I kind of live a dream life…well the dream life of an aspiring domestic at least.
When we’re surrounded by something and see it everyday we tend to take it for granted. So sometimes I have to remind myself how lucky I have been to live in a beautiful mountain community for the past year, and in love with a man that works on a grass fed, pasture raised meat farm (we met working in a community garden, too).
I guess that means I date a cowboy! Honestly! I mean how often do you hear that. Now granted he doesn’t ride horses(very often) or go on long cattle drives…we live in the mountains not the great plains…but he does heard cattle, pigs, sheep, and chickens, and he looks really cool in his cowboy hat so I think that qualifies.
I’ve been exposed to so many life events just within the last year that most people nowadays never witness in their lifetime. In my opinion, events that are necessary for us as humans to really understand what life is about in all its many forms – the good, the bad, and the ugly and the pretty! If you go back just a few generations you’ll hear stories of chicken killing days, Sunday lunch at Grandmother’s house where she always made her famous pound cake, and sweating through canning days at the end of summer so there’d be vegetables and fruit through the winter. And that’s what I’m trying to get back too. A time when we knew where every bit of food on the table came from and whose hands prepared it. I’ve made a point to put myself in”hard to watch” situations because I ought to know as a responsible and conscientious human being how the meat I’m eating is raised and killed. I’ve seen calves and goats born and take their first steps, and a cow shot and slaughtered. I count them as life lessons. Plus who knows when those skills might be necessary again. (That sounds awfully pessimistic, doesn’t it?)
Which is why yesterday I was part of an awesome chicken killing and processing team down at Hickory Nut Gap Farm. It was my second time participating. The first I only got through three chickens before I got over heated and felt faint. The combination of crates of chickens behind me, a steaming broiler to my left, warm blood on my arms from the fresh kill, and the adrenaline and power of killing something for the first time with my own hands was overwhelming. (Its a very different experience than hitting a squirrel or frog with your car!)
But the second time around went much smoother. I was down at the farm at 6 am before the fog had lifted and we promptly began catching chickens. After getting the broiler lit and the water was hot we got started.
I’ll give a quick and dirty over view of the process: The chicken is removed from the crate and hung upside down either by having its feet tied or in a plastic inverted cone. Their neck is slit so they bleed out without tensing up which keeps the meat tender. Once they have died they are dipped in a hot water to open the pores on their skin, so when they are placed in the plucker machine their feathers come out more easily. The next stop is indeed the plucker where it is tumbled around and over rubber “fingers” with small grooves that grab on to and remove the feathers without damaging the meat or skin. Then the chicken is eviscerated and all its organs removed. Once it has been thoroughly cleaned it is bagged, weighed and ready for the Farmer’s Market.
Given my tenuous history with the actually killing I wo-maned the plucker machine until we’d worked to the last crate of chickens and I asked to kill the last six.
We processed 130 chickens which came to over 650 lbs of free-range chicken meat since they averaged at 5 lbs each.
One thing my darlin’ commented on during the process was how he actually kind of likes chicken killing because you actually get to spend the time with other folks more or less bonding over stroy telling, chit-chat, and crazy things that are bound to happen given the circumstances. Which was a big purpose of slaughtering days, barn raising, corn shucking, grain milling, etc. in rural communities back in the day. People got to socialize and get a lot of work done at the same time. Everybody knew each other and helped one another out.
Is it romantic to think that’s how communities and neighborhoods ought to be today? Maybe, maybe not. And maybe I’m just naive but I definitely still see the possibility for it in the world!
Here are some pretty farm pictures to lighten the mood again!