonathan set up shop in our semi trailer (which has become a catch all for everything), and placed the chicks in a metal watering trough that we borrowed from our friend Paulette. Jonathan was very diligent to make sure the temperature was just right for the chicks, and kept them watered and fed.

By the time I got out to see them I was amazed at the transformation -- they were ugly! Pin feathers all over. I'd never seen chickens grow up before, and they sure looked terrible. Soon it was time to transfer them to a larger chicken tractor, where they stayed until they moved to our freezer.

It wasn't hard for me not to develop an attachment to those meat chickens; they are the epitome of self-centeredness and gluttony. Whenever it was time to feed them they didn't care who they stepped on or what they stepped into, they just wanted to eat. We had one that had something wrong with it, and the others wouldn't leave it alone but kept pecking at him until he was too weak to survive. Thankfully, he was the only casualty until we did the rest in.

We have neighbors that live a mile north of us as the crow flies, and when they heard about our chicken escapades they offered to teach us the fine art of butchering chickens. On Labor Day we got to their farm about 7 a.m. (so we could work without the help of flies) and worked with chickens that were close to 10 pounds each! I guess they let this bunch grow heavier since they wanted to have these smoked. I found it a bit tough to hold one up and pluck feathers, as my arm got pretty sore. Our neighbors would hold the carcass on their knees and pluck, but I wasn't quite that willing to get full of "stuff." I think in 2 hours we did up about 14 of those huge chickens. They laughingly told us we could come over and help them do their turkeys as well -- they were huge! Brad was the one who hayed our fields for us, and as a thank you for sharing the bales with him he brought over a 28 pound turkey -- thankfully cleaned and frozen -- for us for Thanksgiving. They also gave us some photos they took of the whole process but I won't share them here, as my expressions show you exactly what I was thinking as I was gutting out a chicken!

Time was getting away from us, and we needed to do our own butchering. My husband Jim had to fly to Philadelphia for a HSLDA conference the end of September, and that was when our friend Steve (Mountain Fire Keeper) and also Paulette were able to help us out. I was thoroughly blessed, as Paulette is a vegetarian and she actually volunteered to help! I was very grateful to Steve, because he allowed Paulette and me the inside work of cleaning, cutting up, packaging and freezing the chickens, and left the "blood and guts" work to himself and our 2 oldest boys. We decided to save time and just pull off the skin with the feathers, as I don't usually cook chicken with the skin, anyway. Andrew would haul them from their work station outside and across the field to the kitchen. David decided it was better just to watch. It took most of the day, but we got the job done. I was sure glad that was done for the year, but what a blessing it has been to have our own home grown chickens.

In October we were asked to come and help our friends Paul and Donna who live 1-1/2 hours away from us with the butchering of their chickens. Jim was conveniently gone again, this time to a homeschool support group leaders' meeting about 3 hours from here. The boys and I got there in plenty of time before the festivities began. There were also 2 other families helping, so it was quite a crew. Paul set up various work stations: killing, defeathering, gutting, and then into the house for cleaning and packaging. Peter, Andrew and David had lots of fun catching chickens, and Jonathan pulled feathers from the carcass after they had been mostly defeathered by a chicken plucking machine. The poor guy that was working the machine was soaking wet, and plastered with wet feathers!

Not only did we butcher and process 80 + chickens, but after we left the rest of the crew butchered a bunch of ducks and bantams. It was a good learning experience for us, and how much more fun it was to do what could be a rather unpleasant job with 26 like-minded friends. It's really true that many hands make the work lighter. Hopefully we can all work together to make the work lighter in many ways.


Anonymous said...

Hi Lynn!

Very interesting story about your chicken raising and butchering experiences! You did really well for a 'greenhorn'!

Now we need to figure out how to grow more of our own chicken feed. You want to put your yard into a field of oats?

May the Lord bless you and your efforts!

HomesteadHerbs said...

You've actually done something I haven't done yet! Butcher and process chickens... I've read how to do it, just don't want to do it by myself! Rather have someone there to show me how to do it!

Lynn said...

Hi Steve, we certainly can plant oats here, and anything else we will need! How about hard white wheat??

Christine,I wouldn't recommend doing it without someone helping you at least the first time. When we first moved here I talked with a seasoned farm lady and homeschooling mom and she told me, "When the need arises, you can do whatever you set your mind to do," after I mentioned how grossed out I was at the thought of butchering and other necessary farm experiences. She was right. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Phlippians 4:13)

Emily said...

Making the chicken processing a community affair sounds like a great idea. Thankfully we have a friend who grew up in a farm family and will give us a hands-on lesson when the time comes. I'm not afraid of the work or the blood and guts but I can't stand being ignorant about it all!