Freezer Camp: Chicken Harvest 2010

I’ve been putting off this post for a long time. Here’s the short version of why: “Harvesting those chickens was NOT fun”. It was important. It was educational. It will provide us some awesome meals over the next few months. I’m really glad we did it. But it was NOT fun.

Having grown up in suburbia and never really being exposed to farming of any sort (until recently), this experience was a wake-up call. Stepping on ants or killing spiders in the house is relatively painless for me. But the whole process of catching a live chicken, hanging it upside down, slitting it’s throat, watching it bleed to death, cutting it’s head and feet off, plucking it, cutting it open, pulling it’s guts out, cleaning it and stuffing it in a bag, then repeating the process 15 times, took it’s toll on me. I am really grateful to be living in a time of history when grocery stores and restaurants are everywhere and everything is packaged and sanitized for me. I just wish I had more confidence in the food industry in general.

As of right now, we don’t have plans to go through this process again any time soon (except occasional culling of a single bird from the laying flock if necessary). I’m glad we did it and I’m proud to say that we know HOW to do it first-hand now, just in case of a disaster of some sort.

So, let’s get down to the process we went through. If we ever do it again (buying a bunch of meat chickens and harvesting them all at once), I’ll definitely invest in (or build) a plucker – pulling the feathers out is very labor intensive. We had to kill all of the chickens at once, because based on what I’ve read, they will start dying of heart attacks (one did a week earlier) and/or breaking their legs if we let them live much longer. It’s the way they’re bred (they are Cornish X Rocks).

Here is the video introduction:

I don’t have video of actually catching the chickens. The first few were easy. The last few literally tried to run for their lives. In fact I had to use a net to catch the last 3.

This is the killing video. It’s disgusting and if you have a weak stomach or some psycho problem about animals being part of the food chain, don’t watch it, or better yet, click off this page and browse elsewhere. This is the first chicken I killed that day. We could have used a “killing cone” instead of hanging it by a rope, but the cones I bought were not big enough for these huge chickens. This video actually makes me a bit nauseous and I’m not real proud of it. But this is the reality of what we were doing.

These chickens spent their entire life (about 8 or 9 weeks) eating, sleeping, defecating and laying around – often in their own feces. So their big fat bellies were caked with excrement and food scraps. We decided to do a quick pre-cleaning of their bellies before starting the scalding/plucking steps. The chicken is already dead in this video in case you need to know that.

Next we scalded the chicken in 150 degree water for 30 to 45 seconds – actually 5 or 6 cycles of 5 seconds in the water and 3 seconds out. That makes the feathers easier to pull out.

The previous video shows me dunking the chicken in a second container of cooler water before starting the plucking. We ended up skipping that step for most of the rest of them. I think keeping it warm made plucking easier.

Next I cut off the feet.

Then I cut off the head (probably way too carefully!) while talking to Kevin about some baby turkeys for sale at the local Tractor Supply store (maybe some other time!).

Carol took over at this point and did the evisceration. She had this down to a science after the first few.

At this point, she rinsed it real well and then put it in a tub of water with some apple cider vinegar in it. She left it there until she was finished with the next bird. Then she put it in a freezer bag and stored it in a cooler. Some of these chickens were so big, they wouldn’t fit in a one gallon freezer bag. So we had to cut off the thigh/leg portions and store them separately. We kept the chickens refrigerated for a couple days and then moved them to the freezer. That’s why we called it Freezer Camp.

It’s been a couple months since we actually did this. We’ve had the opportunity to eat some of these chickens. They are VERY GOOD in my humble opinion. It’s also nice knowing that they had a decent life compared to what it could have been on a factory farm. They were given NO medication or hormones or any other crap during their short life. They were treated well and fed well and had a decent amount of space to move around in. And we’re thankful to have been rewarded for our efforts raising them with the nutrition and wonderful taste they provide, along with everything else that goes with a high quality, healthy meal. Your comments are welcome.

We used a lot of sources to gain an education about the entire process, including Backyard Poultry Magazine and this blog post from The Deliberate Agrarian. A YouTube search for “Chicken Harvest” also turned up countless videos.