Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday Gets a Whole New Meaning...

Well.  I did some shopping today, sort of.  When I got up, I ordered some Christmas gifts online, including a couple audio CDs from Greathall Productions, a company owned by children's storyteller Jim Weiss.  Check it out if you like classic tales re-told by one of the most talented storytellers of our time.  Anyway, later in the morning we all packed into the car...but we weren't exactly headed to the mall, thank God.

This past summer, Byron and I contacted a farmer in the area who raises pastured poultry, and we somehow ended up as part of a chicken-butchering assembly line.  Said farmer, Jeff Adams of Walnut Hill Farm, called Byron a few days ago to see if we'd like to come help butcher chickens on Black Friday.  Oh, how apropos!  This time, however, he wasn't going to only butcher meat birds (chickens raised only for meat); he also had eighteen "spent" egg-laying hens whose time was up, too.

Egg-laying hens, such as the Barred Rock variety that Jeff has, produce well for about two years, though they can live up to six years.  They're hardy and rather gentle, but when they're too old to lay eggs anymore, farmers have to decide whether they're going to become pets or profits.  Jeff - as would any farmer - chose profits, and graciously offered them to us for $3/bird.  Not per pound, per bird.  And the reason they're less expensive than younger chickens raised for meat is because they're a bit less versatile in the kitchen and have to be slow-cooked in a crock pot (we've heard they're delicious, too).  But that's not why we went; we value the education we get at Walnut Hill Farm, grisly though it is.

On this visit, I took some non-grisly photos of the butchering process, but if you have a weak stomach, you can click here to read my post on how to have a very cheap Disney Princess party.  Or, if you have no cause to throw a Disney Princess party for yourself or anyone else anytime soon, you can click here to see what was hiding under our dining room for almost 150 years.

Still with me?  Great.  This is how pastured poultry is humanely butchered, minus the act itself.

Byron holds a Barred Rock hen before placing her in a "killing cone."  It was truly a Black Friday for 59 chickens: 18 "spent" Barred Rock hens and 41 Rhode Island Red "meat" birds.

The "killing cones."  A chicken is placed in a cone, its head removed (some farmers sever arteries in the neck without removing the head), and then the next bird is loaded. 

Chickens go from the killing cones into the scalder, which is set up on an automatic timer.  This process loosens the feathers.

No more old-fashioned plucking!  Jeff places a chicken from the scalder into the plucker.

The plucker spins as water washes the loosened feathers away.

Seconds later, the chickens look more like something you'd eat!

The eviscerating table, like all the processing equipment, is made of stainless steel.  You can see the chill tank in the background.

Yup, that's me.  I'm the eviscerating girl.  After going through the plucker, the feet, oil gland on the tail, and the "insides" of the chickens have to be removed.  The chicken is then placed in the chill tank.
I should mention here that Jeff's equipment is top-of-the-line stuff that for his scale, is necessary.  He sells his chickens and a variety of other meats at farmers markets and even has a store at his farm that he opens on weekends.  For the small family farm, however, all the equipment isn't really necessary.  When we raise our own chickens for meat, we'll look into building our own small-scale equipment or possibly renting Jeff's for a day.  And of course, I'll post plenty of information on anything we build!

Wait!  Is this a LIVING Barred Rock hen???  Why yes, it is, and it's in our backyard, along with four of its closest friends!  Stay tuned to hear more about our Black Friday...
Update: Want info on Walnut Hill Farm?  If you know me personally, you can leave a comment and I'll e-mail you.  If you're visiting my site, I am thrilled you're here and am working on setting up contact information!  Thanks for being patient!


  1. Composting the chicken offal is whole other adventure in the making........... super rich soil food.

    We did 30 meat birds this year and managed to get the offal from another 100 birds. We started a compost pile with it. In 3 weeks it was nearly all broken down and was on it;s way toward being the richest soil.

    Keep on truckin' Laura!!

    Matt in Vermont

  2. Very cool about the composting...we can't wait to add some good chicken nitrogen to ours! That's exciting that you raised your own meat birds, too...we're planning on getting some this spring. Now I know where to go with questions... :)

  3. YOU GOT CHICKENS AND DIDN"T TELL ME??????!!!!!!! I'm soooo jealous. You had the BEST BLACK FRIDAY...........

    Jen( from King George =)

  4. Hey, Shelley - you have an exciting life! I enjoyed reading your blog tonight (not doing any homework for a change). Am proud of you and all that you manage to do in a day. Just keep those chickens cooped in when we come over. I had my share of seeing chickens running around when I was a kid and stayed at my grandmother's. This grammi will stick to my grandkids running around!!!
    love, mom