Monday, August 1, 2011

Processing a chicken: This is where food comes from

The Bishop Don Juan in his final days
In case you didn't know, chicken comes from chickens. And in order to partake in that delicious variety of chicken, the chicken must lose its life. You can do it yourself, or shift the burden to someone else; the chicken however, is dead either way.

I had a very hard time coping with the thought of taking the life of a chicken, or any animal for that matter. It seems cold, harsh and barbaric, but when it comes down to it, the barbaric thing is actually to ignore the fact that so many chickens and other livestock you eat grow up (unnaturally fast btw) and are slaughtered in industrial farms without ever acknowledging that it is a living thing that feels discomfort and pain like most living things do.

The rooster in this story lived the life of a rooster king until the day his life was taken. He roamed our backyard everyday picking at worms and plants, he had his way with the ladies whenever he pleased, crowed his fool head off from dawn to dark and was provided unlimited fresh water and food daily. As much as I thought I would feel sadness and remorse for ultimately taking his life, in the end I felt incredibly at peace and satisfied. My husband commented that he hoped The Bishop Don Juan (our rooster) wouldn't haunt him for the rest of his life; my response was that he is the only chicken that will actually thank you for a respectful life and a respectful death; all those chickens that you ate from Tyson are the ones that will haunt you for ignoring the tortured life they were given.

My parents were in town visiting this past weekend and I wanted more than anything to show them that I could provide a beautiful farmer's dinner from our little 2.5 acres. I recently purchased way too many a few Dorking chicks that are to be butchered in the fall and I knew as they got older I would have to get rid of our 'Easter Egger' rooster, The Bishop Don Juan, to better accommodate the Dorking roosters I would keep to breed next year. Our current rooster was 17 weeks old and of age to make a fine crock pot dish. I had been stewing (pun intended) over the thought of butchering him for weeks. I knew it was time - I just had to put on my big girl undies and do the deed. 10am Saturday morning I put a big pot of water on the stove. I watched YouTube 'chicken processing' videos for a half an hour to prepare myself while the water got hot, and then I announced it was time. The husband set up a killing cone (inverted traffic cone) and set up an old door between two barrels to serve as the gutting station. Our serious faces were on.
Inverted traffic cone to serve as a holder

Cleaning station made from 2 plastic barrels and an old door

Even though I'm due to have a baby this Saturday, there was no way my husband was going to just let me stand back and watch; this was my rooster, my idea and my dinner. With some effort and a lot of squawking from the hens he successfully wrangled The Bishop out of the coop and then handed him to me. I grabbed him by the feet and was really surprised how quickly he calmed down. For the first time ever I took a minute to look at how beautiful he was and to pet his soft feathers, talking to him like I was crazy and thanking him for his sacrifice (as if he had a choice). I took him over to the cone and gently set him inside head first. It was odd how easy this was, I had been picturing a crazy bird fighting me till the end and the neighbors peering through windows wondering what the hell I was doing. My husband pulled his head through, I quickly took a picture and turned away. No struggle, no fight, very calm and respectful until the very end.

Crazy lady - 10 months pregnant slaughtering a chicken in the backyard

My brave man doing 'the deed'

We waited about 5 minutes to ensure the blood had left his body and I pulled him back out of the cone. We had a large pot of water waiting and I dunked the body in 3 times for a total of about 10 seconds each. Again, surprised at the ease of this task, the feathers just came right off. We used a torch to singe the tiny hairs that were left and in matter of 10 minutes what was once a rooster running the yard was now almost the packaged bird you buy at the market.

Burning off any remaining hairs on the chicken
My dad is familiar with processing quail and pheasant so he was able to offer a teaching moment on how to properly clean out a chicken (similar enough). My husband did this part and really took his time to ensure it was done right; I think in the future it will go much quicker, but better safe than sorry on the first round.

Finished bird - cleaned and ready to set overnight

Fresh herbs and a whole chicken in the crock pot
On the table and delicious