Sunday, September 08, 2013

The journey of chicken to food . . . in limited sanguinary details.

We try to be very forthwith when we describe why we got into the farming business. We are working to support a food system that promotes biological diversity and cultural autonomy. We believe that can be best accomplished by what might be called "voting with your dollar." That means making purchases and economic decisions that reflect the world you feel ought exist in the future. So goes the push to buy groceries from a farmers' market or investing in clean energy technologies.

We started our journey by going vegetarian for a few years to conserve environmental resources. We then went "locavore" after reflecting on transportation costs and the systematic idiosyncrasies of alternative vegetable production (e.g. organic tomatoes commonly come from the desert of Baja California); not to mention, we very much missed omnivorous dishes of our European and Hispanic heritage.  We found local, pasture-fed animal products were prohibitively expensive for our student budget so we took on the production ourselves. And so we've found ourselves living the farm life with all the responsibility, humility, and gory details that come along with such a lifestyle.

We've included the preamble to justify our practice of slaughtering animals, though we prefer to say "process." Our respect for animals and their intimate relationship with humans has only been strengthened with this experience. The way we raising chickens (or any of our animals) and the subsequent processing into food is a result of that respect and our practices reflect that. If you chose to read on, you will be exposed to the whole act of making chicken into food. We hope that you can learn something about raising animals.

It all begins with keeping the chickens safe and well feed. These "rangers" are ready for processing at about 16 weeks. Up to that point we keep them on pasture with a grain supplement in the evening to promote growth and flavor and to get them back into their shelter at night.

When their ready for processing, we withhold feed for a day and then round them up. These crates are used for ease of transportation and extraction at the processing facility.

The birds are then extracted from the crate and loaded into a killing cone. Being held upside-down promotes calmness in the bird and rapid bloodletting through a cut in the carotid artery. Most importantly, this method is acknowledged as the quickest and most humane way to dispatch a bird.

The steps after death must be completed as quickly as possible in a sanitary environment followed by rapid cooling to avoid spoiling and the spread of pathogens. Scalding the bird in soapy water loosens the feathers for plucking. Depending on the age of the bird the water is set to 145 - 160 degrees F. Too little scalding will result in difficulty plucking or skin tears from pulling too hard, while too much scalding will result in skin tears from weak skin.

Plucking can be done by hand (15-30 min) or with a machine (30 sec - 5 min).

Cleaning and eviscerating is where the skill is involved. Feet, head, neck, and entrails are removed. Organs (i.e., liver, heart, and gizzard) are separated if desired. We don't really recommend doing this on your own for the first time and have left further details out for our casual reader. If you want to give it a go anyway HERE is a pretty good step by step guide from As a plug, we have plans for a processing workshop with sufficient interest, so message us if you want to see that happen!

Some of our birds go right into packaging whole, though roast chicken gets old after a while. We do cut-ups of the rest. Can you name all of the parts?

Thanks for sticking through to the end! We hope your knowledge is empowering. It has certainly been a rewarding experience for us.