Responsibility. The main reasoning behind the farm-to-fork movement. It is why I want to raise and harvest my own chickens. You see, I feel as if I have no right to get involved in the debate about the inhumane treatment of chickens, or the poor quality of eggs and meat at the supermarket. Why? Because I can actually do something about it. I'll just feed my family myself! In the end, business is as usual. The industry will always try to get away with something if it means making more money. So that makes me responsible for me. For us.
The five stations at a glance.
Now, if I couldn't raise my own animals for meat, I'd find a nearby farm and make every effort to only shop there. Or maybe find a farmers market with a vendor who sells meat and start asking questions about it. Anything to keep from having to fight the big guys over food... who'll end up doing whatever they want to it anyway. I really ain't got time for that! Only time to take things into my own hands...
I started with the layout and set up 5 "stations". These helped me (appear) to be organized and the entire process happened fast and easy. The hubby seemed impressed. I used a canopy for shade and put walls up so the chickens (and neighbors) couldn't see what was going on.
The harvest station is the first stop. We decided to mount the cone to a makeshift stand mounted onto a table. Once we go in full bore, raising and harvesting 50+ meat birds each year, we'll make the entire setup more permanent for sure. You'll need a killing cone and a place to mount it, a bucket placed below (large enough to hold everything you harvest that day), a trash bag or other disposable liner, rubber gloves and cleaning supplies (it helps to keep the flies away if you clean up from time to time).
Then it's a quick step over to the dunking station. You'll need a large pot of water and a way to heat it. Ours is a super large stock pot heated by a torch to 150 degrees. Use a thermometer to be ever so accurate. You don't want to cook it right now! Tip: Another blogger says to add a bit of liquid soap to the dunking water to help loosen the feathers. So we did it this time and then we'll compare it to a time we do without... and of course, let y'all know about it. Other helpful items: Oven mitts and a dish towel.
Next it's time to pluck them feathers and so the plucking station is just another step away. We decided to buy a plucker that attaches to a drill no less (see resources below) but there are many options, from hand plucking to a full "drum" style plucker. And keep a rake or broom handy... the feathers go everywhere!
The evisceration happens next so you'll need to set up a station with a table, a plastic cutting board, a sharp cleaver, a very sharp paring knife, rubber gloves (if you didn't use them at the first station), an apron, bowl or bucket of clean water and towels to wipe up. Tip: If your table is made of a slick material and the cutting board slides easily, place a towel or rubber shelf liner underneath to keep it steady. Also, if you decide to keep the liver, heart, etc, then make sure to keep a second bowl of ice cold water for keeping the innards.
And here's our final station: A cooler full of clean ice water. Okie dokie, let's go into the harvesting details. I'd break this down to 9 steps. And they are not as difficult as you'd think. Really, if you can gut a fish, you can do this. In fact, while harvesting my first chicken I realized how much it seemed like all the other gazillion times I prepped a chicken for dinner - with just a few extra steps. And before you know it, you're done.
Step 1: Daze. When it comes time to go into the run or coop to get your chickie, don't even think about it, just go. Get hold of the feet and turn it upside down for a few seconds. This puts the bird into a trance-like state which, in turn, is calming to you making the whole thing easier to handle. Whew!
Step 2: Kill. Place it head first into the cone and pull the head downward; stretching the neck just a bit.
Make the first cut clean and swift on the side of the neck, just below the skull and through the main artery.
Make another cut on the other side.
Step 3: Bleed. After about 20 seconds, the blood is almost completely drained which causes the body to do 2-3 jolts/contractions as a result. If you keep hold of the head you can spare yourself a real mess. And don't worry; when it's over, it's over. The whole thing takes less than a minute, from the time it goes into the cone to it being completely bled out. This is definitely the best way to harvest in my opinion.
Step 4: Dunk. In order to pluck, you first must dunk. Hold the entire chicken under the hot water for a total of 10 seconds, pull it out for a few, then dunk again. Do this several times; testing the large wing feathers for looseness. If they pull out easily, you're ready to pluck!
Step 5: Pluck. Plucking by hand can be tedious. You might want another helping hand to break the monotony of it. Or get yourself a fun little tool like this:
Step 6: Trim. After the feathers are plucked (and don't worry about the teeny tiny stuff... you can get that later) use the cleaver to remove the head and feet. If you plan to use the neck, make sure to cut close to the body so the majority of the neck stays intact.
Next, find the joint near the end of the leg and beginning of the foot and make the cut there. You can save the feet along with the innards if doing so. From what I understand, it makes good stock.
Step 7: Gut. And now, about those innards. Hmm. You should really take a look at this post (off site link) for an excellently written, detailed how-to. (But I should warn you, The Girls' Guide To Guns And Butter has a few extra steps that others don't do, so you decide.) In short, you're trying to cut an opening so you can reach in and pull out the guts, all while avoiding the poop tract (which is down by the tail). Why so careful? The bowels aren't very pleasant at all, and will contaminate the meat. I suggest cutting a little skin near the bottom of the breast first before going into the flesh. This gives you a clear visual of where to make deeper cuts.
When you're in, you're in. Time to grab and pull. If you've ever prepped a chicken for dinner, this is very similar, just more stuff to pull out. (And don't worry, it isn't too bloody or smelly.) The innards are attached near the tail; carefully sever the lot as close to the tail as possible. And again, try not to pierce the poop shoot... please.
Do a double check to make sure you pulled everything out. Toward the back of the cavity is the heart and lungs and can easily be missed. Save what you will and dump the rest into the drip bucket to be buried or thrown away.
Step 8: Rinse. Clean off any feather stragglers and other mess in the bowl/bucket of clean water. Get ready to change the water for each bird you harvest. Tip: We dig a shallow hole in the ground for the feathers and water from the dunking pot and cleaning bowls. Cover the hole with a big heap of dirt and mulch so you don't attract unwanted visitors.
Step 9: Bathe. The poultry needs to go into an ice water bath for about two hours. I think it has to do with tenderness? Okay, I know... off to do more research... I'm on it.
As we get better at this, I'll add more info, extra tips and more. I have to say that I'm real proud we made another giant leap toward independence. I didn't realize just how grateful I'd feel! My animals are healthy and active. My garden is organic and good. My food is clean and free. And I didn't have to debate that with anyone. 🙂