July 28, 2010

Cornish Cross X Chicks to Drumsticks

We've got it down--raising and harvesting Cornish Cross X chickens that is. Purchased ten awhile back. Remember how grateful I was?

When they are a week old, they are adorable, but truthfully, a lot of work.

Watching a chick dip its beak in the water and tilt its head skyward to swallow is precious.

Refreshing their food, liquid and newspaper is practically an hourly chore. Cecil did these tasks quite often without prompting. By the way, animal husbandry, is a big part of our science learning-at-home.

This outdoor tank is perfect for rearing chicks which are warmed by a spot-light and temperature-regulated with shafts. When I met David, the tank contained various reptiles in a rock and sand habitat he'd designed.

While their housing is being cleaned, the birds are placed into a Playmate container.

Eventually the birds fill it. My guess is that this is about how much room they would have if they were being raised for meat conventionally.

Once they have feathers, they are moved outdoors and released into an enclosure, separate but in the same coop as our mature egg laying hens. We keep a spot-light on in a corner day and night for them to cuddle on foggy days.

Due to their breeding, their main interest is eating. We feed them organic "meat" bird food which has a higher concentration of protein, than pellets that laying birds eat.  I drive to Modesto, CA to purchase their organic food directly from the mill.
When the birds were older and larger than those in the photo above, David made the mistake of leaving their hatch open one morning, and when I checked on them, they were hovering next to a wall while our Aricaunas pecked mercilessly at their rear-ends to the point of drawing blood.  They were being eaten alive!

I debated about whether to dab my propolis tincture upon their wounds, a natural antibiotic-like solution I made awhile back, but as you can see from the photo above, the birds healed fine on their own and grew to be large and healthy chickens without use of antibiotics or hormones.

Now that I'm used to this breed I won't complain about them. Their robust build and stout legs are perfect for their function, meat. Eventually it became evident they had to be butchered because they were resting more than walking. Over time, their legs fail to support their heavy breast.

There is someone in our family who thinks that raising meat birds is a complete waste of time and "harvesting" them isn't something that any of us particularly enjoy.  "I don't want to do it." our son Chet exclaimed.  He's grew three inches in the time it took for our hens to become five pounds.

On the day of the slaughter, Young O picks the "perfect" time to study for his college Chemistry class. For all I know, behind his erudite facial expression, he's writing a Facebook update: "Ha-ha--my parents think I'm studying, but I'm watching an instant Netflix movie while they butcher our chickens!" Later, his comments at dinner: "It was a lot different eating the chicken when I wasn't part of the butchering. I was more removed. It felt like we got them from the store and they tasted differently" he said.

Behind the lush vegetation, the Cornish Cross X chickens are strung upside down on the fence.

I warned Cecil that after the birds are killed, we hang them upside-down in order for the blood to drain out of them and she said, "I know, I know. I saw that already when I came outside by mistake the last time." she said. Oops--I thought we had shielded her from our activity.

Next step: the chickens' feathers are removed.


Our wonder-machine, the Featherman chicken-plucker on the right in the photo above, makes our task of removing feathers a breeze. It was worth the investment. Three five pound birds are completely feather-free in thirty seconds. We wouldn't be raising meat birds if we didn't have this machine because plucking chickens is a total drag.

Cecil has the option to help and she does willingly. She fills the scalding tub, the most important component of the process, with water. The water temperature must be no more than 150 degrees, as the skin will tear if the water is too hot, and no less than 145 degrees, or the feathers won't come off.

Next, with a bird's legs in each hand, I dunk them into the hot water and count to five; lift them out of the water and count to three; and dunk again, repeating five to seven times, or until the feathers on their wings and butt pull free easily. Holding the birds, dripping hot, up in the air with outstretched arms, is strenuous.

Prepping for the harvest involves cleaning the outdoor concrete counter. The last processing step involves gutting, cleaning, weighing and bagging the chickens and their parts like their neck, heart, liver, gizzard and legs. I boil all of that, except the liver, for stock, and treat our St. Bernard with the remnants.

Our meat birds had land to roam and peck, unlike their factory counterparts.

It took two months to get from chick-to-drumstick and though it may not seem so by my flippant title, I am grateful.

Raising meat birds may be considered weird and atrocious activity to some of my readers, but this is what we choose to do to feed ourselves. It reminds us that our demise will happen eventually; and it makes us appreciate our life and the food we eat together, as a family.

Since we harvest every six months and we are middle-aged and therefore forgetful, before we butcher, we watch the You Tube videos below to review the killing process and the timing of the dunking. This time Cecil watched the videos with us and we think this prepared her quite nicely for the task. Watch and see the Featherman at work.



And part two...



1 comment:

Stefaneener said...

thanks for the detailed post. I'm edging closer and closer to rearing meat birds, but we don't have as large an area for them as you do. Still, two months is nothin' in terms of time. I'd have to hand-pluck or drive to your house, though!

Cecil has grown into a real help -- a treat to have around. I get the things with your middle boy -- growing an adult apparently takes a lot of energy (and sleep!).