December 30, 2009

Our Urban Farm: "Harvested" Eighteen Organic Free Range Chickens

I've complained about the Cornish Cross X breed in other posts, but getting them at the cute age of one week made me like them more.  At first they lived in a box, until we moved them into a 1' x 5' aquarium for more space; and once they acquired feathers, they were relocated outdoors into an 8' x 12' raccoon-proofed coop.  A shop-light with a clamp was aimed downwards like a spot-light to warm them, but far enough away to not burn them.  Even when they were fully-feathered, the heat from the light dried the rain drenched birds, who didn't have the sense to go inside their dry shelter.

Our flock had access to exit a side-door chute to range in the South Forty Lot; but they seemed to prefer eating and nestling their heavy bodies in a sunny spot, amidst the oak leaves and pine needle layers I kept fresh, as a means of keeping the birds' feathers white.

In the photo on the left, notice the one bird cognizant of me.  The others are "hell-bent" on eating.

As with all Cornish Cross X hens, their time to live was limited due to their exorbitant growth rate; and to not kill them would be cruel, as they would eventually fall forward from the weight of their breast.  The pink line of their skin in the photo above is still visible since their bodies grew faster than their feathers.  In fact, if I hadn't taken away their food at night, I'm told they would've died from a heart attack since their organs can't support their mega growth rate.

It became evident by their size that we needed to slaughter the birds the week before Christmas.  I bought a humongous pot at my favorite Mexican-American grocery store that was big enough to dunk three, five pound birds at one time (or to cook "dos cientos tamales" according to the staff, who spoke mostly Spanish, and didn't know how many gallons of water the pots held, so they used that description as a frame of reference). 

In anticipation of processing the birds, I knew I had become too attached to this time, I asked David if he minded switching our processing positions.  "I killed most of the last batch of hens, and this time I'd rather gut the birds.  Do you mind if I do that?" I asked him.  He shrugged.  He didn't care.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       In preparation of the harvest of:  ten meat birds and eight Rhode Island Reds egg layers, (I already warned you that I would have to get rid of them.), our boys uncovered and carried the Featherman to our processing area.

David made sure the knives were sharpened while I found the scale and a Pentel marker to label the weight and date of each bird on zip lock freezer bags.

In the photo above, the water in the pot was heated to 149 degrees and placed on the stand, with a built-in gas burner, that was on sale for $30, and part of a deep-frying turkey-kit which we'll never use for that purpose.  (What does one do with all that left-over oil?)  A gas line extended from the stand to a propane tank.

In the back of the lot, the birds were gently shoved through the chute, to peck around until their demise.  They hadn't been fed for three days in order to clean out their crops, and yet notice how big they look in the background of the photo above?

In the middle-ground of the image above, that strange contraption attached to the redwood tree was designed by David, and is used whenever we harvest chickens (it's not big enough for turkeys). 

To give you an idea of how it all happened, our youngest son carried a chicken up to his Dad, who placed it upside-down and gently pulled down it's neck and cut the carotid artery in the bird's neck and waited for the blood to drain out into a bucket.  After three birds were killed and drained, Young O dunked all of them at once in the hot water and then placed them in the spinner to rid their feathers. 

Then with the help of David and Chester, we all gutted, cleaned, weighed and bagged the birds.  I cleaned, weighed, dated and bagged their individual parts separately including:  feet, livers, hearts, necks, and gizzards which I boil later to make organic chicken broth.

Including preparation and clean up time, it took us about four hours to "harvest" eighteen chickens.  The boys were incredibly helpful this time which made the unwelcome task end sooner.  We haven't included Cecil in the process yet and don't plan to until she volunteers.

I don't know what effect raising chickens for meat and eggs will have on our kids in the future.  To be honest, Chet the Jet, our boy, age thirteen, thinks it's a total waste of time, and yet he too wanted to learn how to gut them, and he managed to do that task on eight birds.

I think that David and I decided to raise chickens for meat and eggs because it gets our family outdoors using our land together.  It puts us in touch with nature and some facts of life that many of us meat eaters realize exists, but rarely wish to acknowledge.  Our deep freezer is now stocked to the brim with organic free range chicken.


Stefaneener said...

Sounds great. I think it's easier to do it that way, all at once, rather than the way my granny did it, which was to go out and get a bird when you wanted it.

I don't know what I'd do if we had the land to raise meat birds. . . maybe. Maybe not. Enjoy the results of your hard work.

patricia said...

It's your vegetarian friend here, dwelling on the chickie photos and skimming over the others!

The fact that you have kids who know how to gut a chicken? As urban dwellers? That is just something.

Happy birthday, my friend.

Kristin said...

Good Morning Gals,


I can see that selecting one bird would be a heck of a lot easier; I guess the difference is in the breed. As I stated before, once the Cornish Cross X reach maturity, they have to be eaten or they suffer. Their legs can't support their weight. I suppose your Grandma ate egg laying poultry and they don't get as big, just tough. I bet she knew how to cook them to the perfect tenderness though. And yes, we will enjoy eating them. Thanks for your feedback.

Tricia: I know I wrote a few graffic statements and I'm sorry for that. I appreciate that you even bother to read such a post given that your a vegetarian. I too think it's pretty cool that he knows how to dress a bird.

Happy New Year Amigas!

Susan said...

This was so interesting to read. The bowl of feet is startling. They are so huge. That is a lot of work--18 birds. I, too, am impressed that Chet gutted eight. I think that it is great that it is an unwelcome task and you do it anyway and the kids (except Cecilia) participate.

Sarah { bee house hives } said...

Lucky you with a full freezer, it will be nice for you to cook and know that you raised them yourself. We had pork tonight from our pigs that we raised, it is a good feeling to know where the meat came from.

Kristin said...

Hi Susan,

Yeah, I guess it's good that we do it, even though we don't enjoy doing it. It's a job well done when it's over and we feel proud--like you must after your girls made all those gingerbread masterpieces.

Good to hear from you.

Hi Sara,

So you read this even though you don't own/like chickens? (I read that in your recent post.) I appreciate that you took the time. What is it about them that bothers you...let me guess...I think I know...

I am so curious about growing a pig--but I would like a butcher to drive to our house and load up the pig and take it away to butcher it and bring bag all the cuts. Then, we would need a second freezer for all the pork--and how could we be assured we had the actual meat from the pig we raised? Do you need an electric fence around them? How much space do they need and do they really stink? Oh...I'm quite interested and YUM!