Thursday, July 21, 2016

135 chickens in 12 hours!

Today is one of two days on our farm where we process our chickens. We are doing approximately 150 in each batch. One batch fell today. The next will be in October. We will sell about 200 of these birds and keep about 100 for ourselves. By selling the 200, we eat our 100 for free. Is it worth it? On processing day, I always wonder if it is. It is a big job.

We were really proactive and thought ahead and learned a lot from our two previous processing days last year. We put up a good shade and had everyone assigned to their stations. 

So what does a day like this look like?

Well I should first tell you that my friend Claire and her three kiddos were in town. Jacob, who is 11, was a HUGE help to us. Yesterday, he went with JB and Sidge to get all 135 of our birds over onto this side of the property. (They also relocated the turkeys and new laying hens to where these broiler chickens had been.)

First up, Isaac or Sidge would catch the chickens. (They took turns throughout the day. Normally, Sidge wants to work a lot more, but we think he got really over-done the day before moving all the animals and having tennis lessons, and he kept needing a break.) You can see the chickens in the area right behind Jacob in the picture below:

After that, Grampa Kit. was in charge of processing the chicken. It is then dunked in a scalder to loosen all the feathers. From there, Jacob stepped in. He removed the chickens from the scalder and put them in our plucker (pictured above). We did four chickens at a time. Jacob was solely in charge of this step. After they were free of feathers (which takes about two minutes) he moved them to the table pictured below:

In the picture above, you can just see a chopping block off to the left. This is where I was stationed. The one thing I said I would prefer not to do this time was to be in charge of cutting off the heads, feet, and oil gland. However, honestly, it was really the best place for me. I didn't want to do what Dad was doing and Jacob couldn't do what I did. And JB's job is really hard. So there you have it. 

I actually do fine with this process. I try not to think about it. We also talk to the boys quite a bit about what we are doing and why. We do not make jokes about the animals, and when Sidge teared up a bit when we started processing, we explained to him that this was normal. We don't like killing animals, but we are proud to be processing and raising these chickens so properly and humanely.

The only time I had a hard time all day was when I grabbed a bit of quesadilla inside the house and then returned to the chickens outside. Eating while processing did not sit well with my stomach.

Once JB has finished evisceration of the bird, Jacob would put it in a big chill tank. I must say that I was very proud of this step. We do not make much money on these birds, and we really wanted to save money wherever we could. Because it was going to be so hot, we knew we would need a lot of ice, and we didn't want to buy it. So about a month ago, I started filling up old milk and juice jugs and water bottles with water and freezing them in the freezer the chickens would go into. We used these in the chill tank and had enough to not have to buy any ice -- even with a 90+ degree day.

While we were doing this part of the process, Maggie (our WWOOFer), Grama, and Claire, did kid duty. Maggie also had to keep up on other animal chores on the farm. She did not want to participate in the actual processing which we total respected. It isn't for everyone that's for sure!

Here's a picture of what Maggie accomplished with some of the kiddos:

After a lunch break, we moved into the garage where we do a quality control check (Mom and JB), bag the birds (Dad and me), and put them into hot water to shrink wrap (Dad). After that, Maggie was in charge of weighing and marking all the birds with their total cost. Here is Maggie doing her job:

I was then in charge of figuring out what freezer to put them in. You have to be very careful when putting them in the freezers because if you just put that many warm birds in a freezer, they may not freeze before they start going bad. So you have to layer them carefully. I used ice packs and other frozen foods to help with that.

Here is Dad with our last chicken! Hip hip horray! 

We started at 6am to beat the heat and finished at 6pm. It was a very solid day of work and went way faster than we could have hoped. We continue to get faster every single time.

Afterwards, it was time for some celebratory ice cream inside the house:

And then we said good bye to our friends who will leave very early tomorrow morning. Here are Bria and Hannah who were good buds. Bria is almost 4 and Hannah is almost 3, and we were amazed at how well they played together:

So proud of ourselves.

And exhausted!


Anonymous said...

That's really interesting - a great description of all the steps involved. Working fast in the heat and having to keep the chickens cool throughout the whole process would be a huge challenge. Congratulations!

TAV said...

Very enlightening!