Our update continues with chicken raising/killing/processing/selling. At the outset of the spring, we decided to raise just one batch of 50 chickens to see how it went, along with one batch of 30 turkeys. Accordingly, we built two chicken tractors to keep them secure in the pasture, and brooded up the 80 birds in the barn.
Then 200 more chickens fell in our collective lap, all ready to be processed within the same week. And so we did what any suddenly chicken overwhelmed farmers would do: assembled a team of farm veterans for some marathon processing events.
Luckily, chicken processing equipment was included at bargain pricing along with the chickens, so building it wasn't necessary.
The kill floor
The group processed three batches of approximately 70 chickens each during the week. The first round took the five of us six hours - about as much time with your hand inside a chicken as is enjoyable. After all that practice, the Big Man and I, just the two of us, were streamlined enough to do the last batch of 65 in a 3 hour Saturday session, with another 2 lazy hours the next day to weigh, label and bag.
As for the experience. As with any process that involves dispatching life, it is strenuous and messy in both the physical and spiritual sense. Chickens, however, are comparatively easy. They are not cute. They are not anything close to intelligent. They are unpleasant to work with and enjoy pecking at the hands that feed them.
The process itself, the way we set it up, was quick and simple (once we cleared the learning curve). The birds die in kill cones, throats slit, upside-down so they bleed out as completely as possible. Then they are dunked in scalding water to loosen the feathers. I had been warned by both my grandmothers that chicken plucking is possibly the worst, stinkiest pasttime in the world, but I did not find it to be the case. Perhaps because we weren't doing it by hand -- we had a plucker that, with the flip of a switch and a few quick whirls, did it for us.
Then extrananeous bits are chopped off, an incision is made, and the innards become outards. The evisceration is where a backlog can build up. If everything goes well it takes between 2 and 3 minutes, but sometimes the esophogas breaks and the crop must be fished out from the top end, which slows things up considerably. Then a quick spray of water into the cavity and a rinse outside, and into the icewater bath. It is work, certainly, but it is the kind of work that can accompany good conversation. And a chicken goes from chicken to meat on ice in under ten minutes.