Chicken Harvest

I was born with chicken farming in my blood. My Great Grandparents were chicken farmers on one side, mixed farmers on the other. And my Grandfathers were both poultry farmers, one chickens, the other turkeys. All relationships with poultry ended there though. KFC is the chicken I remember.

But this weekend my ancestral roots grew arms. The cute guy's son, Jeremy, taught me how to harvest chickens. He seems to have been born with an innate knowledge of animals and he did the parts his wife, sister-in-law, and I didn't have the muscle for.

I arrived in my Vote With Your Fork t-shirt, a generation removed from the land but with good information from El at Fast Grow the Weeds. She recently wrote her process of harvesting chickens that gave me not only front row information but confidence too.

It sounds odd to say we had fun but we did. The women, yes, me too, got a little choked up at first. Then we got to work in a rhythm accented by the sounds of scattering chickens, the spray of the hose and the smell of wet feathers. There was respect for each new bird, we harvested a dozen, but it was equally matched with the laughter of working together.

The little kids were in and out too; curious but non-plussed by the operation. They pulled a feather here and there, touched the pimply skin, asked a few questions then ran off half way through the answer.

Jeremy dissected a stomach for his son to see what the chicken had recently eaten. To every one's surprise there was a free range screw.

We had the luxury of working in the barn kitchen for the final step of cleaning the chickens for the freezer. Everyone but Jeremy exclaimed that running water made the job easier. We were able to harvest the necks, livers, hearts and most of the gizzards for stocks or dressings.

It's safe to say I won't take eating chicken for granted again. Something different happened being intimately involved in the process of taking the animals life. My appreciation for the chicken multiplied. Not just for a meaty breast or juicy thigh, but for every part of the bird. Also for the workers that harvest chicken for a living. It's a smelly business.

Have you every hunted, raised and harvested or prepared an animal for food? Was it a good experience? Would you do it again?


Anonymous said...

No surprise but yes I have. When we did the roosters a couple of weeks ago it was the first time in more than a decade that I'd had the experience and the first time I'd handled it from start to finish. I expected it to be harder than it was - I actually enjoyed the experience of saying goodbye to birds I raised, to respectfully preparing them for dinner and sharing them with friends. We're doing 50 on November 1 with friends and are looking forward to day filled with new experiences and comraderie.

My husband hunts and while I've never gone with him, I have helped with the butchering for the freezer for elk, deer and once a couger. It is a much more powerful experience than chickens, mostly due to the size of the animal, the extent of the work and the negative reputation that hunting has with a lot of people. He leaves on Friday for 10 days of archery elk/deer hunting and we're hoping to have meat for our freezer this year - the last few they've struck out.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Katrina, what a day you had.

I'm really glad you did it. I think it is healthy to have a good amount of reverence for one's own food, be it a humble pile of beans or a once-breathing creature. How lucky you are too to have had a merry group with whom to do it.

Sunday I "did in" 8 birds. Normally I make sure the kid is gone or otherwise occupied but just when I had the first 3 birds soaking in the plucking bucket, out she comes from the house, ever curious. I figured there'd be plenty of time to involve her in the whole chicken death thing but I really didn't ever want to ambush her with it, and here she comes, with the Mama what're you doing? So I explained what it was I was doing.

She said three things: Boy, those wet chickens smell bad, and Mama you are going to remove those feet aren't you and (bless her) "when I am bigger, can I help you kill the chickens?"

Amazing. (And I can't wait too as doing 8 chickens by yourself is tough work!)

Emily said...

Katrina, Thank you, thank you for coming and helping on the harvest. We had a great time...and are looking forward to the next one. We ate two of the chickens on Sunday and they were delish!

Lily was great help in preparing the chickens for dinner and I think she'll be an invaluable plucker, next time around.

Thanks again for a great day.

Anonymous said...

I live in the northwest corner of Canada, beside Alaska, and hunting for us is a way of life. My husband hunts moose, caribou, and wild sheep and I find it hard to eat any of the meat in the grocery store after these delicacies. I haven't actually shot an animal myself but this year for the first time I helped 'dress' two caribou. I also helped butcher more than 200chickens on an organic farm owned by a former neighbour. I agree with you that having a hand in this process creates a reverence and respect for the animal and the meat that I never had before.

Kale for Sale said...

laura - Good for you for doing it start to finish. You and El are my farm heros. I grew up with hunters in the family and thought everyone hunted. The hunters I've known have more respect for the meat they put on the table than anyone I've met at the grocery store but we all haven't been so fortunate to know such beautiful hunters and see that we most likely have more similarities than differences. Keep us posted if your husband comes home with an elk or a deer.

el - You are a champion - eight chickens by yourself in one day! I love the questions from your daughter and how natural she was about it and how natural the kids I was with were too. And I really love they know where chicken comes from. Many thanks to you for walking me through the harvesting before I was actually there. You will be at the table when we cook our bird.

Emily - The thanks go to you for hatching the little chicks in the first place and then feeding them to the I-have-to-get-rid-of-them stage. I'm so glad they were delicious. I put mine in the freezer until you tried one first.

I can not wait to pluck chickens with Lily. She'll be telling us how to do it in no time.

Northwest Canada - Yes, reverence. That's the word I couldn't find earlier. Nicely put. Thank you. I've not heard of anyone eating caribou but of course people would. You do make it sound delicious.

Anonymous said...

Katrina, thanks for sharing this experience. I have never done it and don't know if I could stomach it. But somehow hearing about that free range screw makes the thought of participating in a harvest a little easier.

Kale for Sale said...

audrey - I'm not sure how the story of the screw makes it easier but I'm glad it does. The hardest thing for me to stomach was the fact that they had recently eaten and weren't empty of poop. Which wasn't as bad as it sounds as long as you have running water but was the hardest part none the less. It was over quick. El recommends not feeding them for 12 hours before hand. We learned our lesson.