This month’s Urban Farm Handbook Theme is Protein. I started exploring this last year when I attended a Seattle Farm Coop Chicken Butchering Workshop led respectfully by UFH co-author, Joshua McNichols. I always knew that if I got into chicken farming, the newest fad in the United States, that I would have to prepare for the end of the chicken as well as for the beginning.
When our beautiful Golden Wyandotte went broody this spring, our neighbor with a legal rooster gave us some fertile eggs, and the grand experiment began. One brief moment when the morning light warmed the nesting box enough, she would jump up, run out squawking, have a quick dust bath and a bite to eat, then run back inside and sit again.
Fortunately, we had already downsized our flock to 2 laying hens. Unfortunately, we bought 3 new chicks a month ago, so we knew we’ld have to ‘deal’ with the result. Knowing our coop would be too small for three ‘generations’ and 10+ chickens, I got out my handy saw and built a mini-cooper, and an extra nesting box.
Growing Up -
As the summer drew to a close, and as the chicks were now fully adult, we realized that of the batch of 5 that hatched, 4 were roosters and would have to go. I began preparations by building an outdoor sink for the chicken butchering, using a thrift-store sink, an interior door left over from the bathroom remodel, and some plumbing and lumber bits.
As my friend Tara Austen Weaver wrote in her book, The Butcher and the Vegetarian, she described visiting several working farms that raised animals for meat. At Prather Ranch in San Francisco, she noticed a quote by Temple Grandin displayed:
“I believe the place where an animal dies is a sacred one. The ritual could be something very simple, such as a moment of silence. No words, just one pure moment of silence. I can picture it perfectly.”
On butchering day, I asked my husband to take my younger son out of the house. My older son, at 9, decided to stay and watch. The whole process was slow and deliberate. I sharpened and set out the knives, set up the sawhorses and tied a stout bamboo pole across it, and pre-cut some lengths of twine. I lined a bucket with a heavy-duty contractor’s bag and laid one below to catch the drips. Finally I was ready.
For each rooster, one by one, I went into the coop, caught him and brought him up to the patio. I gently wrapped him in a towel to keep him from flapping much, tied the twine around his feet as Joshua showed me a year ago and tied him to the pole. I paused. I took a deep breath, and steadily drew the knife hard and with resolve. I held each chicken firmly until the flapping stopped, and let each one drain into the bucket. It took over an hour to kill 4 roosters, but I know each one had been respectfully raised and respectfully slaughtered.
Now the long process of preparing the roosters for the freezer began. I had my huge pot for canning fruit on the stove, boiling away. I brought it outside and one by one, I dipped each rooster head-first into the pot and plucked it, placed it in the outdoor sink with ice and water, and continued to the next one.
I then singed off the funny hair-like feathers, removed the head (sorry, into the trash with the feathers – I had tried composting the feathers last year, but it didn’t work very well … they lingered quite a while). Next came the crop, the vent and the internal organs, and finally the neck and feet (for soup). I kept the hearts and livers, but not the gizzards. You can now find some honest blogs online with useful pictures of the steps to butcher the chickens, but with just me and my messy fingers, I didn’t take photos this time.
I weighed each rooster, and they barely cleared 3 lbs, but I figure I got 12-14 meals for all 4 roosters: 2 bags each of 4 breasts, 4 thighs, 4 wings, 4 drumsticks. Add 4 backs and 4 necks/hearts for soups.
I don’t know if this counts as a “challenge” since I did this last year with two chickens, but this is the first time I did this all by myself. To push myself for next year, we’ll need a bigger freezer, or figure out some sort of meat-bank since we really don’t have the storage for a winter’s full of meals. Here are some places I’m going to start with: