Sunday, July 8, 2012

From Pasture to Freezer

The meat chicken journey has come to an end, at least for the meat chickens.  It was a day filled with anticipation and apprehension.  For me, it was something totally new that had never been done in the past.  And before the deer hunting class, probably would have been unthinkable.  But we had 95 Red Ranger meat chickens that were ready to go.  Memorial Day weekend was definitely going to be memorable.

**Notice that some of the pictures that follow may be considered graphic, although they are just a part of life and death in our food chain.**

The first step consisted of gathering the chickens together.  They were not supposed to eat for 18 hours before being butchered to allow time for their crops to empty so it wouldn't be so messing during the process.  This meant we had to move the chicken tractor from the pasture to the concrete at the driveway.  It is possible that "herding chickens" is very much in the same vein as "herding cats".

Scott using a stick and broom to try and "herd" the chickens.

After trying to get them all collected at the moved chicken tractor, they all ended up back in the pasture.  Total failure on our part.

Chickens back in the pasture enjoying their last clover meal.

This resulted in our having to catch them one by one and carry them into the chicken tractor on the concrete. They received lots of water and time waiting for tomorrow to arrive.

Everyone arrived at our house by 5am to start loading the chickens into the trailer.  We were at the butchering facility by 6:05am.  This was in anticipation of a very hot day ahead of us.  We found a gentleman in our county that has a USDA inspected facility for processing chickens.  He allows people to use his facility for a small fee.  He teaches people how to process chickens, and then we go ahead and do the work, with him nearby if needed for any questions.  It's really a pretty good setup, although if this is a USDA inspected facility, I just lost all faith in the USDA inspection process.  However, I have no doubt about the cleanliness of the facility before we started.  Plenty of bleach was used and I'm sure there were no germs left to cause any troubles.

Processing facility - AKA Mr. Fitz's Playhouse

After allowing about 20 minutes for the chickens to calm down after the ride in the trailer to Mr. Fitz's Playhouse, it was time to start.  Mr. Fitzgerald grabbed one chicken and walked us through the initial process of putting the chickens into the kill cones, cutting their arteries and letting them bleed out.  Then sticking them into the scalder and moving them into the Featherman plucker.

On a side note, the Featherman plucker is the key to making this process go smoothly.  With a properly scalded chicken, about 30-40 seconds in the plucker and two chickens are in their birthday suits ready to be eviscerated.

Oldest Son did a great job along with Scott's two boys that are 13 and 15 of catching the chickens and killing them.  They took pride in their work and got the job done while the rest of us did the next steps.

Oldest son using the kill cones to dispatch the chickens.

After a couple hours, we had over half of them killed and chilling, ready to be eviscerated.  It was a milestone that we were moving along quite well.

The next step was eviscerating, where the head and feet are cut off, the guts removed and the crop along with the lungs removed from the chicken.  My BIL from Knoxville was the "King of Evisceration".  He was able to take a chilled chicken from whole to carcass in about a minute.  Scott was a close second by the end of the day and I was a distant third.

Once we got to this point, we shifted and I moved to the rinse and inspection process before the bagging and shrink wrapping.

A processed chicken ready for bagging.

Mr. Fitzgerald said that a real chicken farmer would be able to eat chicken that night.  After working our way through the chickens, we looked at each other and said, "Yep.  I could eat chicken now!"  It wasn't nearly as graphic as I had anticipated.

When we arrived, Mr. Fitzgerald said that we would be there until dark.  After we got going, he said he had never seen new people work so well together and get the job done so quickly.  We were finished processing, had the facility cleaned up and had 95 chickens shrink wrapped and on ice by 1:30pm.

On the way home, we realized we were short on ice, so I went to town to get some ice while Scott headed to the house to find refrigerator space for some of the chickens so the meat could "rest".  On the way, I got a speeding ticket for 67 in a 45.  In Virginia, this is considered Reckless Driving by Speed and is a Class 1 misdemeanor.  That would give me a criminal record that would be "on my permanent record".  Luckily on my court date, the judge was lenient and changed it to basic speeding.  So if you happen to visit Virginia, be careful with your speed.  It is considered the most expensive state to speed in.  Also, anything over 80 is also considered Reckless Driving by Speed, even if the speed limit is 70.

Sunday we decided that it was time to celebrate with family and friends and try out the finished product.  This included Scott and his family, my BIL from Knoxville, my BIL from north of Washington, DC, a couple of the Good Wife's friends from Lynchburg, the Good Wife's sister and one of the Good Wife's friends and her son from North Carolina.  We cooked up seven Red Ranger chickens.

First chicken getting fried.

Some were fried whole, some were pieced, breaded and fried, and some were pieced and put on the grill.

It cooled down a bit that evening and was a great time with family and friends.  That is what it is all about.  Hanging out and having good food with each other.

Overall the process went smooth.  The raising was simple enough, and the processing went quick.  And the end result was chicken that was delicious and good for us.  It went so well that we already have our chickens on order at the hatchery for this fall.  We are going to be getting 151 Red Ranger roosters and letting them go for an additional five days.  This should get our average dressed weight well over 4 pounds compared to the 3.75 pounds we averaged this time.

It is a life skill that Oldest Son has now inherited and something I anticipate continuing on a regular basis.  The best part is that the license plate on the car that the Good Wife usually drives came up for renewal.  I took the opportunity to show our enthusiasm for this whole process.  Although the Good Wife isn't so happy for the change since she is the one getting the comments!

Stay tuned for a follow-up post of all the ways the Red Ranger's have been cooked.  Any way they are prepared, they are delicious!

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