HARVESTING OUR FIRST
Published February 28, 2021
WARNING: SOME OF THE PHOTOS POSTED IN THIS ARTICLE ARE GRAPHIC, VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED!
Farm to table chicken... what a huge goal of ours finally checked off the list and under the homesteading belt. I’ve said it so many times over the last 6 years, that eventually I’d love to be able to farm my own milk & meat alongside my eggs and vegetables. Milk was checked off our list in 2020 and I’d be damned if meat wasn’t too... As mentioned, it has always been a huge goal of ours but we just weren’t ready for it mentally, just not mature enough I guess is the best way to put it, but over the years having a lot of chickens, ducks, goats etc., we've seen and dealt with A LOT of injury, tragedy and loss and so you just cant help but grow up and gain a sense of maturity when it comes to farm animals and their purpose for this earth and our farm ultimately.
As you mature, certain situations that were once too intense to handle, over time become something you can easily take care. I don't know how to put it into words better than that but I suppose if I were to say more its just that taking on farm life, breeding and raising all sorts of farm animals, building a regenerative homestead from the ground up, etc. you are forced into super uncomfortable and unprecedented situations that just can't help but shape you and grow you into someone who is logical and understands the circle of life better and how you can play a role in being more sustainable for yourself and our planet. For us, that means growing, raising, making and also butchering whatever we can to avoid having to buy it from the grocery store. Whole, clean, organic food is expensive but its worth every penny when it goes towards your animal food bill and not someone else's. And if we are going to make the choice to eat meat, we feel its only the right thing to do to raise our own and use these birds to contribute to our regenerative farming efforts and also avoiding traditional farming (and some of the nastiness that comes with it) in the same breath.
Eventually we would also love to raise our own beef and pork too but unfortunately our current set up on our land just doesn't permit that right now but maybe one day in the future. Meat chickens are easy to raise for meat and are quick and efficient. They are ready for harvest in 6-10 weeks of age and can be succession raised to allow for a continuous harvest that is not all at once and over-whelming. This first chicken harvest though, was not a meat chicken, he was a beautiful olive-egger rooster. We did not plan to eat this guy and in fact was trying to find a good home for him so that he could spread his good genes and make lots of beautiful babies. His full story and harvest picture continued below!
This is the handsome guy right here, this was actually the picture I took of him for facebook to find him a new home.
THE STORY BEHIND OUR FIRST HARVEST:
With every bird that I'm planning on getting rid of I always begin the process by separating them in a jumbo dog crate with food and water and a roosting bar so they have plenty of room to roam and be a normal chicken before they go off to their new home. But for some reason this guy had something go terribly wrong after being in the cage for only 2 days. I went out to feed and let the birds out to free range and he was walking around on his legs/knees. He couldn't stand on his feet any longer and was scooting/hobbling around to move. I checked him over thoroughly for injury, pain/discomfort and couldn't find a thing, it was almost like he lost feeling in his legs and I couldn't figure out why for the life of me. I've tried to nurse many chickens back to health over the years of chicken keeping and I know with the issues he had, he was not going to get better. I told Kyle that I felt he needed to be euthanized but that we should harvest him because that is the most sustainable and respectful thing to do, not allowing his life go to waste and also not allowing him to suffer any longer either. This totally took Kyle by surprise but he was down to take on the challenge as hes always wanted to harvest his first chicken also. We gave the chicken another night separated in a different crate and he didn't get any better but actually worse, so we watched a couple youtube videos, said our respects and thanked him for his life, and then just did it, without hesitation and with full understanding that this is for the best of the bird and for the nourishment of our own bodies. This is what chickens were made for y'all. It was a little nerve racking at first but after the actually culling and flapping (just the chickens nerves) part was done it was pretty easy from there on out. Lets break down the steps and how the butchering process went for those who are interested in taking on this homesteading activity one day.
WARNING: SOME OF THE PHOTOS POSTED IN THIS ARTICLE ARE GRAPHIC, VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED!
CULLING THE BIRD:
Of course this is the most uncomfortable part about the whole process but once its done you get. The main thing to remember is that you need to me sure you cut deep enough the first time to kill the bird, if you have to go back to cut again it will only be more traumatic for you but mostly for the bird. Slicing the jugular with a very sharp knife will allow them to quickly bleed out which will cause them to pass out within seconds and they will pass shortly after that. Out of all the different ways to cull a chicken it has been determined by many different farmers that slicing the jugular with a super sharp knife is the quickest and fastest way to humanely euthanize the bird. Otherwise other methods include chopping the head off which in my opinion is quick and efficient but can lead to disaster, either by not completely chopping the chickens head off or possibly losing a finger or limb in the process. Other ways include drowning the bird or electrocuting it and both sound pretty inhumane and like a long painful death. The great thing about slicing the jugular is they bleed out and pass out extremely fast and so they feel very little.
To start the process you'll want to hang the bird upside down by its feet, use some sort of really strong rope or chain to hang them with and once you have them strung up, try to face their head towards the ground which helps put them in a trance and makes it easier to slice the jugular. Once you’re ready make sure you’re ready and don’t hesitate! Hesitation is the worst thing you can do, it should be one and done and on to the next one. Slice on their right side of their neck, that's were their jugular is at. If they are hanging upside down with their chest facing you, it will be on your right side also. Now the thing that I feel is most important to mention that people briefly talk about but I feel like they don’t talk about enough and that is the flapping once their nerves start to die out, I mean they literally flap like hell, so much so it’s actually even kind of startling but I promise you they are no longer alive. Once the flapping stops, you can remove the head and then allow the body to hang for a bit more to let the majority of the blood drain out, around 15-30 min is good.
After we removed the head and let the blood drain out for 20 min.
PLUCKING THE FEATHERS:
This step was actually surprisingly easy, I always thought that this part was pretty tough watching my friends on social media do it over the years but it actually wasn’t too bad. You'll need a extra large stock pot with hot water to plunge the bird in and scald the skin which is what helps the feathers come right out. Fill pot about 3/4 full and heat water to 160° on the dot and then you will dip the body submerging all of it and swirling it around into the hot water for five seconds at a time pulling the body back out of the water and dipping it back in for a total time of about 30 seconds to a minute. Test after the 30 sec mark by removing the feathers, if the feathers come out easily then you know you’re good to go, if they don't then continue dunking until you hit a minute. Once they start easily coming out, pluck all those feathers out until the bird is naked and then you’re ready to start doing the evisceration process. Plucking should only take one person about 2-3 minutes to do.
Before and after dunking the bird in the hot water.
This plucker is what we eventually hope to invest in, its from Tractor Supply. its super nice and my friend Jacki (@fowlcreekfarm) has one and loves it! The picture on the right is of all the feathers we plucked out of the bird. We shoved them all into the composter.
EVISCERATING THE CHICKEN:
This part is a little bit tricky so you definitely want to reference articles or YouTube videos for this part but first thing you gotta do is separate the trachea and crop from the neck, cut them away from the breast and then cut the neck off. Then you need to go to the other side of the chicken and carefully remove the oil sack and anus without cutting into the oil sack or the intestines or you will risk contaminating and ruining the meat. This is why I recommend watching YouTube videos because you don’t want to mess this part up. Once you have removed the anus, oil sack and tail it’ll all come out together with the intestines attached. From there you need to remove all of the organs: the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, gonads (if it’s a rooster) or reproductive tract (if it’s a hen), keep the organs if you are into eating that stuff! And then spray or wash out the inside of the chicken as best as you can and cut off the feet right at the knee, you can save the feet for bone broth/stock, dog treats or compost them if you don’t want to use them at all. From here we soaked the chicken for four hours in ice water, which helps draw out the remainder of the blood.
Before and after eviscerating the chicken.
BUTCHERING THE CHICKEN:
I found this part pretty fun because you get to decide whether or not you want to keep the chicken whole or cut up into different cuts of meat. For this chicken since it was a rooster and it was four months old we decided to cut it up into it’s different cuts and utilize it in many different ways. We removed the thighs and froze them and ended up cooking them later in a delicious homemade soup. And we slow cooked down the breast meat and wings to make delicious pulled chicken sandwiches. Lastly, we used the carcass and everything else and made a few batches of bone broth which is now in our freezer until we need it. It’s amazing how one little chicken can go so far!!
The whole process from start to finish honestly took us maybe an 1-1.5 hr and wouldn’t take but a few more hours if you had a bunch more to do at the same time. Now that we've actually experienced it, we are ready to take on our first round of meat birds, we are starting with 15 chickens (we bought them yesterday!) and then will be getting 15 more in a 2 week succession. This way we wont have to harvest all 30 birds at once, since we are hand plucking and don't want to exhaust ourselves. I'm very excited that we are taking on this huge life goal of ours, we do so many things to be self sustaining like growing our own vegetables, milk, eggs, fruit, bread, fertilizer and so much more and now we are able to add meat to the list which honestly feels like the most rewarding of all.
Like I said in the beginning, we are not vegetarians and have no intent to ever be... so ultimately, if we are going to be eating a chicken from somewhere it should be from our own farm. The truth is chicken from the store is often not raised in ideal conditions, not respected or cared for humanely, usually not fed a quality and well rounded diet and could even have added hormones or antibiotics! Lets not even get into the culling process at big facilities and how the care and respect of their lives is not taken into account. These birds are not thanked for their lives and are very fearful which has to do something negatively to their meat. Raising at home ensures they are raised well, they get to see the sun and eat fresh bugs and most importantly respected, thanked for their lives and then euthanized in the most humane way possible. I'm thankful that I have the land and maturity now to raise my own and I'm so very excited to have a freezer full of food that was grow ONLY here! Frozen tomatoes and tomatillos made into sauce, milk for cheese, ice cream and soap and now meat for homegrown meals!
If you enjoyed this article please consider leaving me a comment of your thoughts and sharing the article with others! And if this isn't so much your thang, I appreciate you being respectful of our self-sustaining lifestyle and for keeping an open mind! Thank you!!