We are wealthy beyond description. In spite of my poor health, a bad economy and extreme isolation, we have God’s presence wherever we go. It’s a comforting and reassuring feeling.
Living as simply as we can, in a small rock house provided by our employer, I have found untold riches in the things we do. First of all, the boss and his fanily have been more than generous and allow us the privilege to live as we like, painting or doing whatever, on the little house and yard, as well as keeping my dogs, milk cow and other critters in the pastures around us. They have even made donations from time to time.
What was originally dirt and thistle is slowly becoming a back yard full of flowers and a vegetable patch. One day it will be my sanctuary where I can sit in the shade and let my eyes lazily follow the flight of the many butterflies who grace the landscape. Even now, I revel in the glimpses of flowers in rioting color, purple coneflowers, white and yellow daisies, pink zinnias, red hollyhocks, blue flax and others. It’s pleasing both to the eye and to the soul. I love to look out and see the climbing roses, 7 and 8 foot tall sunflowers and hollyhocks against the backdrop of the old rock wall, with 4 O’clocks and lavender resting at their feet. The emerald green of the backyard lawn keeps things cool and keeps the dust down while providing a beautiful background for the old water troughs full of marigolds, foxglove, petunias and trailing sweet potato vines. The vegetable patch has had a rough year this year, between the odd weather, the heavy winds and my back injury which allowed the weeds to get a foothold and provide fierce competition with my corn, potatoes, broccoli and other plants, but they will do the best they can. The strawberries were struggling this year as well, as my water system for them is less than adequate and they are too crowded and full of weeds. I’ll have to dig them all up and replant them later this year. Nevertheless, they were sweet and delicious. The raspberries however, have been practically giddy. I have picked a couple gallons of them and they just keep coming. It looks like we will get our first blackberries this year too. I can’t wait.
This was meatie week. We had to process all of our CornishX chickens as they are nigh onto 9 weeks old and that is about the age their hearts begin to fail them. We usually like to process at 8 weeks, but I wasn’t able to do it because of some bad flares last week. We’ve got a system going. We get up early and do about a dozen before it gets hot, then Randyman can go to work and I can clean up and rest. We withhold dinner from them the night before we process, so their crops will be empty, as its kinda nasty otherwise.They have all day to forage so it’s not hard on them at all. They just go in the shed with their water for the night. We grab two at a time and quietly carry them to the traffic cones which hang upside down from a piece of fence by our BBQ. We slide the chickens in, and they get quiet and woozy from being upside down. They are then dispatched by cutting the main artery on the neck. Having been in several accidents myself as well as having graced a few surgery tables, I know that the initial cut may be uncomfortable, but unconsciousness comes rapidly. Their death is quick, sure and pretty trauma free. It’s not a bad way for them to go. I’m happy knowing my chickens lived a happy and carefree life with only a brief flash of discomfort in their passing as opposed to commercial chickens who live a miserable life from beginning to end. Ours are appreciated and I even say a little prayer over each one before we dispatch them. Some people might find that silly, but not me. If He knows every sparrow that falls, I think He cares about chickens too.
The process is pretty clean cut. Dispatch, let them bleed out, then dunk them in the turkey fryer which is full of water at about 150 degrees. When the wing tip feathers come out easily, they are ready to throw into the drum plucker. We turn that on, use a hose to spray the feathers off the sides as they are removed, and after about 45 seconds they are clean as a whistle.
The set up.
Next, onto the table where I do the eviscerating as Randyman’s hands are too big and clumsy. I only told him they are too big though. Once the insides are all cleaned out, the heads, hearts and livers are thrown in a bucket for the dogs as we don’t care for them ourselves, the cat and her kittens clean up the gizzards and some of the other entrails. The clean bird is put in a cooler full of ice water to quickly chill. We do only about a dozen a day as Randyman still has to go to work. We got up early in the morning so we’d be done before then and before it was hot. Once they are chilled, they come in the house. I rinse them again with cold water, set them two at a time on a ‘beer butt chicken stand’ to drain, while I heat more clean water to 180.
I bag the birds in a shrink wrap bag, tie the ends off, make a little hole in the breast then dunk it in the hot water. Lots of bubbles come up, the bag shrinks and tightens and after just a few seconds, I pull it up out of the water and shazaam!! A beautiful, professional looking bird. I weigh them then use a label with the weight and date to cover the little hole over the breast and they go in the fridge for 48 hours. After that, they go in the freezer. Our biggest bird this year was 6.7 pounds and the smallest was 5.15. Not bad.
I always part out a few birds instead of freezing them whole. This makes it a lot easier to make meals with as we don’t always roast them. Wings are separated, thighs and legs go in a bag for frying and breasts are individually wrapped and frozen. There are still a few of the Red Rangers or Freedom Rangers to process, but they are not yet ready. They will be parted out for frying and a couple of them will be canned. There will also be a few culls from the laying hens that will be canned as well. These are great for using in casseroles, quesadillas, BBQ sandwiches and other things where shredded chicken is good.
The left over carcasses and feet will be used for stock. The feet will be cleaned by scalding and removing the ‘socks’ and nails. The best stock in the world is made with feet because of all the good chondroitin and glucosamine in it. Once chilled, it becomes a beautiful golden gelatin. This gets canned and put in the pantry. Not much is wasted. Blood goes in the compost pile and feathers go to the dump. I haven’t yet found a use for wet chicken feathers and they take too long to break down in the compost. That is all that is wasted.
The 23 birds we have done so far have produced over 120 lb of meat for us. In addition to that, nothing tastes better than pastured poultry...except maybe pastured lamb...or raw milk and butter from grass fed cows...well...its good stuff, to say the least. If you ever get a chance, try it!