Ways to process chicken meat which are easier and more humane.

Do you know the best way to process chickens for meat?  I have slaughtered and dressed many birds for the table… trying many different techniques to reduce both my stress and most importantly, make the process humane for the animal.  Through this I have first hand experience at what I believe to be the best methods for killing chickens.  While I thought I knew most things about processing chickens, I recently learned that my closed mindedness prevented me from learning of more efficient methods to dress the bird.  The article one of you suggested to me from the Chicken Chick has a lot of interesting information, yet I do not agree with the majority.  This is where experience, experimentation, and a willingness to go beyond our comfort zone is important.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was attempting to process a large number of roosters for food, and to test out a couple of different methods on killing the birds and preparing them.  I am still sorting out the video I took of my removal of the feathers from the roosters (mostly it is my trying to find video that doesn’t make me look obese) yet I uploaded a couple of videos, one of which Kitty filmed of me killing a Rooster.  The video shows me using the technique to dispatch the Rooster.  I am sure that you can see that it feels very little of the procedure.  The only time it reacts is when I say that it is dying… it’s body has just realised that it is about to die so it puts up a last ditch effort to save itself.  Most likely the animal is unaware of this due to massive blood loss and the reaction is purely a nervous system response.

I have lost significant amounts of blood in my life and I know that when you loose a lot of blood you have trouble staying concious.  I know from my (limited) experience that the chicken would likely have felt very little of the procedure.

 

 

The UK Humane Slaughter society has a video showing a similar, yet their way appears much more brutal than the way I dispatched the rooster, hence their warning at the start.

I did have a video of my showing the procedure to break a chicken’s neck, yet I accidently riped it’s head off with the procedure.  I decided not to put that video on Youtube, yet here is a still from that deleted video.

Bad quality still from the video… you can see my look of confusion as I look at the head.

After killing the bird it is tine to start cleaning the body through the removal of the feathers.  I normally use a “dry” plucking method, which is basically pulling the feathers out by hand, with no preparation work done to the bird.  I set up a camera (I apologise for the terrible quality.  I am using our old digital video camera and I am finding that for a 10 year old camera it has been surpassed by recent technology) and recorded the procedure.  As you can see from the video, it took around 20 minutes of work to pluck the chicken.

Ever since my previous home in Collinsvale I had used this technique.  The reasons for this are a little hazy now, yet I believe it mostly boiled down to always having a hard time keeping the water at the right temperature.  The few times I tried it, I suspect the water was well below the right temperature, so the job was actually slower when done incorrectly.

 

So for this experiment I next used a very common technique, which requires a container of nearly boiling water.  I decided to use a large old pot in combination with a camp stove to get the water just shy of boiling point.  Kitty assisted by filming my second (and much faster) try of the method.

What does this teach us?  Many things, the first of which would be that different people have different opinions on the best way to slaughter an animal.  I believe that the method shown in UK Humane society video looks barbaric… I don’t believe that it is better for the animal, yet that is just my opinion.  It is important to stretch ourselves a little and try out new things.  In a way I feel a little foolish for wasting so much of my time in processing chickens.  If I had of taken a chance on testing out different methods earlier I may have saved hours of work and allowed more work to be done smarter.  This is, in a way, a bit of a wake up to me to be ready to be flexible.

 

 

How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees? William Shakespeare

I alluded in my last post to an incident that occurred while I was trying to deal with the situation with Reggie and the chicks.  Here is what happened.

So, I had set aside several hours on Saturday morning to process the 5 Roosters (and the rabbit) I currently have that are surplus.  I even set about filming the process for my Youtube channel.  I decided that I might try a couple of different methods for culling the Roosters, providing my input on which I found most effective.  I decided to start with a technique I recently picked up from watching Paul Wheaton’s channel.  In the video a young lady kills the chicken in a very efficient method which seemed interesting.  I decided to emulate that. `

I grabbed an old towel which I used to clean up some blood and stuff that I had laying around outside and wrapped the Rooster in that.  I sat down and prepared the Rooster on my lap, holding his head in position with my left hand.  I picked up the extremely sharp knife in my right and prepared to cut.  I made a mental note to be careful with the knife before I made the cut.  It seems that I put way too much strength into the slice, cutting deeply into the chickens neck and then… as my hand motion moved upwards… I sliced into the hand holding the chicken.

I immediately dropped the knife on the grass and covered the cut with the dirty towel (if you didn’t know, this was  a stupid move).  The chicken started to struggle and I realised I had to finish the job, it was bleeding and possibly in pain.  I let go of the towel, grabbed the animal and broke it’s neck.  It slumped in apparent death.  I dropped the Rooster to the ground and covered up the wound in my hand with the towel, realising that I was very stupid.  After a couple of seconds the Rooster leapt to it’s feet and started to run.  I jumped up from the chair, still holding the towel over my hand and gave chase.  The Rooster was having trouble… it’s head was not correctly connected to it’s neck, and when I tried to break it’s neck I had ripped all the skin off that section.  So would have looked comical to an observer… thankfully no-one was around.

The Rooster was headed towards the kids trampoline, intending to hid under the structure.  I wouldn’t be able to catch it if it did that, so I had to carefully kick the Rooster so it was on it’s side (I couldn’t really use my hands, could I).  I was then able to pick him up and, with my right hand, break his neck properly.  I walked back to where I had been sitting and dropped the body on the ground and took some time to examine the cut on my left hand.  It looked bad, yet I didn’t think it was very deep.  The pain was quite intense so I stood there trying to work out my next step… I had a dead rooster and a cut hand.. how could I process this meat?  I looked down and the Rooster and I realised he wasn’t dead.  He was paralysed from the neck down, and he was looking at me.  The feeling of being a failure… of dropping the ball so totally started to grow with me, yet I had to finish this one job.  I drew my larger knife and with one movement I removed his head.  I placed his body on my cutting table and went indoors to tell Kitty about the situation.

Kitty immediately demanded she take me to the hospital.  I refused, I didn’t think the wound was serious enough to warrant an hour drive to Hobart.  She said she would take me to a clinic we have in my town, so I agreed to that.  We left and visited the local clinic.  The nurse decided that the wound was bad, yet not that bad to need stitches.  She said she was more concerned with the chicken blood in my wound and the disgusting towel I used.  After much cleaning I was discharged with some antibiotics and able to go home.

Once home I was confronted with the aftermath of the dead chicken (and the injured Reggie… now that I think about it, the dead Rooster’s head was missing… maybe the hawk left with it). I asked Kitty to assist with processing the meat… sadly she refused.  I was unable to use my left hand so I had to dispose of the body for no gain of meat.

I felt like such an idiot.  I had killed an animal for no good result, I had injured my hand meaning that I would be unable to do any work for several days, and I had caused this rooster unbelievable suffering.  I don’t blame the video, I blame myself for the failure.  I am intending on investing in a butchering glove to prevent such injuries in the future.

“Thank you for life, and all the little ups and downs that make it worth living.” – Travis Barker

I woke early on Saturday morning  with plans to accomplish a couple of tasks I had put off till the weekend.  I had intended to start out by slaughtering and butchering the five roosters (excluding Buddy) that I have grown from chicks (they are starting to crow and I don’t want to become a nuisance  to my neighbours).  I also wanted to get some more seeds in the ground to be ready for the colder weather coming.

 

One of the things I like to do on the weekend is to take an early morning walk around the garden.  I usually do this by myself and I often have a warm beverage in hand as I take the time to enjoy the environment.  I look at my garden and see if anything needs attention, I take some time to watch the animals and see if they are behaving normally.  On Saturday I sat in the shade on my decking, coffee in hand, and relaxed to enjoy the silence.  After a little time I noticed an incessant “peep peep” noise coming from the undergrowth of my garden.  I quickly hopped up and dashed over to the trees, looking under the branches, and whipped my camera from my pocket.  I filmed the below video, which is my first encounter with 12 newly hatched chicks from one of my chickens.

This is such a great surprise.  I was thinking about incubating some more eggs, so this is a very welcome addition to our home.

 

I decided that I would leave them with their mother, as I could see that she was being vigilant in watching over them, and our rooster Reggy was close to her to back her up.  Around ½ an hour later I had an incident, which required my urgent attention (I will talk about that in my next post), so my family and I went for a short drive.  When we returned home an hour or so later I was greeted with a slightly different scene from the bucolic garden which I had recently departed.  There were large amounts of black feathers flung about the garden, signs of a struggle, and Reggy’s comb was badly damaged… with dried blood coagulated down the back of his head.  I located the chicks and all 12 were present… as were all my chickens.

Here is Reggy. You can see he is a little injured… and yes, my deck has become a dumping ground for the left overs of all my projects.

I put on my imaginary deer stalker and set to work… I think I have sleuthed out what occurred during the time I was out.  I suspect a hawk (maybe the same one that took out chicks late last year) flew down to try to gather some new chicks.  Reggy, who is a very large rooster and who was close to the chicks, leapt to action.  He would have tried to drive the hawk from our property, yet the lack of hawk feathers shows me that he was seriously outgunned.  It appears he took a nasty bite to his comb (from the angle of the cut it appears to have been done with the hooked beak of a bird of prey) and many of his feathers before deciding it had enough and it took to the sky.  I suspect the hawk, due to the previous visits, and the fact an eagle would have taken Reggy in his entirety shows me that I have sufficient evidence to blame the hawk.

After this Kitty assisted me by gathering up these little chicks and we took them under our wing, placing them in my chick brooder.  I was sorry that their mother was so upset at our removing her children, yet I decided that at least we won’t have hawks swooping down to take them or injure Reggy again.

“A true friend is one who overlooks your failures and tolerates your success!” – Doug Larson

We have had much work to do over the Christmas period, in addition to the normal festive season activities (as well as spending weeks trying to fix my blog and my computer). A situation I experienced was with one of my young Roosters.  I had placed three from my batch of 9 hatched chicks into a separate chicken tractor.  These three had been identified as males, yet I still had 6 left in my other area of who I was unsure of their gender.  After a couple of days of observation I witnessed one (which I had on my “possibly a Rooster” list) pecking the other chickens to assert his dominance.  I felt bad for them and moved him to the Rooster pen.  Those Roosters bullied him around a little, yet it seemed like they had accepted him, so all seemed well for a week.

 

While I was feeding them one morning after Christmas I noticed that the newly moved Rooster was having a little trouble walking.  He seemed to stagger a lot.  I thought he may be unwell, so I decided to keep an eye on him, yet as I was busy with other chores I left him alone.  When I fed them the next morning I noticed that he was not walking at all.  On investigation he seemed very lethargic and unwilling to move to even eat the food I placed in the pen.  I decided to check him closer and when I picked him up I realised he was almost starving… he had wasted away till he was almost skin and bones.  I felt terrible for him, I am supposed to look after these animals and I had allowed him.  I gathered some feed in my hand and fed him some, yet he ate very little.  I decided that it might be best to place him in the original pen to protect him from any predators (such as cats) and hopefully he would recover.

The next morning my son was checking the animals and he came to tell me that the chicken was injured.  I rushed out and found the Rooster, able to stand now, yet still unable to walk properly.  His head was a bloody mess, with missing feathers and a large amount of injuries.  It appears that the chickens had taken revenge, or possibly just bullying an injured Rooster.  I quickly took him from the pen and decided that I had no place to place him but to allow him to free range.  I gave him some additional feed, yet I let him roam the garden with the other fully grown chickens and Rooster.  I didn’t expect him to survive long, as he had trouble moving, and I was concerned the Rooster (or a cat) would kill him.

His wounds look much better, yet he is still a bit bald.

Now it is a week later, and he is going well.  He is very nervous and is sometimes chased by the chickens, yet he is now able to run and walk.  His wounds have almost fully healed and now he spends his days with me when I am in the garden.  I don’t believe he is with me out of love, I suspect it is due to my frequent intervention when he is being chased by another chicken as well as the fact that I often throw him a snail or two if I find them in a garden bed.

Despite all this, I sometimes think about this guy’s future.  He is a Rooster, so I won’t be keeping him.  I will have to get rid of him eventually, and people don’t normally buy Roosters.  It most likely will come to me to eventually eat this little guy, and I am not really looking forward to that.  I have formed a bit of a bond with him, going so far as to name him “Buddy”.  I don’t have to make a decision now, so I will have to consider my options as time progresses.

“There is one consolation in being sick; and that is the possibility that you may recover to a better state than you were ever in before.” – Henry David Thoreau

The eggs which I placed in my incubator hatched… exactly 21 days after I turned on the machine.  When this happens, when I help life be born (or hatched) it fills me with a great sense of joy and accomplishment.  I asked Kitty to assist by taking a little video of the first to hatch from their egg.

This one is pretty bold, after the video was shot it was walking all over my hand, causing me to have to take steps to stop it from leaping off several times.  So far, nine chicks have hatched from the incubator and are currently in the brooder box.  I hope that one or two more might make it out of their shells (I know that one has died in it’s shell, having failed to make a hole to break out of, which is pretty sad).

Here is the adventurous little fellow.

On Monday night I decided to try to make yogurt, using the Erica Straus method.  I had heard her on the Survival Podcast a while ago and I always intended to try this, so Monday seemed like the best time to do it.  I almost followed Erica’s instructions to the letter (apart from the part where she used an Oven Warming draw.  I don’t have that so I used a Yogurt maker container).  The Yogurt came out looking great, it was a good texture and tasted pretty good (although as it was plain yogurt it was a little bland).  I did notice that a couple of hours after tasting it for the first time I experience some stomach pain, yet I put that down to working too hard in the garden.

I used my EasyYo container to make the yogurt. It didn’t turn out as great as I had hoped.

The next day I took the container of yogurt to work, and after adding a teaspoon of honey, I ate the container for my afternoon snack.  Well, ate wasn’t really what I did, I had to drink it as it had become very runny.  When I arrived home the stomach cramps began… I am sure that it was related to the yogurt.  The pain began to increase until I had to lay down.  Turned out that I didn’t really make Yogurt, I cooked up a batch of food poisoning.  I suspect that the yogurt culture I added was no good… it was close to expiry.  I am going to take a break from trying this, yet when I try again, I will be sure that the culture is as fresh as possible.

“We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.” – Dalai Lama

I have taken a couple of weeks off work to do some work around the house.  My plan was to sleep in, spend some time in the garden, and lounge around.  Kitty has other ideas…

First week I have been clearing up the mess I made from my last few months of work on the house and property, then I had to get to work on the kitchen.  I had completed building some shelves in the kitchen earlier in the year, now I had to remove one of the kitchen benches in order to install a set of kitchen shelves from the 1950s that Kitty bought.  When I removed the bench I realised I needed to take care of the floor  Under the bench was the remains of three layers of linoleum dating back over the last 50 years, a type of chipboard type layer, and the an amazing wooden floor which was crying out for rejuvenation.  I decided that I needed to fix the floor as well.

Here is part of the kitchen after I began removing some of the draws.

I have never done anything like this before… I once assisted an old friend with sanding his floor, yet that was almost 20 years ago.  Despite this, I thought I would have a try.  I hope that I can complete this in the next couple of days.

After removing the tiles and cupboards.

In between all this work, I also found some time to put a dozen eggs into my incubator.  Reggy, our new Rooster, has been busy with his girls, so I decided to save some of the eggs for hatching.  Hopefully this batch turns out as great as my last one.

More sadness with my animals this week.  One of our little girl bunnies, the one born from Ginger and Rodger, died on Wednesday night.  I have checked her over and I can find no reason for her dying… she was healthy, well fed and watered.  My daughter and I buried her under one of our plum trees.  I did suggest that I might skin her and use her skin for something, yet after the ugly stares I received I decided that was a bad suggestion.

“…certainly not by biting off the hand that feeds us…” – Lynn Margulis

I have been spending some time working on a new Instructable, describing how to make fodder using my new system.   I hope to have it up on the site in a couple of days, so stay tuned for that.  The process isn’t flowing as easily as my previous submissions, yet I hope that it will come out easy to read and understand.

 

We have another new addition to the house, I bought a nice Rooster named Reginald (or Reggy as I like to call him).  As some of you know, I have been on the lookout for a new Rooster for a couple of months now… I was beginning to worry that I would never find the right one.  I found plenty of people offering Rooster from different species, yet I really wanted to stick to my Australorp breed (as least for the moment).  Well, after weeks of searching I made a decision on Saturday night that maybe I should find a different breed to try.  To that end I started to search for different breeds in my area, and it was then that I noticed a new ad for an Australorp Rooster.  Someone in Cygnet was offering them for sale for $10 (previously asking $15), I couldn’t let this one go.

Here is our new Rooster, Reginald. Please ignore the mess in the background.

Early next morning the whole family and I set out to meet the new Rooster.  He was living in a pen with around 5 other Roosters and a dozen or so Hens.  I was allowed to grab which ever Rooster I liked (although it turned out to be which ever Rooster I could catch), and I ended up getting a hold of Reggy.  He is a fine looking boy, he seems a little larger than my current Rooster.

 

I delivered him home and set him up in the hen house to stay the night.  I wanted him to be used to the location before I opened the door and offered him the chance to flee, although I am sure that once he realised he is going to have 7 hens to himself he was very happy he came to live with me.  He was so happy that within 10 seconds of leaving the Hen house, he mounted and mated with one of the girls.  This Rooster is a real chick magnet.

Here is Reggy getting to work right away.

The Rooster I already owned has been waiting on Death Row for several weeks now.  He is my last Rooster and I have been trying to work out a way to justify keeping him.  I can’t keep him to breed with the girls, as they are his sisters and mother.  No one seems to want to buy him, and he is just eating food, messing up the grass, and making a racket in the mornings… yet I still didn’t want to eat him.  Well, he made it a little easier for me last night, when he decided to attack me when I fed him.  I blame the fact that I brought home a new Rooster, so he is a little put out.  When I went to feed him he started to bite my hand and scratch my arm with his claws.  Right then and there I decided that when I get a chance I will have to eat him.

 

“But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” – Ernest Hemingway

A week ago I decided to move my fodder which I had been growing in the mini-greenhouse for several years, to my normal greenhouse.  The mini-greenhouse didn’t have any real problems by itself… everything worked well and the grain grew nicely.  The front door panel didn’t close properly, yet that wasn’t a big issue.  The problem lay in the little visitors which I had noticed… little sparrows had worked out that they could sneak around the plastic cover and eat their fill of the grain.  They were not eating excessive amounts, yet it was irritating that a couple of dozen little birds were eating my chickens food as well as pooing in the grain.

I decided that I would move the fodder to my nearby greenhouse.  The door was easier to close and it would prevent any little birds from taking the fodder.  For almost a week I had no problems, then I had a nighttime visitor who decided that my fodder was for them.  They knocked over a bucket of fodder, and ate the majority of another.  I found evidence of a possum (possum poo) in the greenhouse.  I decided to use a little scrap wood to block the door before I left it for the night and waited till the next day.

 

As you can see from the above image, something entered (possibly under the zippered door) and knocked over fodder buckets, punnets of soil (I will intending to plant into them later) and spilled water everywhere!  I picked up the buckets before I took the above image.  There was also 10 times the animal poo was present.

It was pretty shocking that maybe a whole family of possums would do such damage.  These animals not only ate half my fodder, and tipped over the other half… the also pooed into the buckets containing fodder which they didn’t eat.  Basically, the crapped all over my fodder operation.

I have since used large pieces of board to block the entrance to the greenhouse and restarted my fodder growing.  Such are the joys of living in the country.

 

 

“Poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master.” – Leonardo da Vinci

My Long promised video on how to create fodder, to recreate my system, has finally been completed.  The video can be found below.

It is my first ever attempt at a real Youtube video, if you have any recommendations or constructive criticism, please be sure to share.

I hope that the video, combined with a pictorial Instructable, will allow people to recreate this.

 

Speaking of Chickens, I have been culling my flock some more, to try to get the number lower.  The process has resulted in some amazing meals.  I mentioned this last in my last post, yet I never showed you the results.  I cooked the Rooster and I was amazed in the outcome, the skin took on a crispy, crackling quality.  This was almost as tasty as pork crackling!  I also added some dehydrated apples from our orchid to the stuffing, making it sweet and delicious.

To accompany the meal I also dug up the last of my potatoes and some carrots.

“Dying is only one thing to be sad over… Living unhappily is something else.” – Morrie Schwartz

I am still attempting to fine tune my get home bag… there are many options available to me for shelter, warmth, and an actual carrying bag, so I will keep considering my options till I have more to tell you all.

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One aspect that I have been thinking about is the food.  I know that Backwoods Cuisine (the company that makes the dehydrated meals) also sells a Survival Ration pack.  I thought that might be a great addition to my bag.  To this end I contacted Backwoods Cuisine a week ago to try to get a supply of their Survival Rations, yet they have not replied.  I can only deduce that they either do not check their emails, or they do not provide any customer support.  It is a bit of a shame really, I liked their products.  I will have to look elsewhere for access to a supplier of Survival Ration packs.

 

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He might not look comfortable, yet he wasn’t stressed. I was just holding him at a weird angle.

I have had a couple of inquiries as to people interested in buying some of my Australorp Roosters, yet no one has actually committed to make a purchase.  As I need to reduce the number I have, I am now eating the excess.  I reported a little while ago that I was beginning to feel that I had lost a little of my empathy for these animals when I killed and butchered them.  I suspect that this is something that a career Butcher or abattoir worker may experience.  I had noted some time ago that I felt very little emotion when I killed these animals, which I put down to the fact that I had killed so many that it was beginning to become routine.  This is something that I don’t want to occur.  I want to feel something when I kill an animal as I am ending the life of a creature for my benefit.  I am not saying I want to enjoy the experience… I want to feel a little remorse so that it is not something that I do lightly.  I think that would be respectful to the life I am taking.

So, as I felt I lost that emotional connection, I had taken some time off from the slaughter.  When I killed the Rooster yesterday, I can report that I did feel sad for the animal.  Not sad enough that I wouldn’t eat it, but so that I will have to consider carefully when I choose to do it again.

I told Kitty of my thoughts on this… that I felt a little sad about having to kill this Rooster.  He was a fine looking fellow and very friendly.  Kitty reminded me that this Rooster had a fine life, living in a paddock, eating the best of food and spending time with his family.  He was only having one bad day, which was today.  She was right of course.