The clocks been ticking for a while for our young roosters - really as soon as we could identify that the larger proportion of our first batch of chicks from last December were the male gender it began tick, tock, tick, tock..... Slowly, ever so slowly they put on weight - we saw them mature & grow (thankfully they grew well :) ) We fed them up on our homegrown barley & let them free range around the farmyard (well truthfully they always came up to the house yard - why we often wonder do all the chickens always end up here even though they have the other 239 acres to range on too??) They were such placid roosters - just like their father "Handsome" & like all the sweet, gentle hens that dwell in our little "chook nook" nearby - their mothers (& aunties & surrogate mothers & other ones who couldn't care less about them). As the calender continued to show the passing of time, we knew their time on Sunnyside was coming to an end - finally we heard the sound that propelled us into action - an immature roosters first attempt at crow. Thus began one of our most anticipated, yet dreaded experiences of our farming career.
Photo by Zai
Butchering young roosters is much easier than it sounds. I'll admit we were balking at first thinking of what a huge job it would be (as with many things they always seem much more difficult than they are). Well let me encourage you if you are waiting to try this - it is really very easy & there is loads of information on the internet about it (we used this video as our guide)- don't let them scare you with thoughts of needing fancy dancy plucking machines or lung scrapers or even weird contraptions to kill the bird - our grandmothers all used to butcher chickens regularly without these items. The few things you do need are an incredibly sharp knife, a bucket or sink filled with hot water for scalding & lots of willing helpers.
All ready for the final chop - hanging roosters upside down calms them (even though it looks terribly mean).
We had 5 roosters to butcher & we were a little unsure how we were going to catch them (this is often the hardest & definitely the most entertaining part in keeping chickens). Thankfully our chicken shed has a lockable chicken run (although it is rather large as it was originally built for ostriches). We were able to usher the roosters & their sisters (who always stayed together) in there & it was an easy matter of running up & down & pouncing on them - in fact it took under 5 minutes to have the lot caught & carried upside down (because this keeps them calm) up to our house yard where operation "rooster cull" was set to commence.
The worst part by far was the killing & that was easily accomplished by cutting one of the jugular veins in their neck with a sharp knife - quick & painless for them & for us. Doing this with the children around really bought home to them what is involved in eating meat - it's just too easy to get your meat from the shop & forget about it. But as we reminded the children God gave us these for meat - in fact whenever we thought of the many roosters growing down there we would thank God for providing us with meat.
Once that was done we had such a fun time with the rest of the process. Plucking them was an easy chore with our boys & girls "teams" racing to see who could do them first. Of course we decided to let the boys "win" that one & have the honour of doing the extra rooster ;)
The part that I loved, loved, loved was the cleaning out & then cutting up of the birds. I always was one to enjoy dissection in science lessons & of course I enjoyed doing theatre work in my BK (before kids) life as a radiographer, so it's probably natural that I took front foot in this part of the process. OK maybe I didn't quite wield the knife like a well practiced surgeon, but no one in our family is complaining - we got lovely clean meat & had fun in the bargain. The most difficult part was not cutting into the bowels, but this was even accomplished by us amateurs (I did 3 carcasses, Dave did 2). We even took the time to give/have a fantastic anatomy lesson - with our children enjoying every stop of the process with us (most of the photos were from Ellie - in fact I think she documented every little cut I made)! We were blessed to have enough meat for 5 meals at the end plus a big pot of stock - made with our own homegrown herbs (it smelt soooo.... nice simmering away)!
We enjoyed our first taste of our 'Sunnyside chicken' meat last week. I'm going to admit to you I let Dave taste it first (I've heard too many dreadful stories of home grown chickens being dry & stringy etc.) - not that he knows that ;) !! Well we were pleasantly surprised that it tasted just like chicken - fancy that!!! It was perfect & tasted no different from store brought ones!
So lessons we've learnt for next time:
* Keep your scalding water at a good 60-65 degrees Celsius (140-150 Fahrenheit). We allowed ours to cool & it made the plucking so much more difficult. Once we replaced it with hot water again it was much easier.
* Don't pluck anywhere near the house - we did ours in the house yard which is fine, except we just threw the feathers on the ground expecting a strong wind to take them away. We should have collected the feathers instead of leaving them there as they often get carried on shoes into the house.
* A teaspoon makes a fantastic lung scraper - you don't need fancy, dancy contraptions a good old teaspoon does the trick!
* Keep the meat sitting in the fridge for 48 hours - this is so the muscles relax after rigor mortise had set in (talking about rigor mortise & food just sounds wrong doesn't it). This step is often missed & I think that's why home butchered chickens has the bad name it does - relax those muscles!! :)
* Keep one for a roast - I've been wanting roast chicken since!
* Enjoy the experience & get the whole family involved. It really was a fantastic family experience that everyone could get hands on with!
We have always dreamed of being self-sufficient. Somehow it makes perfect sense to grow your own food - to produce what you use. We now have our own lamb & chicken, but we look forward in the future to our own beef & pork as well!
Please forgive the 'no makeup I've been doing farm work all day' look!
5 roosters homegrown = 5 meals of fresh, delicious meat = such a blessing from the Lord!
Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.
Genesis 9:3 (NIV)
Joining in (late I know) with Amy
May you have a wonderful week!