Thursday, November 6, 2008

Pioneer Days: The Cockerel killing

The cockerel's were growing big enough to be making quite a ruckus here where we live down town. They were also growing so large that the coop space allocated to them was getting too small. On Monday Pa and I both had a day off, it was a nice day before the first snow storm and so we planned for Cockerel butchering. At first we planned on only doing 4 but reasoned that it was going to be a long time before we got to the job again and worked from dark to dark butchering 11 chickens. I only took one picture, a clean one.

We started in the dark of the morning gathering supplies, there had been rain the night before and the standing puddles were icy. That would mean no flies and a cool day for the meat. It took a while to round up all the roosters, as I carefully chose who would be left behind and handled the birds gently and quietly. The last choices were difficult and they were the most difficult birds to kill as well. We put the birds in large dog crates and put them in a dim garage away from sights and smells of the action.

Pa had never killed anything before. My processing experience was limited to an one animal or two many years ago and there was someone around who had a clue. If anyone else is in this situation, we found a few sights helpful, mostly this site. I have just a few extra suggestions that aren't on the site. We worked in batches of 5 and 3 so that the meat could get chilled and not sit around.

At first we procrastinated starting but then reasoned we were in for a long day and better get on with it. The lives of the birds I had carefully tended and protected passed quietly and easily and I said a blessing for each one. Pa and I quickly found a division of labor based on having different jobs that each of us really, really, didn't want to do. I really, really didn't want to kill my birds and so Pa cut the juggler vein and bled out the bird, and we both plucked (not a bad job when the water is 147 degrees). When the cleaning part came it turned out that Pa got squeamish and hated it and so I volunteered to gut all the birds since he was doing the job I didn't want to do. It took me about 8 birds to really figure out what I was doing. I hadn't found any good instruction on this - just live and learn. I saved the livers for eating and a few hearts for the dogs.

No one part of the day was particularly difficult but the length of job and the shear numbers of birds processed took its toll as we were finishing in the dark under a flood light with freezing temperatures descending into the muscles of my shoulders and across my back, 10 hours after starting. You can bet I did those last three more quickly than the first 5.

We had saved the feet and neck of the birds. They are a delicacy the world over and have long been used for soup by people who raised backyard birds. When we came in and cleaned up I looked up soup stock made from chicken feet. (The feet had already been a minute in the scalding water as the birds were feather footed, but of coure they got washed again in the kitchen.) The recipe called for chopping of the toe nail which I couldn't do with the kitchen shears and when I called in Pa to do the chopping with his cleaver, his reaction wasn't fit to print and left DD14, exclaiming, Dad! He's a good sport and so did it anyway. I assured him I'd do the skinning after the initial 5 minute boil and he sputtered about skinning chicken feet and went to the shower. Only a modern people can eat a dish called "chicken fingers" and not think about it.

After his shower, I thought it best not to remind Pa that we were doing a pioneer days challenge and not to veg in front of the TV.

The I simmered the feet and necks with onion and herbs all night long. The recipe had called for thyme and I took a lantern - sorry a torch - and went into the yard looking for the thyme I'd planted last spring but it had been killed off by the aggressive mint. I grabbed a handful of Rosemary while I was there.

Pa didn't sleep well knowing the large stock pot was on the stove and got up several times to stir it. At dawn I got up and strained it and pressure canned 7 quarts with an 8th in the ice box (er the 'fridge).

Maybe one day this all will be a necessity. I think its important that the old skills don't get lost. If the economy gets turned around and we find a cure for our energy problems and the climate heals itself then this all will be for naught, but somehow I'm not betting on an easy future, but rather one where we will know how to feed and care for our families better.


ilex said...

Inspiring and moving and just a little bit gross. But what an amazing day! I'm so impressed that you're so deeply in touch with your food. You're an inspiration.

Anonymous said...

I salute you!

The topic of this post is exactly the reason for one of DH and my biggest fights in years. I am willing to do it, if queasy about it. He is NOT. He says he's willing to eat them, just not to kill them. I told him he should become a vegetarian if he really can't stomach the thought of killing his own can see how that went.

He is SORT of on board now. He is more resigned, really. He says I'm going to do what I'm going to do, and he will make up his mind whether or not to help me when the time comes.

We killed our own meat when I was young - hunting, taking pigs to the butcher, keeping chickens for eggs and meat but that was many years ago. DH grew up in a upper middle class neighborhood.

Those chickens are going to taste better knowing you cared for them from day 1.

Fleecenik Farm said...

WE butchered our pig a few weeks ago. This was the second year we have grown a pig. It was more difficult this year than last. He didn't go down so easy this year:(.

Husband has said that if he couldn't kill and butcher the pig he had no right to eat meat. We know that the pig had a good life and that he ate healthy food.

d.a. said...

Brava to you and your spouse! I'm not looking forward to killing and butchering some of our flock, but like others have stated, I don't feel right eating meat without having at least once taken responsibility for killing/butchering the creature.

Thankfully, my spouse has dispatched chickens with his parents when he was a child, so we won't be completely without understanding or skill when it comes time.

Tara said...

We've now done that a couple of times. We also fell upon the same division of labor, although the very first time we butchered, we had a rule - everyone had to do every job at least a couple of times. By the second go, we each knew what we were better at, so in the interest of efficiency, we went that way. If you have the luxury (and very often we don't), I suggest calling in the help of others who also know how to do this. The more people you have, the more you can chat with one another and distract your minds from the unpleasant task at hand. It really is rather good for the psyche to have some help with the dirty work. Those birds will taste marvelous, though.

My least favorite part of butchering day? The smell of entrails that I can't seem to rid myself of. I seem to have that smell in my nose for DAYS. That's the worst.

Crunchy Chicken said...

Thanks for sharing. It may be a skill that might turn out to be not necessary, but it's certainly one that is nice to know you have.

Susan Och said...

Pruning shears are good for cutting off heads (on dead chickens) and for cutting the toenails off the feet.

Sometimes I use the feet to make stock, sometimes my husband's sense of "Getting it over with" prevails and we toss them. Odd how they always look like baby hands once you cut the toenails off and skin them. I think that's the basis of the Hansel and Gretel story.

Thanks for the link to the "how-to" page. The year my husband was in the hospital and I had to do this job myself was the year I found out, via Google, that "chicken butcher" means something to do with gay sex, as well.

Robj98168 said...

Poor little roosters never did nuthin to nobody and you cut their little feets off to make soup. For Shame, For Shame.

Aoife Ni Aodhagain said...

Very good information thank you for a good post. I bet you that chicken feet soup will taste great.

Mon said...

Great job and well performed. And good on you for being willing to learn on the job.

Hubby and I were just discussing (future) chicken culling this morning. Well, the conversation went like this.
Me, 'Can't wait to have chickens.'
Hubby, "Understand, I won't be killing anything"

Well that's that.

I wish we weren't so stupidly sentimental with animals. I mean, we do eat them. Ah well, we will have eggs...

Verde said...

Thanks you all for your comments. I'm glad no one was too freaked out. And I happen to know that Rob isn't a vegitarian.

Matriarchy said...

I've been reading a lot of animals harvesting posts in various blogs this year, and next year we hope to find a place where we can participate in harvesting some of our own poultry. I am sure we will be a little squicked at first, but I think it's important to have at least basic skills, and to really understand what it takes to put food on the table. When we have a large lot, I want to try having some chickens for eggs and occasional meat. Thanks for sharing your day with us!

Christy said...

What a busy day! I don't think my husband will help with any of the chicken processing when the time comes, but maybe I'll get lucky.