Sept. 27th was the first Preserving Traditions workshop in animal processing. We learned to kill, pluck, and clean chickens at Back Forty Acres farm in Chelsea.
We started with a tour of the farm. Stephanie and Larry Doll raise meat and egg chickens, goats, sheep, turkeys, ducks, rabbits, and hogs. The laying hens have the run of a large enclosure (I’d guess it was over a quarter of an acre) and a hoophouse-type “coop” for protection from the weather. The hens keep most of the grass and weeds very low, but one type of weed (not sure what kind) stands nearly 3’ tall throughout the pen. This has a sort of “forest” effect, providing shade and shelter, and a little camouflage from hawks. The pen is surrounded by an electrified net, which the Dolls say is sufficient to keep out coyotes and other predators.
The meat birds (including turkeys) are in “pasture pens” made out of PVC pipe, wire fencing, and a corrugated roof over part of the pen. These pens get moved to fresh grass daily, so the birds have plenty of greenery and bugs to supplement their chicken feed.
Some of the turkeys are Bourbon Red and Slate Gray heritage breeds, and they were a hoot! Every once in a while, they would all gobble in unison. That made the people laugh, and the laughter made the turkeys gobble again.
After the tour, we returned to the barn for an overview of the chicken cleaning process, and then it was time to do the deed. Each person placed her or his chicken upside down in a cone, cut the jugular veins with a knife, and waited for the chicken to bleed out. It took less than a minute for the chickens to close their eyes and go still, though they would often twitch some in the next few minutes.
Then we dunked the birds in hot water, plucked them, and removed the head, feet, and oil gland. Gutting was next, and cleaning any of the giblets we wanted to keep, and finally simmering and “peeling” the chicken feet in order to clean them for soup-making. There are lots of very good descriptions of this process on the web, so I won’t go into that detail here.
The mood at the event was respectful, but not at all morbid. All of us were there because we find something intriguing about the life-to-death-to-dinner process. Most of us have seen video of factory farms and industrial slaughter operations, and the opinion was unanimous that this life and death are far more humane than anything industrial agriculture has to offer. And while some may argue that taking any life for food is unacceptable, it was pretty clear to us that if one were to choose to eat meat, it would be ideal if it could all be produced this way. In fact, several folks at the workshop saw the class as a step toward raising their own small livestock. Others said that now that they’ve had the experience, they’re happy to let small farmers like the Dolls raise their meat animals and have them processed.
I really believe that as oil becomes more scarce, our industrial agriculture system is going to fail. We won’t be able to ship animals long distances to huge slaughter/processing facilities, then ship the refrigerated meat halfway across the country to be sold for 99 cents a pound. If we continue to eat meat at all, it will be raised on small farms near where we live.
If you are financially able, I strongly suggest you start supporting local farmers for as much of your food as possible. Doing so will ensure that they will be in business when we really need them. Here are some resources to help you find local food in the SE Michigan area: