Chicken chokin’

23 Aug

[This story is also available in audio form!  Click here for an audio postcard originally aired on the “In Our Backyard” news program on WORT 89.9 fm in Madison]

These days more an more people are increasingly conscious about where food comes from – how it’s raised, what it’s fed, how it’s treated, what it’s treated with.  The surest way to have all those answers is, of course, to raise your own food.  Sure gardens are easy – but what about meat?  Animals take space . . . and  work . . . and killing!

This summer I was lucky enough to share the work of meat production with a chicken co-op.  A friend had a bit of land, a husband willing to clean out a barn stall, and an inclination to raise enough chickens to feed all her family and friends.  The catch – if you’re gonna be in the co-op, you’re gonna have to kill some birds!  Join me for a Saturday on the farm – of choking day for 109 chickens and 12 turkeys.

OK, it turns out you don’t really choke chickens!  But here’s how it went:

7am:  Second cup of coffee in hand, we stroll down to the barn where the chickens cluck and scratch the ground, blissfully unaware that this will be their last forage in the farmyard.

The unsuspecting chickens live out their last days in the luxurious yard.

8am:    Like wagons circling up, pick-up truck after pick-up truck pull into the driveway.  The family and friends involved in this little cooperative poultry adventure assemble to help out with the dirty work.

We marvel at the work that has gone into planning this day, even before a single bird is caught.  We debate whether Kathy or Kara has made a more over-the-top chicken gutting manual.  Kathy wins on a technicality – plastic page covers – brilliant!

That's one good lookin' bird!

830am:  The first bird is caught.

A bird in the hand - worth about 108 in the barn.

Head first into the cones – nice and secure, these headless chickens won’t be running around.

The killing cones - before.

A little over-zealous with the knife – a couple chickens loose their heads before the guys slide into an efficient rhythm of securing chickens and slitting throats.  The process of holding the chickens in the cones and the quick killing is both quick and humane.

The killing process.

(There was a long day of efficiency!)

The cones - after

Out of the cones and into the plucker!  Just imagine the messy ordeal of plucking 100+ chickens!  Now imagine you don’t have to pluck 100+ chickens.  That’s how amazing the chicken plucker is!  It’s rigged up with a large plastic tub, a small engine, and pure genius.  It looks like a masochistic washing machine.

The plucker - before.

A naked bird in seconds!

In the plucker - round it goes - that's one plucked chicken!

(The plucker has a long day too!)

plucker

845am:  And now we get intimate – we start the process of gutting 100+ chickens.  The first bird is a very step-wise learning process.  The squeamish look on from a distance – there aren’t quite enough cups of coffee to prepare some people for the insides of their dinner.

giggles  “is this the crop?”  giggles

giggles   “oh no, what if I puncture something”  giggles

first bird

10am:  We’re old pro’s now!  We work assembly line style.  Remove heads and feet – pass the bird – take out the neck – pass the bird – pull out the innards – pass the bird – pass the guts – organ meat rescued from intestines – bird washed, weighed, and packed.  Each proudly completing their task with deft ease.   Even the squeamish are falling in step, bustling birds from one end to another of our outdoor processing table.

the gutting line

11am:  We’re in the groove, we’re making the best of our dirty job.

giggles  “eeew that one made a noise!”  giggles

giggles  “oh my god, look at the testes in this one!”  “well, what d’ya’ know, I’ve been calling testes kidneys for years”  giggles

And this is the way we gut the bird, gut the bird, gut the bird . . .

Cavity opened - guts loosened - handful of guts.

12pm:  The day starts getting long.  Wrists are getting tired of reaching inside birds.  The occasional knife if dropped or grabbed backwards.  (I can only imagine the real danger involved in the large-scale fast-paced meat processes factories!)  Kathy  sweetly brings lunch for the crew – crock pots of brats and rice – after this morning’s activities, no one is quite ready for food from anything quite so bucket-like.

Not wasting a thing – Faye, the nutritionist, dissects the organ meat from the gut piles.  She diagnoses everything from fatty liver to congestive heart failure as she goes!

Heart and livers and gizzards - oh my!

1pm:  We’re getting a little loopy.  But the end is too near to quit now.  Finally the plucker is shut off, all the birds are dispatched, we can start to see the bottom of the ice tubs where the chickens await our processing.  Toward the end each bird is more exciting.  We wonder how much longer – how fast can we gut one of these things anyway – faster than you – nuh-uh, faster than you – Chicken Races!

Reining victorious, Erica sows off a chicken.

In the end it was a long day – it was a dirty day – but it was a day full of family and friends and silly jokes about chicken parts on a sunny afternoon.  I don’t know if any of us would commit to doing it again on quite so large a scale.  We all came away with chickens for the freezer and we knew exactly how well they were cared for and how humanely they were treated.  And a lot of people had the opportunity to think a lot harder about what goes in to putting meat on the table.

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One Response to “Chicken chokin’”

  1. Kara August 24, 2011 at 3:04 pm #

    What is the title of the piece on WORT so I can search for it?

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