Tuesday, July 22, 2008


We "processed" our eleven "meat birds" last weekend. Processing, being a bloodless euphemism for a rather bloody and primordial deed. A fairer description would go something like "We killed, plucked and gutted" our bunch of meat birds last weekend. ("Meat birds" being something of a euphemism as well. By "meat birds" I mean disgusting barely-avian bundles of flesh lying about in their food troughs.)

Oy. The whole business is an unpleasant one. ("Unpleasant" being a euphemism for...)

I thought I ought to write something of a description of this activity -- one of the most basic and least familiar of farm tasks because it is another one of those steps in a certain direction. If you don't care for the semi-gory details, you may want to skip this post.

We humans have grown very good at avoiding this stuff. It scares us (It IS scary) and saddens us (It IS sad) and so, we leave the slaughter to someone else (Often a large, corporate someone else). This seems to work pretty well. How many people take a moment to contemplate the steer who made their McDonald's burger possible or the factory-raised "C" in their bucket of KFC? There is a serious, and wholly unnatural disconnect. You can see this when people get all squeamish about the process; who really wants to know?

But here's my feeling: If you can't bear to think about it, don't contribute to it.

That's where the meat birds come in. I do have a problem with corporate meat. I don't want my eating habits to contribute to suffering and mistreatment and greed. But this is a meat eating family (I WAS a vegetarian for ten years but then I met Dan etc, etc...) and so, meat birds.

If we eat meat, we reasoned, we should be connected to the process, involved with the process at a literal gut level, elbow deep in the process.

In nine weeks, the meat birds had gone from cute fuzzy to obscenely, unnaturally obese. They flopped about and ate and ate and had, as I mentioned in a previous post, no quality of life whatsoever. I thought this would make it easier to kill them, and it probably did.

As is often the case on Maggie's-farm-for-sheer-and-often-clueless-novices, we read up before we started. Dan has a great big "Storeys Basic Country Skills" book and he kept it close as he built a little chicken gallows (No, we didn't hang the chickens in the classic sense) and set a pot on the fire (for scalding) and set up a wax paper covered "work area".

The book said to use a traffic cone. We were to place each chicken in the upside-down traffic cone and then poke them in the brains with a sharp knife. We debated stealing the traffic cone from up the road (The town road crew had added some fill when a section had sort of collapsed in the heavy rains). But however much our college-aged selves had delighted in such hijinks, our middle aged chicken slaughtering selves thought it didn't seem ethical, with the town is such financial troubles. So we settled for a feed bag with a hole cut in one corner.

My sister, brother-in-law and two young nephews came over to help. (Lisa also thought it might be a good idea to get a "sense of the process" too... Yup. Same crazy family, what can I say?) So, while 5 children milled around, we grabbed our first chicken... Well, Dan did. The rest of us could have continued chatting, er, um, "getting ready" for another hour or two.

He carried it upside-down, which seemed to relax it (Chickens sort of immobilize upside-down) and then into the sack it went. I tell you that chicken was a great deal calmer than we were. And so he poked the brain and slit the throat to bleed it out.
The legs kicked a little -- a lot.

"That's nerves, right? Just nerves?" was about all I could manage then. And yes it was.

And then "IT" was over.

We dipped the chicken in the hot water, plucked and cooled and Lisa, brave soul that she is, did some gutting. And "it" went on like that eleven times over.

Processing the chickens was NOT fun. It was bloody and strange and just what it was. But we set our minds, and now we have quite a few humongo chickens in our freezer and won't have to contribute to some Tyson conglomerate somewhere. But would I do it all again next year. I don't really know.

I am still processing it.


Maggie said...

I just found your blog today (thanks Google Reader!), and I'm fascinated. I'm a vegetarian/wanna-be vegan myself, and I'm thrilled to see people taking an active role in where their food comes from. Thanks too for sharing it with us! I think food education is a wonderful thing :)

Cheap Like Me said...

Meat ... such a mixed thing. I haven't done the "harvesting" myself, but we are thinking about going to help my aunt and uncle with it to learn more about it. We have made the step to PC meat, and I share your vegetarian history and mixed feelings. Thanks for sharing.

Christy said...

I will probably be doing this in a year or so, so I like reading about other people's experiences. I did animal research for years and have no problems with the "processing" once the animal is dead. It is the killing that is hard.

Off Grid Ebert said...

I also have a copy of "Storeys Basic Country Skills" and it's a Godsend. I refer to it all the time.

When we finally get set up we will have meat chickens. The "plan" as it stands today is for us to process them the first time and then start sending them to the butcher for processing if we can find a good butcher who we trust for the right price/trade. After that, we plan on processing every few times just to stay close enough to it that we don't take eating meat for granted - like we do now.

Thanks for all of the honest tips you've provided.

By the way, I've been reading another blog that has a very detailed how-to on this:
http://childreninthecorn.blogspot.com/2008/07/it-starts.html It goes over the course of several posts. That's the first if about four.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations! You've made a huge step here. It's messy and emotionally trying, but learning to harvest your own meat is important. This is SO much, much better than the lives and deaths of factory animals.

I like your phrase, "If you can't bear to think about it, don't contribute to it." I've tried to teach this to my young niece, but she refuses to make the leap, either to eat meat we have produced (Her: "How can you eat that when you killed it?"), or to give up meat grown in factories (Me: "How can you eat that when you know how it lived?"). The alternative she prefers is to look away from the issue.

So, good for you. Whatever you choose to do next year, you've looked the matter in the eye and you know where dinner comes from.


Anonymous said...

I love it! Very creative!That's actually really cool.