A noisy rooster has finally settled down and stopped screaming... which he's been doing since before 5 am and I'm enjoying the thought of only one more morning to contend with him. His fertilized eggs are in the incubator... his work is done. Tomorrow we will have Slaughterfest VI... our sixth round of slaughtering chickens for meat. Today is preparation day. For people not understanding how we could "kill our pets"... that's just it. They're not pets. They're tools. They've lived a GOOD life and enjoyed freedoms most chickens don't even know to dream about. And soon they will be GOOD food, completely unmatched in quality by even the finest store-bought birds. And here's what I do to prepare:
1. Clean out the fridge and make as much room as possible. Also alert nearby family and friends to find possible overflow refrigerator space if needed.
2. Clean out and organize the freezer.
3. Count and label enough 2 gallon ziplock bags, one for each bird.
4. Clear and clean counters, tables, sink and anything else that could get in the way of piles of raw poultry. Have a container of disinfectant wipes on hand.
5. Move furniture to allow for easy access from outside to the clean, clear counters.
6. Clean coolers, buy ice, and get the garden clompers sharpened.
7. Remove the chickens' feeder in early evening.
Tomorrow morning we will:
1. Heat a big pot of boiling water. The scald temp should be 150-160 degrees. For us, this means we fill a cooler with hot tap water, add a pot of boiling water, and use a candy thermometer to monitor the temp.
2. Hook up the automatic plucker (a borrowed Featherman) to the hose and run electric to it.
3. Set up "tables" for gutting... this is usually an upside down Rubbermaid tote with a plastic garbage bag taped to it.
4. Gather random equipment: tweezers, kitchen knife, small garden clippers, and small containers for hearts and livers.
1. Dump the boiling water into cooler #1 and get temperature to 150-160.
2. Give chickens a little grain (this is so that the crop is detectable but not so full as to have if burst during gutting).
3. Quickly grab a chicken. We've found the easiest way to end the life is for one person to hold the bird down and stretch out the neck while the other uses the large garden clompers to sever the head. Then the bird is still held still during the twitching so the meat isn't bruised. When twitching slows, we repeat the process with bird #2 and then #3.
4. Dunk birds one at a time into the scald tank for about 20 seconds, swishing the bird around so the water gets under all the feathers.
5. Throw all 3 birds into the plucker and let it do its job.
6. Get another pot of water starting to boil.
7. Pull out a bird from the plucker and go over it with tweezers to pluck any stray feathers and hairs then hand it over to be gutted.
8. Feet are cut off with the garden clippers. A slice is made under the breastbone and the innards removed. Our deal is that the homesteading Mama changes poopy diapers and the homesteading Papa eviscerates chickens so I'm not so familiar with this part. I know there are several more sites depicting the details of the gutting process so I'll just say that here, they are gutted.
9. Hose them down and clean them up. Put them in cooler #2 filled with ice water.
10. Repeat steps 1-9 until all birds are processed.
11. Bring birds in 1 or 2 at a time. Do a final good cleaning and tweezing in the clean and sanitized kitchen sink. Drop the bird into a ziplock bag and stash in the fridge for 24-48 hours before transferring to the freezer. If you put them in the freezer too soon, you'll have a tough, dry bird.
12. Clean and sanitize the kitchen and the floor (bird juice will no doubt drip as you bring them in).
13. Cook up the livers with a good amount of onions and butter for a yummy dinner. Save the hearts (cut off the aorta) for cooking with eggs in the morning... tastes like sausage!)
14. While I'm cleaning and cooking, my husband is cleaning up outside. The feathers go into the compost pile (GREAT nutrient value!), the innards go into a garbage bag. Our trash day is Friday and we typically slaughter on Saturday so we dump the waste in a nearby dumpster instead of holding it for a week. If trash pick up is within 3 days, it would probably be safe to put it in your own trash can provided its not too close to the house. It will stink, but maggots wouldn't be hatching yet. This round we're saving the heads and feet for a friend who uses them in crab traps. Trading chicken heads for fresh crab sounds good to me!
15. When cooking grass-fed chicken (or grass-fed anything), cook it low and slow for optimum flavor and texture. I cook with the breast down so the best part cooks in its own juice. You can turn it right at the end to crisp up the skin if you want a pretty presentation.
Chicken processing complete for another 6 months or so. We tend to raise meat birds twice a year for about 13 weeks. This is our first time raising "Dixie Rainbows" by S and G Poultry (see the links on the sidebar) and are VERY impressed. They're not quite as big as Cornish Rocks, but its also late July and we haven't lost a single bird. Cornish Rocks start dropping like flies when the heat hits 85. They're fat, lazy, don't feather out well because they're always laying down and just flat don't look like real chickens. These Dixie Rainbows are gorgeous, healthy, hearty looking birds. We will definitely be continuing with them! In fact we're saving out 2 hens and a rooster for breeding with from this batch.