Harvesting chicken is both an exciting and emotional time. It is exciting because when you harvest anything, whether it be vegetables, fruit, or an animal there is great joy in knowing you helped it grow and that it will feed your family. The emotional part is physically killing it. It’s not like hunting where you have never seen this animal before. In fact, you have raised it since it was born. Feeding it, tending to its needs. It’s difficult.
However, we chose this lifestyle. We couldn’t go on knowing that the chicken we were buying at the grocery store was raised with hundreds of others in a “factory” like state. We don’t want to eat chicken that has been hormone induced. We don’t want to eat chicken that isn’t out in nature…foraging…getting vitamin D…happy.
Sure, we could buy from local farmers where we know their practices… but there is still some disconnect. The overarching appreciation of the animal itself is lessened when you buy from someone else. When you raise your own chickens and eat them there is so much GRATITUDE and APPRECIATION for LIFE…The Circle…The Energy. Now that we are doing this I am starting to get it, whereas before I mindlessly ate and didn’t really think about the process or the steps on just how that chicken got to my plate.
So here we are.
We decided to harvest 3 roosters last weekend. We were so emotionally drained that we only did 2. The purpose for processing them was not only for their meat but also because we had too many roosters and they were terrorizing our hens (basically “humping” them all day long, one after the other). It’s totally normal but they say you should only have 1 rooster per 8 hens so the hens don’t get “overworked”…so to speak. And trust me…these little guys were workin’ those hens. So now that those two are gone there is a healthier balance.
I would like to take you through a quick…I emphasize QUICK… process of us harvesting our chickens. I think it’s healthy for people to understand how this is done. Because let’s face it…it’s nothing like the stuff you see on T.V. where the head is cut off and the body and running around. Although I know some people do it that way…or they will grab the chicken by the neck and swing it around until the neck snaps. But not us. We try to kill them in a clean, respectful way.
First is the set-up. We make sure everything is clean, sanitized, ready to go.
We use very sharp knives, old vinegar jugs as a “killing cones,” a pot of 160 degree water, a torch and a bucket of ice water.
We decided to go with the “killing cone” method because when you turn chickens upside down it actually calms them…which makes for a clean and easy cut of the throat. Quick honesty: The throat cutting takes practice. This was Eric’s 2nd time and my 1st and we are not perfect at it. The chicken struggled for a bit and it was my fault. I should have made a deeper cut. I was a little distraught after that, so I cried…took a breather… but I kept working to get the job done.
With that said, once the blood is drained from the chicken you take the body out of the cone by the feet and dunk it into hot water. This will make the plucking process easy and the feathers come right out.
Once de-feathered you cut off the head and feet, make a butterfly cut right above the vent and begin scooping out the insides. This part is difficult for me. Some things come out easily (like the testicles) and others you have to get a firm hold on and yank hard. You don’t want to puncture anything to contaminate the meat so you have to be very careful. After this is all done you burn off any remaining fine feathers that are attached to the outside of the chicken and then put the body in a bucket of ice water.
We keep ours in the refrigerator for 2 days, vacuum pack them, and then stick them in the freezer until we are ready to eat. The heads and feet are put into the crockpot to make stock. The liver, heart, testicles, and kidneys are eaten within a day or two.
And there you have it.
One day we might raise meat chickens and do a huge harvest that will feed us for a year (about one chicken a week). But for now we are just butchering a couple of roosters here and there.
So our final outcome is this healthy, hormone free, beautiful bird that we enjoyed with our family. And let me tell you folks…it tastes good!