Notes from Windward: #69


Rooster Party!

Oana describes the process of slaughtering chickens

     A couple weeks ago the weather gave us the opportunity to begin the chicken slaughtering we've been meaning to do. The goal this time was to use the Whiz-Bang Chicken Plucker to do the plucking, saving us lots of time and energy.

     It was sunny and comparatively warm, so Andrew raided Ebb & Flo to catch some roosters. We intend to save most of the hens for laying this year. Once they were killed in the cone in Vermadise, they were brought over to the butchering setup.

     To process a bird, it is first necessary to scald the birds. This means repeatedly plunging them in a hot water (145-150°F) bath so that the follicles that grip the feathers expand and loosen up. A teaspoon of dishwashing detergent added to the scald water helps it to reach the skin uniformly.

Opalyn scalds a rooster

     Immediately after scalding, the birds must be plucked. We turned on the chicken plucker and dropped the bird in.

Rooster ready for plucking

     It merrily tumbled around in the plucker until one of its feet got stuck in the gap at the bottom of the plucker and we had to stop the motor and rescue the bird.

hosing away the feathers as the rooster tumbles

freeing the rooster's leg

     This seems to be an assembly flaw which we should be able to remedy with a little fiddling. Still, the birds emerged extremely well-plucked!

perfectly plucked!

     The next step is to process the bird into a more appetizing form. The legs, head, and neck must be removed.
Rooster head

     The trickiest part is then removing the crop -- the sac the bird uses to store the food it has pecked before sending it down to the gizzard to be "chewed".

Opalyn points out the crop

     The gizzard is there to break down pieces of food into more manageable morsels for the stomach. The gizzard should contain little pebbles called grit to mash up the food coming in from the crop. It will be removed with the other guts. Before doing that, the oil gland at the base of the tail can be removed. Some people don't mind leaving it there, but I'm not particularly excited.

Lungs, livers and gall bladder attached, and gizzard

     Once those issues are taken care of, it's time to remove the guts! Careful cuts must be made to ensure that the insides remain intact. Excrement can contaminate the bird. The final step is to just stick your hand in and carefully pull out all of the organs, making sure that the gall bladder does not break. The gall bladder filters out all of the unpleasant things going through the liver. If it does break in the chicken, the chicken needs to be discarded, which to me is a sad thing.

Opalyn pulling out the intestines,
to be followed by the rest of the offal

     After all the guts (offal) are out, it's necessary to check the insides again to make sure the lungs, kidneys, and testicles (if it's a rooster) are removed. And, we're done!

All done!

     Finally, it's a good idea to wash the bird before wrapping it up for the freezer or putting it into the crock pot.

     Our first day was a learning day-- figuring out how to do everything. Opalyn gave me a lot of guidance butchering, so that I was able to teach Lindsay the next day. Our second day of rooster butchering was a tough one, since we butchered 6 roosters. By the end of the day Lindsay and I were freezing, trying to finish up at the butchering table. Andrew did all the killing and packaging up, as well as helping to get the burner on to heat up the scalding-water to pluck the roosters. We worked well, but we needed a major break after that. Fortunately for us, the weather became cold and awful again.

     Afterwards, we reflected on the effects of the day. Butchering is certainly not easy work, nor particularly pleasant. One time I had the acute sensation of feeling like a chicken about to be butchered, having examined guts all afternoon. While the butchering was being done, our minds were focused on the work at hand, but after it was over, we were ale to disconnect and reexamine what we'd done.

     It is necessary to realize that life comes and goes in cyclical patterns. It is not wise to keep all the animals that are born until they die of natural causes. The goat and sheep herds must be culled every year to about 1/3 the size of the flock after birthing season, for example. The chickens also must be culled. If we do not, we would have too many chickens to feed with not enough food, which would cause a great imbalance in our little ecosystem. This would, in turn, cause greater and greater imbalances in larger and larger ecosystems. What you do on a small scale does affect the bigger picture.

     We humans are stewards of the earth. This does not mean that we can blindly order life to satisfy our wants. Life leads to death eventually, and we must realize that humans are not immune.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 69