Sunday, September 13, 2009

Chickens in the freezer

This weekend we harvested twenty-nine Cornish Cross meat chickens and a couple Welsummer roosters. At the beginning of the summer we told my parents, my brother and sister-in-law and a close friend that we would raise five meat birds for each of them in exchange for help on slaughtering day and a bag of feed. My parents came up as did our friend and his son to help kill and process the birds. Dustin and I decided to give the birds to everyone( whether they helped or not on butchering day) as a thank you for all the help that we have received this summer and in general from our family and close friends. I've been intending to designate an entire post to my summer help and farm hands but haven't. So thank you: Adam S., Tricia, Heath, Mekiah, Shanee and Emma, and my parents. At the start of summer Dustin got a job working six days a week, long hours. I had an entire garden to plant, goats to milk, chickens everywhere and was feeling overwhelmed just taking care of the kids, the house and basic chores. So for May, June and July we had help most days. Adam, Heath and Mekiah came up and milked the goats, fed and watered all the animals, and watered the garden. Mekiah was our only paid help and at thirteen years old he was a great help. He would start the day feeding animals, milking goats and then would labor for a couple hours moving soil and animal bedding or chopping wood. My sister-in-law comes up once a week and watches the kids for a few hours so I can get out for a peaceful morning of chores. My girlfriend Shanee also came up several times when I was in a pinch and helped watch the kids, as did my folks. So thank you everyone! We feel so blessed to have this help from our loved ones and when we can we thank them with eggs, veggies, milk, cheese and as in this weekend; chicken.

We started on Saturday about two p.m. and finally finished cleaning up by seven p.m. This was our second year processing birds, but last year we didn't have near as many. This year we borrowed our friend's plucker. It was awesome. Thank you Chris and Nancy. For anyone that is a pro at killing chickens, you may be wondering why it took us all day with so much help. There were a couple areas we could have improved on. We had three guys killing chickens and bringing them down and plucking them. I think we were overly obsessed with the birds not sitting around waiting for evisceration so they were doing one bird at a time and trying not to get ahead of me. I was in the house taking out all the innards and then bringing the birds back outside and putting them in coolers. My mom watched the kids. My first couple birds I was pretty slow on and then started to get the hang of it. My dad started helping me and then we were moving fast each side by side taking about five minutes a bird. Then we got ahead of the guys.

We ran out of ice and one person drove to town for more ice. Our water cooled off and had to be replaced four times. So there was delay as the birds don't pluck well if the water is too cool. So hopefully next year we will remember more ice, maybe a device for keeping the water hot, and kill more birds at a time = less trips up and down the hill. We sent birds off with everyone and kept ours in ice water overnight. Today I dried, weighed, bagged, labeled and froze chickens. We put nine whole birds in the freezer, cut a few up into pieces, made soup with a couple and put one in a brine for dinner tomorrow.

We would probably need to keep thirty chickens for ourselves if we were to only eat our home grown chicken all year long. I'm guessing these birds last us till spring. Our birds weighed mostly in the six and seven pound range with handful of eight almost nine pounders and a couple five pounders. We received chicks in early June. They were almost fourteen weeks old. Cornish Cross grow extremely fast and I think we could have slaughtered earlier if we had gotten them outside sooner, and if I had fed them commercial grower feed. I fed them my own mixed whole grain chicken feed for their first eight weeks or so. Once they started eating twenty pounds of feed in a day I reassessed my priorities and bought some bagged grower feed.

Did we save money in raising our own chickens? We paid a couple dollars (almost three?) a chick in addition to shipping, maybe about four dollars a bird? I can't remember for certain, but I think they were about seventy dollars for thirty birds. I can't even begin to guess how much feed we purchased. I hope to keep track better next summer. Bags of grower cost about seventeen dollars at the feed store and I know we bought about eight bags for their last six weeks. Adds up to one hundred thirty six dollars. Not counting labor or electricity for their heat lamp, feeders or waterers, or feed for the first and slower eating half of their life, it looks as though we put at least seven dollars into each bird. Which would be about a dollar a pound. However I'm sure if we accounted for the rest of the feed I didn't keep track of it would be closer to two dollars a pound. When we do buy chicken at the supermarket it costs two to four dollars a pound, organic and free range etc. So maybe this was a little less expensive than store bought chicken if you take the labor out of the equation - (which was lots of labor).

These chickens were raised outside, with fresh air and sunlight, some room to roam. This breed of birds themselves are not nearly as aesthetically pleasing as other heritage meat or laying breeds. They grow so fast that they don't move around much. They move to get to the feeder or waterer. It was not uncommon to see them begin to walk a few feet and then lower themselves down for a rest and then stand back up to make it the final feet to the feeder. Rather pathetic indeed. Yet even so I found myself making eye contact and thanking them for their lives they were about to give unknowingly. As I carefully placed the birds in the freezer today I thought of pulling them out one by one throughout the winter for special meals. We are one step closer to self-sufficiency. Step by step we are teaching ourselves and our children where meat really comes from. We know how these animals lived, were killed and processed and that is what this is all about.

No comments: