Notes from Windward: #69

An Early Harvest

addressing some overcrowding
in the ChickPlex


     Late October is when we usually harvest meat. Since a well managed herd of goats or sheep will triple in size each year, we have to harvest two-thirds of them every year in order to not over load our land's carrying capacity. As the fall grass and acorns give way to snow and ice, we have to be very practical about how many animals we can over-winter sustainably.

     A key consideration when it comes to butchering involves finding ways to keep houseflies from contaminating the meat. By late October, which is when we do the bulk of our butchering, we'll have had a couple of hard frosts which will kill off the flies.

That's Opalyn holding a skinny rooster fresh from the Chicken Plucker, Tiffany keeping an eye on the Yellow Jackets, and Corina trying her hand at gutting

      In areas where it doesn't get cold enough to kill off the flies, meat is generally smoked as the first step in preserving it. The reason that smoke burns your eyes is because it contains organic tars that are acidic enough to kill off fly eggs and protect the surface of the meat. The fact that smoking meat enhances its flavor is a nice bonus, but sanitizing the surface is the primary reason for using a smoke house.

     Another late October bonus is that the hard frosts will have killed off the summer's crop of Yellow Jackets. Yellow Jackets are drawn to any meat source, and it's difficult enough to do a good job of butchering without having to keep one eye on the Yellow Jackets who will swarm around the meat you're working on.

     Butchering a single rabbit or chicken for the table can be done quickly enough that the flies and Yellow Jackets don't have time to gather. But when you've got a series of animals to process, the smell of fresh meat will quickly bring a crowd of unwanted guests.

      We're starting the fall harvest early this year in order to keep the chickens from becoming over-crowded. Back in the spring, we ordered in a couple of dozen each of Cuckoo Marans and Silver Laced Wyandotte chicks so that we'd have a good selection to choose from when it came time to select the breeding stock.

     Also, we've successfully incubated a considerable number of Rhode Island Red chicks this year, half of whom are roosters who'll be butchered as soon as they're mature enough to know for a mortal certainty that they're roosters. As the chicks grow into their mature size, they're becoming crowded, which means that it's time to start selecting the best birds and inviting the rest to dinner.

     A key reason why most butchering is put off until late October is that by then the hard frosts will have killed off the flies and Yellow Jackets that make working meat problematic in the summer. Since we were starting early, we relied on the "Shop Vac" method of pest control. Not only is it effective, it's way more fun than a video game.

     The process of butchering is emotionally charged, and one way we show our respect for what we're doing is to continually train ourselves to be ever more efficient and effective. Recently we came across three remarkable videos on YouTube that showed the methods used by Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms. Joel's work in developing techniques that produce and process meat in wholesome ways sets a high standard that we pay close attention to. We've avidly read his books, so you can imagine our delight when three videos recently came online showing how they bleed, gut and cut-up their chickens.

     These are explicit videos, so only click on these links if you're sure you want to see how it's done by an expert.

Bleeding out a Chicken

Eviscerating a Chicken

Cutting up a Chicken

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 69