This post contains graphic pictures of dead chickens. If pictures of such things weren’t on your agenda today, click away. There were animals killed in the creation of these photos. They died quickly, and they were delicious.
If you haven’t seen Part One, and want to see how we wrangle, kill and defeather our broilers, please read Chicken Butchering, Part One. For the evisceration and chilling steps, see Chicken Butchering, Part Two.
Once the birds are cold enough, they are drained in the bagging tent.
After they stop dripping, they’re bagged and labeled, and are taken to the fridge. This is the point at which customers can pick up their orders.
It’s also the point at which, after the last cleaned bird goes into the fridge, and the equipment is cleaned up, that we take a break for dinner. Did I mention that we generally get started around 6:00 AM? There’s usually food in the house for the occasional mid-morning dash, when one of us gets starved enough to scrub up enough to scarf something down… and then run back to rejoin the team. Dinner is generally a huge meal, typically after clean-up is done. We eat until we can’t move, and then we hang out and watch the kids play in the yard.
Normally we do anywhere from 40-80 broilers in one go. This last round was the marathon, though… we did 120 broilers, 20 or so turkeys, and a half dozen each of geese and ducks. The first bird died at 7:00 AM, and we didn’t get done with clean-up until well after dark.
We leave our broilers in the fridge for two or three days before freezing or processing them further. This allows the whole rigor mortis cycle to take place, and tenderizes the meat. If they’re cooked or frozen right away, they’ll be tough and stringy.
I part up most of mine for the freezer after they’ve finished their stint in the fridge. Everything gets labeled and vacuum-sealed. I save all the backs, necks, wing tips and feet for making broth, which I do over the next few days in a turkey roaster. Once all the pieces are sealed and frozen, and the broth’s all been through the roaster and the pressure canner, then we are set for chicken for the year!
I’ve been asked before if all this labor is worth it. It’s certainly a lot more work than going to Costco and buying bags of chicken breasts, or even whole broilers and parting them up myself. I got convicted about eating pastured poultry after reading Michael Pollan’s books, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food”, as well as Joel Salatin’s books, starting with “Holy Cows and Hog Heaven” and going through the list from there. What got me started on those was the book “Fast Food Nation” back in 2005, which detailed the horrors going on in meat packing plants for the fast food industry.
I’d been canning produce for my family for years, because I knew that doing it myself was creating a higher quality food. My initial reasons were for the superior taste; I’m a bit of a food snob. Once I started researching what was really going on in those FDA-approved factory farms, I started getting convicted about direct sourcing my food because of health and safety concerns as well.
Pastured chicken in the Seattle area sells for astronomical prices, so when we met up with the Stachofskys and they showed the slightest interest in starting a broiler operation, we dove in enthusiastically.
Our friends that are from Eastern Europe all say that our chicken tastes like what they used to eat at Grandma’s house – like “real chicken” rather than “that mushy stuff from the grocery store.” My own children ask, whenever I serve chicken for dinner, “was this one of ours?” When the answer is invariably, “Yes”, they respond, “Good!”
I’d say that it’s all worth it. I know what my meat ate. I know how it lived, how it died, and was part of the processing team that kept things clean and sanitary while it was being butchered. I prepared it for the freezer and prepared the meal myself. My children know what they are eating and are much more aware of where their food comes from than almost any other kids I know. They’re also in much better health overall than most kids.
I hope that this blog entry was helpful to you! I got up the nerve to try my hand at butchering after reading Herrick Kimball’s butchering posts on his blog, the “Deliberate Agrarian”. Maybe this will inspire someone else to take the plunge!