Saturday, October 16, 2010

Harvesting Chickens

I remember the first time I read the words harvesting and chickens together in Barbara Kingsolver's book about local and home-grown food. Harvesting chickens; sounds nice, clean and simple as though the act of killing a chicken is nothing more complicated than pulling a turnip. Harvesting is a useful word for blotting out the gore and, perhaps, the guilt of killing a living, breathing warm-blooded animal; the verb slaughter hides nothing. I slaughtered 34 chickens today, and, I must admit, it wasn't at all like harvesting a vegetable. Nothing terrible happened. There were no glitches. Everything went as smoothly as possible. But I can't say I enjoyed myself. Starting at about 9am I started taking them in pairs, stuffing them head down into upside-down traffic cones, cutting the veins on either side of the throat, waiting for them to bleed and die before decapitating, dunking each in a pot of 140F water for approximately 50 seconds, tossing them into an auto plucker to remove the feathers and then into a ice water bath to await evisceration. I finished just after noon. Michelle suggested I wash the splatter of chicken blood off my face and neck before I go buy ice at the store down the road. I harvest potatoes and carrots; I slaughter chickens. There is a difference if you haven't tried it.
In the afternoon, our friend WendiLou came to help us process the chickens. The three of us, WendiLou the seasoned professional, Michelle and I the bumbling novices, finished in a couple hours. The chickens are sitting in a bath of ice water for the night. Then we'll bag and freeze them. The three pigs are off to the slaughter house tomorrow morning. It's going to be real quiet around here.