Saturday, April 16, 2011

My turn as a chicken farmer

One day back toward the middle of February, a package arrived at Bek's house. It contained three dozen chicks. Two were destined for the chopping block.  The last was destined for the chicken coop and life as a laying hen.  Mind you, you can't sex chickens easily as chicks.  So, you aren't really sure if you are getting hens or cocks.

You have to raise them and hope for the best.

The eating chicks turned out to be about half and half.  The layers were a little less gender neutral.  Ten ladies and two gents.  But at this age, irregardless of sex, they sure are cute.  It's almost enough to make you think about keeping them as pets instead of dinner.


Problem with chicks is they grow up.  Then they aren't nearly so cute.  They crap a lot.  They eat a lot.  You have to keep up on the cleaning.  They kind of smell.  But you have to keep telling yourself.  They're good eating.

So this is what we got.  Your standard variety white fryer chicken.  They make cute little peeping noises and scurry with their scratchy feet around their cardboard enclosure.  They stick close to the heat lamp.  They are sturdy chicks.  They are large.  They are robust.  But mostly, they are hungry.

And these are the laying chicks.  Much smaller.  Much, much smaller but just as hungry.

 And this is the chicken coop where they will live.  I have to say, it's a pretty plush chicken coop.  And I don't think that Bek and Matt built something this plush if they weren't serious about keeping chickens.  But I was happy to get in on the inaugural chicken ranching endeavor.

But alas, on a cool day in April, in fact, probably a week overdue, it was time to harvest the chickens.  All the participating families arrived.

Eagan volunteered to kill the chickens.  We decided it was a job for the big boys.  We had decided to dispatch of the chickens using an ultra sharp ax.  It was over in seconds.  If you've never witnessed a chicken beheading, which I hadn't until this day, it's a fairly simple procedure.  You have a large metal hook, that looks like a giant paper clip that you use to round up a chicken from the coop.  Once you've snared a chicken, you secure it by the feet and carry it to the chopping block.  Don't get me wrong.  The chicken is unhappy at this point.  But if you move quickly, you can secure the chicken's head and neck between the two nails in the block and the end is swift and clean.

Did I mention, chickens are pretty messy.  There is a lot of crap involved in chicken ranching.  This requires much water to dispense of said crap.  Little tip for you.  Much easier to give a chicken a shower when it's already dead.

Now.  Plucking chickens.  Sounds like a bad job.  Actually, it's not so bad.  First you dip the chicken by it's feet in a pot of boiling water for about 5-7 seconds.  Any longer and the skin tends to tear.  It might tear anyway.  The feathers come out relatively quickly and easily.  If the feathers are wet, you don't get feathers up your nose.  However, wet chicken feathers are not the most pleasant smell.  Not like steam vents in Yellowstone, but definitely not Abronia scent.

Next comes gutting.  I'm not going to show you pictures of the gutting process, but it isn't hard, although it is a bit unpleasant.  You have to cut the skin near the rump, and then simply run your hand inside and pull most of the guts out.  Maybe because I'm a biologist, or maybe because I've spent a childhood cleaning fish, I didn't get all squeamish about this.  I found it easier to remove the neck and esophagus entirely before I started.  Then there was nothing for the innards to get hung up on.  Invariably, the liver was punctured and the bile ran all over in shockingly green solution ran over the insides.  That was a bit weird.

After gutting, you had to give the birds the once over and a really thorough rinsing.

Then you throw them in a cooler until you are ready for final processing.

We lined them on on the table and took are turns finishing them.  We removed any remaining feathers or parts of feathers.  We were completely prepared to singe the pin feathers, but found that we really didn't need to.  We checked the insides for organs.  When we were finished, we lined 'em up and prepared to dispense of them by family.

We gave the guy who did the brunt of the gutting first choice.  He took that monster bird on the right.  As it turned out, I got the monster bird on the far left.  That bird weighed 6 lbs.  The breasts weighed one pound each!  If you think about it, that's 6 days dinner just from the breasts of that one chicken!

Believe it or not, the entire process from set up to clean up was about 3 hours.  We had all the chickens plucked and cleaned in an hour and a half.  I took home four chickens.  We figured the price at slightly less than $6 a bird.  Would I do it again. Sure.  In fact, if I had the property, I'd probably order two dozen chickens myself and enjoy a whole year's worth of chicken.  I'd guess I eat two chickens a month.  In any event, it was an interesting way to spend a Sunday afternoon.


  1. Seems less daunting when you break it down. And less than $6/bird?! That's great! I now want chickens even more than I already did. If only we weren't renting... *sigh*

  2. Well, I did make it a tad less gruesome by not talking about their post-beheading behavior. It was certainly enlightening, but some folks might have been very squeamish about it.

  3. Oh, and I meant to add that we had two guys killing and doing the initial spray of the chickens. We had three to five people plucking at all times. We had one person gutting the chickens and we had Beckie running interference and clean up. In all, I think there were nine people working feverishly. If you had to kill and pluck and gut and finish 25 chickens, I don't think you'd be doing it in one day. I would guess that 4 or 5 is the most that one or two people would be able to get done without wearing themselves out.


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