Friday, January 22, 2016

Agvocacy, Heinlein, and chicken butchering

I’ve waited awhile to publish this, because I know that it reflects a pretty delicate topic. That being said, I think that it is my responsibility as an agvocate and a person to try to explain to others where I’m coming from.

Here goes: growing up on a farm I’ve always been fairly in touch with my food sources. I knew that hamburger came from cows, and that chickens are in fact, made of chicken. So, I guess compared to many I was already more involved with my food than a lot of people nowadays.

That being said, I had never knowingly eaten one of our cows. (Who knows what happened once they were shipped – surely they ALL went on to become someone’s herd bull, right? RIGHT!?!?!) Or any other animal that I had grown. I can remember scoffing at an acquaintance when she suggested that I butcher my own chickens. “I could never do that!” I thought it was horrible. She was horrible. She was heartless. She was cold. But she was right. Somewhere along the line my thinking changed. I guess I’ve got to eat some crow, or more literally chicken.

That’s right. Captain America and I butchered 20 chickens.

Based on the reactions of the two friends I have shared the experience with already I’m guessing that you’re either going to tell me that I am “as extreme as the people who climb Mt. Everest”, or stare at me slack jawed in abject horror. So, before I get started, let me share with you WHY it was important to me to butcher chickens.

A few years ago I went on a cruise with friends and the captain of our little catamaran caught a fish for dinner. I had never seen a fish killed before. Actually, I had never seen anything butchered before. It was a very eye opening experience. I said a prayer for that fish and I swore I would never again take any life for granted – fish, fowl, bug, or beast. Previously I was content to live with a nice protective layer of cellophane shielding me from the reality that there is a smidge of accuracy to the whole “meat is murder” bit, but no longer. I decided that if I was going to continue to eat meat it was my responsibility to make sure it was as ethical as possible.

Basically, if I couldn’t stomach seeing a cow turned into burger, I needed to stop eating them. If I couldn’t actually be a part of my food chain then I didn’t respect the creature that had given up its life for me. I don’t think this is right for everyone, but for me being raised around and loving animals it was a choice I had to make. I felt like I owe it to them.

That’s the number one reason that I had to do this. I love those critters, and I want them to have great lives and then suffer as little as possible. I can eat those roosters and know that they spent their days running around the yard, eating bugs, annoying the dogs, and doing rooster things without ever being locked in a tiny cage or treated cruelly (except by each other because roosters are MEAN). I know that their deaths were as swift and painless as we could make them.

That cellophane wrapper on a frozen package of chicken breasts is the best insulation from reality that I know. Thin clear plastic sanitizes the world. It keeps the messy reality at bay. Those tenders were once living, breathing creatures. Every bite of chicken wasted is a death in vain.

After watching them die and doing my part to turn them from roosters into packages of chicken, I feel like I can better appreciate their lives. My life. The world. How delicate life really is. The careful balance of things.

Yeah. I’m kind of a melodramatic hippy about it.

**Warning: Things might get a little graphic and disturbing from here on in, so if you’re the kind of reader who would respond to butchering chickens with abject horror you should probably not keep reading.**

So, what was it like? This was our process: CA creates a headless chicken and my job is to simply grab the chicken corpse and hang it up so that the fluid drains. That sounds easy enough, right? I got the easy job. The clean job. I didn’t have to murder anything so I thought I choose correctly. Ha. By the end of it I looked like an axe murderer, and CA (the actual axe murderer) wasn’t even stained. Go figure.

I had always pictured “running around like a chicken with your head cut off” to mean running in circles, maybe some zigzags; but the first time I saw a chicken with its head cut off I understood that what I pictured when I heard that colloquialism was dead wrong. Chickens don’t run with their heads cut off, not even a little bit, or at least ours didn’t. They leap four frickin’ feet in the air and flop all over the yard like bloody Koosh balls. Have you ever tried to catch an uncooperative dog? You know where you’ll run up to it and then suddenly it practically teleports 20 feet away? It’s like that, only ickier. Much ickier.

Heinlein was right, the purpose of laughter is to keep from crying

Faced with the horrible landscape before me I started cackling like a mad woman.  I’m pretty sure it was either that or start sobbing uncontrollably.

After the fluids drained out, we would cut one down, dunk it in 165 degree water a few times to loosen the feathers and drop it in CA’s homemade chicken plucker (that worked like a fricking champion). If you ever plan on doing this I would highly recommend looking into a Whiz Bang Chicken Plucker. It made the process much more efficient. The spinning tub with rubber fingers removes the feathers very easily. I plucked one by hand in my great-grandma's memory, and that was enough to convince me that some things are DEFINITELY glorified in the sustainable living magazines.

After that, I would remove the feet and pass it on to CA to clean it the rest of the way. He has been field dressing deer and other wild game for years, and I’m guessing that’s a transferable skill because he rocked. We discarded the organs to become dog food. As my grandpa would have said, “waste not, want not.” Also, by home butchering we were able to be sure that every usable bit got used.  That made the hippy part of my head very happy. 

The next step was to place the chickens in a circulating cold water bath until we finished cleaning them. Then we wrapped each one in butcher paper and put it in the chest freezer.
We easily could have added another step and boned the birds, but I prefer to roast them whole so that I can toss the carcasses into a crock pot and make my own broth. Plus, truthfully, I was exhausted. It was only about six hours of work, but it was pretty draining. Though, now I have enough chicken to last for about six months which is pretty cool.

So, yeah. That was my weekend. How was yours?

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