Hard to believe, but I actually did it. Today was the first proving day of my future on a farm.
Family friend Beth rehomed her young Orpington rooster with my flock today (see “Name that Roo”). She brought Margaret for moral support–saying goodbye is hard to do. The roo’ is a young bird–only about 6 months old, but with legs foretelling of turkey size! And now that he is here, it was time to say goodbye to White and Frank.
Dad came over with a couple of sharp knives and let it be known he would be leaving before the killing commenced. Didn’t actually work out that way.
I caught up Frank (not so hard) and White (who spiked my hand pretty good–such a dork) and, after Beth and Margaret left, brought them over to the gallows area that Dad had set up for us: a heavy pipe and some ropes with slip knots.
Mind you, I’ve never butchered a chicken before and was not sure of what I was doing. I’d watched some YouTube videos and the most humane video showed the “biblical” way of killing an animal. Step one, suspend the animal by its feet. For chickens, this sort of puts them in a trance. Step two, part the feathers on the neck and, using a sharp knife, slice the throat. Allow the bird to gently bleed out. It only flaps when the heart stops. Easy.
Uh-huh. Let’s just say, that wasn’t quite that experience.
The first rooster out of the crate was White, which I didn’t mind so much. I put his feet in the slip knot and suspended him upside down. He craned his neck and looked at me the whole time. Then using the sharpest knife we had, I tried to slit his throat. Three times, I tried to slit his throat before I got through the skin. He bled quickly, but he flapped a lot, spattering my glasses with droplets of blood. He flapped so violently, he fell to the ground, then stood up with his head flopped to one side. I think he was dead, but I couldn’t tell for sure. I grabbed him and suspended him again. He flapped more, and I cut his head off just to be sure he wasn’t suffering. Egads.
OK, Frank’s turn. I had the briefest thought of sparing him (he really was a handsome bird), but no, it was his time, too. So up he went. He also craned his neck to look at me. I was determined to slit his throat properly, so he would pass gently like the YouTube chicken. Sliced him authoritatively, but unlike Mr. YouTube, Frank struggled and flapped…and then he let out this horrid gurgle-ly crow. O.M.G. I finished him as fast as I could.
To heck with the biblical method. Next time, it’ll be a good, sharp ax.
The rest of the job was easy as pie. For some reason, after the heads were off, they were no longer White and Frank, they were just food. I thought about the great French cooking school that, a couple of years ago, declared they were no longer going to teach how to select or butcher a chicken.
Heat a very large pot of water to 152-154 degrees. Hold the bird by the legs and dunk him repeatedly in the water for 5-10 seconds. You don’t want to cook the bird, you just want the feathers to release. I did the white bird first, and his feathers came right out, it was so easy. Had to work the long flight feathers and the tail feathers a bit, but really it wasn’t hard at all. The colored bird was a tiny bit more work. He wouldn’t soak through! I dunked him and dunked him, and his feathers came out pretty easily, but the down next to the skin was totally dry. Made me wonder why we dunked at all. Just pluck ’em.
Next, we moved to the kitchen sink. Chicken skin is a lot tougher than I thought! And the bones, especially the breast bone, are strong as iron! Getting my hand into the body cavity was a tight squeeze (apparently, my birds are smaller than I thought!), so I decided to split sternum. After that, cleaning and cutting up was a piece of cake.
These birds are partially free-range. Gullets were full of poultry feed and a great deal of grasses and plant material. The dark meat is surprisingly dark. The skin is about twice as thick as commercially-raised poultry. I’d heard that farm chickens could be tough and needed a few weeks of crating and grain to soften them up, but definitely not so with these birds. Also, store-bought chickens, even the ones not injected with salt water, definitely have a salt taste to them. Makes one wonder what they are fed to taste so salty.
Dad cleaned up (bless him) and departed, politely but firmly refusing to take any of the bounty with him. It’s store-bought chicken for the folks tonight. I, on the other hand, am looking forward to some gorgeous home-grown in broth, now boiling away on the stove.