The time has come. Seven weeks and three days from the day they were hatched. It was time to move the chickens from the pasture to the freezer. A small bit of work would be required to make that transition, and this time we were ready, having learned from our previous chicken butchering venture.
The process was reviewed, bottlenecks analyzed and new equipment prepared. It was go time!
For the most part, the same cast of characters were assembled. Friend Scott, partner in this venture, BIL from Knoxville and another partner in this venture, BIL from Baltimore, friend of BIL from Baltimore and the Oldest Son along with Scott's two sons. Seven butchers, same as last time. But this time, we had 121 Cornish Cross chickens compared to the 95 Red Rangers.
These chickens were big. Broad breasted and the look of an NFL lineman, ready to take on any threat that approaches. Although, when it comes down to it, they are just big chickens. How do you call a chicken chicken? It acts as a definition of itself. In that way, they didn't disappoint.
This spring all the steps of taking a chicken from walking, living creature to bagged meat was explained in thorough detail. Because of that, we will spare those details and explain what was done differently, and what we learned from this experience.
Although these chickens aren't as "chicken like" as the Red Rangers, or any normal chicken for that matter, we still thought it would be safe practice to put a lid on the trailer when transporting them from the pasture to the processing facility. Even though they could jump as well as a lead balloon with legs, it wouldn't be good to have one rolling down the road behind the trailer if we hit a bump.
The first big change was using an old food grade barrel as a chill tank after plucking and before eviscerating. The top of a 55 gallon food grade plastic barrel was cut off and the edge deburred. By the way, the top edges of plastic food barrels are sharp! My right thumb can attest to that, although no stitches were required, it still doesn't feel good.
Last time we were using coolers, which could only hold so many chickens at one time. We were moving coolers back and forth and all around last time. This time the barrel was placed in position next to the eviscerating table and it didn't move the entire time. There was enough space for chickens and ice during the entire process.
Another improvement was the use of aprons, or rather surgical gowns. The Good Wife had gotten a couple from the hospital to be used as a halloween costume for the Middle Son, but we got to use them instead. These kept Scott and my BIL from Knoxville dry while standing up against the table and cleaning out the chickens.
Last time I believe the clothes they wore during this process was thrown out at the end since they were so full of "chicken goo" at the end, they weren't worth saving. This time, a little splatter on the bottom few inches of the pants was the only damage. Next time we need more, so the rinsing people can wear them and stay dry and clean too.
The last big improvement was the drying rack. Last time, the chickens were rinsed and cleaned for final inspection, removing any pin feathers and anything else that shouldn't be on the packaged bird. After rinsing, an air hose was used to "blow the chickens dry" before packaging. Not what I would define as the cleanest process.
My BIL from Knoxville came up with a drying rack that was simple and ingenious. It used PVC pipe attached to a few boards and held in place on a Jawhorse. Before this weekend, I had never heard of a Jawhorse, but I can't wait to get my own now. At one time there were 24 dressed chickens on the drying rack, and it didn't even think of tipping over or tilting to one side or the other.
Once the chickens were placed on the drying rack, the shrink bag was placed over them to keep them clean and then they were allowed to drip dry for a few minutes. Even though it would seem to be a problem that the chickens were sitting out in the air for a bit before being shrink bagged, it wasn't a problem this morning. When we got to the butchering site, the outside temperature was only 37 degrees. To say the least, everyone was hoping to get assigned to either the scalding pot or the shrink bagging pot of hot water in an attempt to keep their hands warm.
The final step was to zip-tie the bags and dip them into the pot of hot water to shrink bag the chickens and give them a professional final look. The Oldest Son and I got to participate in the final stages of the chicken processing at the end.
Bagged chickens waiting to be shrink wrapped can be seen above on the left. By the end of the day, it had warmed up a bit, but was still a cool morning for processing chickens.
Last spring we processed 95 Red Rangers, showed up with the chickens at 6am and left at 1:30pm. This fall we processed 121 Cornish Cross chickens, showed up at 7am and left at 1:45pm. I think we are getting the hang of this process.
Sunday afternoon we had a "harvest feast" with all kinds of side dishes, along with seven of our Cornish Cross chickens pieced and cooked on the grill. My BIL from Knoxville gave us a lesson on piecing a chicken, showing us the way to get the most of a whole chicken, including a lot of extra parts to be used to make stock.
Overall the Cornish Cross chickens were a good experience. They aren't as "chicken-like" as the Red Rangers, and would rather eat the food provided for them instead of foraging for grass and bugs. If the feeders are hung low enough, they will sit right on the ground and eat instead of standing up.
The Cornish Cross chickens were raised for two weeks less than the Red Rangers, and have averaged 4.65 pounds with a high of 5.77 pounds. The Rangers averaged 3.76 pounds with a single high of 4.9 pounds. The Cornish Cross are meatier, take less time to raise, and convert feed to meat much quicker. Pending a good response from our customers, this breed is leading the race to be the chicken of choice for next spring.