Monday, October 30, 2006

Mushy Insides

Pumpkin carving and chicken butchering: how are these two similar?

Yes, the very fingers that are typing these words also encountered some mushy “insides” of two different sorts this weekend. I am not implying that killing a chicken and cleaning a pumpkin are in the same category, really, but a definite similarity came to mind as I stuck my hand inside both….

So, the deed is done, at least for a few weeks. WF solemnly selected 3 unlucky hens who had not re-grown their back feathers after last winter’s over-roosterage event. We suspected one of them may have been laying fairly well, but we thought it cruel to try to get her through a -20 F winter without feathers or heat in the coop.

WF did the actual dispatching, and I tried my hand at plucking for the first time. Last time we tried to avoid plucking by skinning, but it didn’t work that well. This time, we even used a thermometer in the scalding water and it was surprisingly easy, considering the age of these hens. Turns out that one WAS indeed laying, as evidenced by some proto-eggs inside. Sad, but interesting from an anatomy standpoint. Also proved that she wasn’t going to grow any more feathers, as she was done molting and still bare.

So, they now rest in our refrigerator. One went with us to a pumpkin carving potluck last night. The flavor is good, not too tough after pressure cooking. It somehow amazes me how much like CHICKEN these chickens taste. It reminds me that this “chicken” substance I’ve eaten a million times comes from living creatures with personality, much like these hens in our yard. I remember all the other times I’ve mindlessly eaten chicken at restaurants or events and more fully realize that those were once living creatures, too. I don’t plan to give up eating meat, but it makes me more adamant about eating GOOD meat, where the animal had a good life, a humane death and proper, clean processing.

I DO dread the butchering task (don’t like thinking about the next time, when a rooster needs to go), but once the bird is dead, I can be very practical and business-like: dunk, pluck, cut, draw, clean, cool. After all the work we’ve done to raise them and the sacrifice of their lives, I want to make the most use of the meat as possible, appreciating and thanking the chicken lives (and hard human work) which make our chicken dinners possible!


Anonymous said...

Oh, I give you soo much credit! I just haven't been able to bring myself to that point yet, but I am working on it. I think if I could get hubby to do the 'deed' I would also be OK, but he thinks of them as pets and will not help me out. And he calls himself a hunter!

Anonymous said...

Hubby has convinced me ours are worth much more to us for years of egg and entertainment value than for meat so I get a repreive from doing the deed.

It's true: feel good you gave these hens a good life while they were here.

gtr said...

Yes, WF is definitely a softy when it comes to animals like cats, but he's been trying to keep somewhat emotionally distant from the chickens so we can be all "practical" about this: ie when they get too old for egg laying, we don't want to keep them around forever, eating feed that we have to buy elsewhere (not very sustainable, eh, the whole reason we supposedly have hens).

We will focus mostly on the eggs, true, but also won't likely have 12 year old chickens running around like some friends of ours do. They weren't able to bring themselves to butcher at all, so have some VERY elderly chickens!

Liz said...

Good on ya for plucking! I think it goes so easy...and then you still have the skin on if you wanted to roast.

As for making the most of the bird... we save the big gobs of fat that are inside and render them down for sauteeing. Chicken fat has a really good fat profile and is much more unsaturated than butter or lard. James also makes a pie crust with half chicken butter and half lard.

Oh, and my ducks aren't laying well now (2 1/2 years old!) but I don't have good plan for refreshing the flock. They'll have next spring, but I think we'll do some thinning after that.

Anonymous said...

I think we'd probably eat a lot less meat if we all had to look our dinner in the eye...

Kati said...

I applaud you, I do! I'm mostly a vegetarian, but have dreamed of raising my own chickens for years.(one of these days...) My oldest daughter can't imagine me butchering a chicken, feeling that chicken comes properly wrapped in plastic from the grocery store (lol). I am foolishly idealistic enough to believe that maybe if more of us were less removed, physically and psychologically, from where our food actually comes, we would have a nicer world!