Where our food comes from has new perspective after butchering our first chicken.
We rose well before the sun. It was raining, we couldn’t see the orange glow had we gotten a later start anyhow. But as we prepared to butcher a chicken for the first time, we were met with a range of thoughts and emotions. We thought we appreciated where our food came from before, this added a new perspective. Amy and I would later talk about that moment. We didn’t say much to each other, at the time. Turns out we both said a little prayer thanking God for giving us this bird and thanking the bird for the gift he would be giving us.
This wasn’t just any chicken, but we had to get over feeling that way.
This wasn’t just any chicken, the young rooster was the first to hatch from our starter flock. It was a natural experience our family had celebrated. While we vowed not to get attached to any of the farm animals it was difficult to keep that promise to ourselves considering all of the work we had put in to keeping the rooster safe, fed and alive. Still, we knew it was time and if we were going to really do this homesteading thing we needed to get this experience over with.
Don’t take for granted any gift.
We’d watched videos on the process and gained a lot of insight from those vlogs and talking with experts. In one of those videos we found a line that really struck home. As the expert prepared the process he explained that every day, something must die so that you can live. He went on to say that it could be a plant or an animal but, to sustain your life, those things would die. That thought on the circle of life was capped with the perspective of giving thanks and honoring those animals and plants by living life the right way and not wasting any part of that life you were taking. They were deep thoughts that may seem cheesy to someone who has never pulled a chicken’s head through a cone while holding a knife in the other handing, staring at the task and asking yourself whether you were prepared and worthy of what must come.
Not as horrifying as we feared, but it didn’t all go as planned.
The chicken’s death was much less horrifying than I had feared, still, it wasn’t a joyous process. This process, from all we had studied, was the most humane way to slaughter the chicken. Theoretically, once you cut the throat, the bird’s blood pressure drops. They immediately lose consciousness and they bleed out relatively quickly. Any movement that takes place, we learned, would take place later in the process after the chicken was dead. The rooster was smaller than we had imagined. He seemed so much bigger fluffed up to impress the hens in the chicken coop. During the process, as the carcass began the last involuntary movements, he slipped through the bottom hole of the cone and into the bucket we had placed to catch blood. I quickly reached in and held the carcass by the feet and that part of the process was over by the time I could raise my arm to shoulder height.
A gloomy morning sky and matted feathers gave the process a clinical feel.
As steam shot into the air from a large pot of water, we slowly lowered the bird in for the required bath that would loosen the feathers enough to manually pluck. This rooster was so colorful in life, but now resembled a crow. His dark purple/black feathers matted to his lifeless body as we stirred the steamy water. None of his gold, brown or green feathers were visible having been thoroughly soaked. This appearance made the rest of the process so much more easy to deal with. No longer was I recognizing the beauty of the animal we had watched for nearly a year, this was now much more clinical. Any beauty now would be in the perspective of nourishing our family with this gift rather than admiring beauty by sight.
Plucking was easier than I had imagined. The 2 minute soak really loosened the feathers. They came out in less than 10 minutes without too much force. There were tiny feathers that remained and would be a bit more difficult to remove without the help of pliers or tweezers. Our oldest son held a garbage bag and, as we pulled the feathers free, we tossed them in. Later we would look at the area where we plucked and found only 1 feather on the ground. Not a bad effort considering this was our first time.
We nearly failed miserably, next time we get a sharper knife.
We nearly failed miserably on the next part. Gutting the carcass became an ordeal when the knife we were using cut, but not quite as well as it should have. We’d been told to use a very sharp knife and I sharpened this one (or so I thought). The next time we’re going to have to buy a knife specifically for this task because having the right tools are essential. But beyond the knife, this was much more difficult than we had imagined. Removing the feet at the joints was pretty easy. Removing the neck was a little more tricky and, although I didn’t do it as the videos had shown, I felt like I was in a pretty good position to start on the rear. But while cutting below the vent, as I thought I had seen in the demonstrations, I began to get worried that I was going to ruin the meat by puncturing intestines. I have butchered a deer before and know that if you hit the intestines you may spoil the entire animal. This concern was magnified with the chicken because of the perspective by which I looked at this gift. We had worked so hard, the chicken had given its life for us to sustain our family, I was determined not to waste this gift and honor the animal by doing whatever I could to use as much as I could.
Reverting to a skill I knew.
After several minutes of trying to figure out exactly what I was doing and whether I was going about this the wrong way, I reverted to what I knew… how to carve a turkey. The boy and I took the cutting board and chicken outside and I laid it on it’s belly. First I removed the wings, then the legs, then began carving at the breast as trying to remove the entire section without the bones. The process took about three minutes. After removing the meat from the carcass I could see the rooster’s inner workings. I pulled on the ribcage and remove the heart (I do enjoy chicken hearts and wanted to make sure not to waste this one) then we disposed of the carcass.
Not on the menu today, but soon.
We have yet to cook up the bird. I’m looking forward to the meal, but on butchering day, many folks decide that chicken is just not something they want to see on the menu- we had the same feeling. We will honor this bird when we do feast, thankful for this gift and the chance to gain new perspective on from where our food really comes.