Thursday, June 24, 2010

Chicken Processing

Thursdays are killer, literally. Once again I find myself in the position of the undertaker but this time it is chickens. But before I processed them I first had to catch them.

Usually we leave the chickens in their coop overnight (no access to food to clean out their system) and go in the morning to pick out the plumpest. In a small confined space it makes catching them very easy. However that was not the case. The chickens were let out because they didn't have any water in their coop and it was thought to be too cruel to deny them water more than 12 hours ( in retrospect we should have put some waterers in the coop with the chickens last night.) No matter, Brian and I grabbed our chickens catchers (metal sticks with a hook at the end) and started running after the chickens while trying to hook their legs. Our meat birds (Bard Plymouth Rocks, black and white stripes) have giant feet, compared to the laying hens, and they run/waddle like a fat kid with their heads down and their elbows out at their sides. We catch 24 chickens and place them in a crate.

Back at the Dairy, the building where we do our chicken slaughtering and processing, everything is ready to go. Whitey, the longtime farm manager, asks me to hand him the chickens one at a time so he can place them in the killing cone (exactly as the name implies, a cone where the chickens are killed.) The chicken is placed head-down in the cone so that its head is sticking out at the small end. The upside down position calms and quiets the chicken. The first chicken I pick up to hand to him excretes a hot liquid that runs down my leg and then inside my rubber boot. We just started and already I have excrement on me.

Whitey takes a knife and slits the jugular vein and the chicken is bled out. After five minutes of thrashing caused by the the nerves firing off one last time (there is definitely truth behind the saying 'running around like a chicken with your head cut off!') when they stop twitching they are placed in a hot water bath of 150F and scalded for 30 seconds.

From the scalder they are placed in a big round machine, kind of like a washing machine, with rubber finger like projections. The chickens are spun round and their feathers are removed. I was tasked with holding a piece of plywood to guide the chickens as the door unlocks and they come flying out the machine into the bath of water beneath. I am not exagerating when I say flying, they really do come out at quite the speed. I know this because we put the chickens in and didn't have enough time to set up the board and I was hit with six chickens and the feathery water.

The chickens are then put in a cold water bath and any stray feathers are picked out by hand. Meanwhile, three people were working on the stainless steel table gutting the birds, while another was cleaning the gizzards. I cleaned and gutted four birds and it went well but I was slow and cautious. I was worried that I might tear the skin, pop the emerald green bile duct attached to the liver, or leave behind unwanted parts like the lungs, gullet or esophagus. But I think my chickens looked pretty decent.

After being gutted they are rinsed and placed on a rack to drain and then chilled and bagged.

This whole process took about five hours and we managed to slaughter and process 72 chickens in total. I was quite dirty and smelly but overall had no problems with the processing. I even picked out a chicken to take home, I am thinking BBQ, and this time I have no doubt I will be thoroughly enjoying it.

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