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.