Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hope you cluckers are having a great holiday!  I feel fortunate to be able to celebrate this holiday in the spirit of days gone by!  We thawed out one of the Ameraucana's and smoked it!  I know it was the one I butchered because I did not cut off the 'greaser' which is a little nub down by the tail that creates the oil birds will grab with their beak and spread on their feathers while they groom.  I know Joe cut his off.  Once the feathers were off, I could not tell which bird was which, so I am not sure who fed us tonight, but I must say...5 month old Ameraucana's are pretty fab!  Kenny brined it for about 2 days in water, salt and brown sugar.  Today, he rubbed it with spices and stuffed it with apples, lemon, onions and spices.  It was slow cooked at about 200 degrees on the smoker with some hickory chips.  Amazed!  Very flavorful!  Not gamey at all and we all agreed it was the best chicken we've ever eaten!  Very tender as well!  It was a little salty, so would definitely adjust the brine time, but otherwise PERFECT!  Closing with some photos.  Thankful for the circle of life!  Hatching a baby from an egg, watching the mother nuture and protect it, seeing it grow into a beautiful bird, processing it into something we can eat and enjoying an organic, free ranged bird for a holiday meal (hopefully at a fraction of the cost, but I could not be sure of that!)  Organic Turkeys from a local farm were going for $4.99/lb which for a 20 lb bird is ALOT of cash!  Enjoy and cheers!
After the brining.
Stuffed with apples, lemons, onions and spices

The girls came up for some oatmeal....not sure they knew what was cooking in the smoker!



Genny enjoyed eating her baby.  She said it was the best chicken ever!  :)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Coq A Vin part Trois: The Dissection.

The Dissection.
I don't suspect this part will upset anyone...I mean, unless you are a vegan.
We left off with our defeathered birds.  Amazingly, even though the majority of feathers were removed, there were actually little hairs that did not come out that way.  We used an open flame to singe these little hairs.  The 2 Ameraucana's had more of these hairs than the Welsummer.  I do not know if the hairs differ between breeds, but that is what we noticed.  Just a quick wave over the flame did the trick.  We started using a little torch but it went out and we couldn't get it to fire back up, so we used the turkey fryer and it worked just fine.  I did notice the skin shrinking up with the heat.  It's important to move it around quickly so as not to cook it.

The first part of the dissection involved cutting a small hole just under the belly.  We felt for the bone there and cut under it.  This was just a start, I had to make it a bit bigger after I heard the next instructions.

Another thing we worked on was the neck.  We made afew cuts to the next skin and peeled it off a bit leaving the neck meat behind.  We also got the crop out.  Lila's was small compared to the 2 babies...they must have gorged themselves after the others went to bed!  Their crops were HUGE!  All the food they eat gets stored in the crop until it's ready to move down the digestive tract.  We had to push the corn up the tubes to contain it into the sack.  Still in shock about what was happening, it was a little awkward for me.  Joe was calm and cool and handled this stuff like a champ.  Next I think we pulled out the wind pipe. 
As you can see below, we made cuts at each of the legs to widen our workable space.  Afew times during working with the bird we actually had to 'break' bones at the joints.  It was weird.  This is what the cavity looked liked before we scooped out the innards.  Those 2 red pieces are the liver.

We removed the heart first by reaching all the way to the front of the cavity and feeling it, grabbing ahold and pulling it out.  The 3 hearts below.  Lila's was bigger than the younger birds.

After the hearts were removed.  We gently scooped out the remaining guts.  It took some time to work them all up in one big pile.  I was not as good as Joe was at it.  The lungs in my bird were still attached to the breast and he managed to scoop his up right away.  When I went back to remove the lungs after, I realized that had I just pushed my fingers into each rib space, they would have come out.  I was afraid to really grab down there because I knew there were some things you just do not want to rupture. 
After the guts were brought to the front, we delicately found and removed the liver followed by the gizzard.  The gizzard was fun to play with.  We had to be careful we did not puncture the green little sack of the gallbladder.  That would sour the meat.  We both did a good job avoiding that fate.  The gizzard was an awesome little organ to check out.  It was hard and full of corn, but it was more mashed up that what was in the crop.  We had to gently slice into the side of it little by little until we say the start of the white sack.  Then the whole outer 'meat' peeled off to reveal a little white sack of the corn.  The sack gets tossed and the outer meat is a delicacy for the children (says Mrs. Hoover).  My children would be gagging!  :) 
Once all the usable organs were removed (my gift to Mrs Hoover!), we continued to cut up Lila into pieces.  The 2 young birds we kept whole because they will be much more tender.  Lila will have to be cooked long and slow so he tenders up.  The babies should be fairly tender, but not as much as store bought meat.  We are thinking of thawing one out for Thanksgiving this week and smoking it. 

Clean up was very simple as we did not make a huge mess!  All the feathers went right into the trash can and we were throwing parts away as we make cuts.  I did notice our favorite canibal....the murderer Rosa (see prior post about the demise of Phoenix, our month old chick....) was quick to clean up any bloody morsel that was left in the grass.....chickens will eat anything, by the way.  Don't let those 'my chickens are vegetarian' advertising slogans fool you!

So....what happens next?  Well....I asked Joe if he thought we could process 10 in a day.   To my delight....his reply was....I'm up for 5.  So our next project is to research meat bird breeds, grow time and plan our housing out for spring chicks!  I do believe we are starting a two family co-op and I just LOVE IT!  The kids are looking forward to raising more chicks.  This time, they will have food names.  Fettucine, Picatta, get the picture. 

No, the girls didn't seem to acknowledge the missing boys.  In fact, it was business as usual.  Sid Vicious, the surviving young rooster, is a bit wishy washy on his duties.  He seemed to start to take control of the girls, but quickly ended up on his own letting the girls scatter about the yard.  I hear him making some calls here and there...he's good at warning calls, but has not clucked to get the girls to follow him.  He's in fact being bossed by the girls.  They peck him, and he runs scared.  He sleeps in the nest box most nights, afraid to roost with them.  I see him perched high up on a ledge above the coop scared.  He does crow here and there, but he's not as vocal as Lila.  Some mornings he's quiet, and the next he's making a little ruckous.  I like the crows, so the sooner he finds his manhood, the happier I will be.  :)  He's young.  Hoping he just hasn't hit all out puberty yet and will get over his fear of the women.  I will cheer the day he mounts a hen.  :)

9 birds of all most mature statue really did a number on the food supply!  We were going through lots of feed.  Not sure if it was the hungery teenage roosters, or the fact that we had 9 birds.  Immediately, I noticed that food and water supplies are lasting long without those three.  We will get through the winter with our 5 girlies and re-evaluate adding a hen or 2.  Thinking we should add 2 so they have a buddy.  Those girls are ruthless!  haha  Right now, we are still motling so only getting an egg or 2 per day from the Barred Rocks.  They seem to not be hit as hard by the molt.  The Easter Eggers and the Welsummer have been out of the count for weeks.  Hope they make their way back to egg laying soon!

Sorry my screen shot is so small.  Here is the crew just before we started dissecting!

Peace out cluckers!

Friday, November 15, 2013


If you do not want to see images of my chickens about to be killed, just killed and in the process of being gutted, you may want to skip this post!

D day has arrived.  I had about 2 hrs to finish gathering what I needed after my kids got on the school bus....all the while scurrying to do normal Friday chores...trash day, clean the bathrooms, do some dishes and some wash.  My invited guests arrived right on time and I heard a baby crying and knew it sounded too young to be our neighbor's, who is now 2 years old.  Mrs Hoover pushed a double stroller containing her 2 little girls, Jolene and Priscilla and her baby boy (the 2nd boy in 7 children!), baby Lee a mile to our home from their farm.  First stop, Baby Lee was a little gretzy, so mama stopped to feed him (from the tap).  Gretzy is a great word we folks of PA Dutch (or Deutsche) heritage use to describe a child (or person) who is irritable and cranky.  My guests today are fluent in PA Dutch, much like my father's parents.  It was a real treat to watch them all speaking Dutch to each other. I haven't heard that in many years as my father and his siblings never really learned the language.  We all have some things we know.  Swear words, of course, top the list of things most people learn.  After that, it's just a language your grandparents use when they don't want you to know what they are talking about or arguing with each other!  :)  These guests are of the Mennonite faith in the Old Order.  They drive a horse and buggy and dress plain.  They do have a phone, unlike the old order Amish, but I would guess alot of their practices are similar. 

Clash of the 1800's.  New school plain vs old school plain.

The 2 younger neighbor kids, also Mennonite, however they are of the modern sect and drive cars, have computers and cell phones, but do not have a television, came over just in time for the killing.  I am not sure if the two sects interact.  Personally, I would think the Old Order folk would not like the defected sect, who live much more modern lives, dress with bolder colors and prints but still claim to be 'plain'.  I did send word with the kids to see if their mother wanted to pop over to watch as she had mentioned at one point that she was interested.  Needless to say, Callie (4) and Evan (2) came over for the fun.  I thought they'd want to play with the girls, but they were more interested in the chickens.  I hope they aren't scarred for life!  They watched the killing and then quietly crept back to their own yard and that is the last I saw of them. 

First task at hand was the kill.  Mrs Hoover brought a feed sack and she had cut out on of the corners just enough so the birds heads would fit through.  The idea was to cut off the head with her shearers and then the bird would flop out the blood in the feed bag.  No muss, no fuss.  My birds were in boxes all ready to go.  Lila was by himself and the 2 babies were in another box together.  We started with Lila.  Mrs Hoover put the sack up over the box while opening the flaps, grabbed Lila and forced him into the bag.  Once secure, she used her fingers to feel for his head and coaxed it out the hole she made in the corner.

Then she stretched the head and neck out and we clipped the head off with the clippers above.  She had the bag secured and after the head came off, the bird went through his involuntary flop phase, which actually serves a purpose.  It helps get the blood out and is important in the bleed out phase.

This girls giving Lila a pet before his demise.  Someday they will be doing the butchering for their family!

One snip, and the little bastard is an oven stuffer roaster.
After all 3 birds were killed and done flopping, we got on to the next task.  I had a turkey fryer set up with water boiling.  The key to the defeathering, is opening the pores so the feathers remove easily.  If the water is too hot, the pores will close.  We added some cooler water to the boiling water.  Then one by one, submerged the birds in the pot for afew minutes.  After all were wet, hot and ready to go, we tied each to a rope over a beam by their legs and pulled all the feathers.  They just came right out!  It really was neat how they just pulled out.  We worked quickly as this needed to be done before the bird cooled up again.

Here we are!  All Naked and looking almost like supermarket chicken!

We still have a long way to go until we are ready for the freezer.  The killing and defeathering stages were not too bad.  Really.  I was a little sad when we killed them, but we had so much work to do that there wasn't time to lament.  When you choose to raise chickens, you need to get over the fact that these are pets and realize you have a job to do to keep your flock safe, healthy and fed.  Culling birds is what is necessary to achieve that.  My organically fed, ranging boys will hopefully taste great and blow away Frank Perdue.  We shall see!

I will stop the tale here and continue with the next post after I digest some more.  The actual butchering was a little tedious.  I was not a great biology student and we were finding all sorts of body parts.  Fascinating to say the least.  My great friend, Joe, was on his way over and made it just in time to join us for the butchering.  It worked out perfect since we had 3 birds and 3 butcherers!  I'm so glad he joined me on this Goonie adventure as I have been on a few of his so it's always nice to return the favor!  Although he said he wasn't too into the butchering, he was actually much more of a natural than I.  I took afew pics during that sequence, but I filmed the whole thing.  So, I will work on trying to pull some stills out of my footage and maybe afew clips.  Bear with me on this as it may take a bit of time for the update!

Thank you for sticking with me through this as I know it makes most queasy!  I can also add for your amusement, that when ordering dinner tonight, I ordered only pork products and skipped the chicken!  :)

Shouting out a fond farewell to Lila, Matilda and Raven.  You were all lovely birds and so glad we had the opportunity to raise you up so that you can nourish our bodies as nature intended.  We will miss you all but your stories will be told for years to come!

Nighty night, Cluckers.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Coq au Vin

Some thoughts as I prepare for tomorrow. 

The time has come to learn how to kill, gut and prepare our birds to use as food.  Yes, the sound of this is grusome and repulsive, but knowing my birds have had a great life here compared to a factory farm makes me feel good about it.

A wonderful Old Order Mennonite woman, Rachel Hoover, who lives on a dairy farm just down our road, graciously agreed to teach me the fine art of killing and dressing chickens.  She is a mother of 7 and most of the time I run into her, she is in the barn tending to their cows.  Last night, I stopped by the farm to confirm our project details and was greeted by the gaggle of kids all smiles.  They are definitely less creepy and suspicious of 'fancy folk' as our more modern car driving plain neighbors.  Go figure!  After all was confirmed, I set out to get my head together planning what I need.

I found afew blogs/web sources on small scale chicken processing.  I will continue to review tonight so I make sure anyting we could possibly need is on hand as this will be messy.  Mrs Hoover is mainly looking for me to provide a table, boiling pot of water and an open flame for burning off feathers and fuzz after we pluck them.  I have seen other items that will help- bucket to catch blood, ice bucket, clean and soapy water buckets and trash can for feathers/guts.  I have also seen pics of what to expect in the gutting process.  I was never a great biology student, but it is kind of cool to check out guts!  Also, will be able to find out some clues on the health of our birds which will hopefully help with the other birds and future birds! 

The plan is:  The kids will help me box Lila in the morning.  We've been saving a large box just for him!  They can say their goodbyes.  Raven and Matilda (2 of the young roosters) will also be contained as they are a bugger to catch!  All 3 birds will be oven stuffer roasters by the time the kids return from school and we will be planning our pen design for some Cornish Crosses in the spring if all goes well!  We cannot keep the meat birds with the flock for various reasons.  But we have plenty of space left on the acre we pay out the butt for so here it goes!  Wish me luck!  Hope to document the process with pics, video and the steps we took.