Preparing for Slaughtering Day

10/27/2012 7:00 AM
By Robin Follette Maine Correspondent

It’s almost here: Oct. 28 was marked on the calendar as butchering day for the meat chickens.

This has been one of the easiest groups of meat birds I’ve ever raised. The unusually cold nights have evened out and the birds have grown large enough to deal with the cold.

Keeping them cool enough is a bigger challenge. I have to be sure to open the tunnel up for air circulation and let them out before the daytime temperature starts to climb.

We started with 26 chicks. One died not too long after they arrived. The remaining 25 have thrived. They’re so big now that they waddle, but they’ve been moving so much every day that their legs and hearts are strong.

I refer to them as “the birdzillas” now. As soon as they see me walking with a bucket, they waddle toward me as fast as they can. Buckets mean food and water, both of which they’re always glad to see.

The chickens have done a good job of cleaning up weeds growing in the potato section of the garden. They weren’t far behind my husband and nephew the day they started digging potatoes, and ate earthworms and insects. They’ve also done a remarkable job of stripping seeds from grasses. They never wander too far.

Ava herds any stragglers in before dark. There were a few that wanted to stay outside for the night but she broke them of that quickly. We’ve had to be diligent about having them closed in safely before the raccoons and skunks are out for the night to avoid losses. A barred owl spends a lot of time in woods right behind the house and would be well fed for many days on birds this size.

The high tunnel I’m using this year has been repurposed as an arbor for the grapes next year. It’s been very convenient and certainly kept the birds safer with less work than the chicken tractor does. I’m going to have to figure out a better plan for next year after having it so easy this year.

I’ll be shopping tomorrow for supplies. The rolls of Food Saver bags are almost empty. I need one roll of the largest bags available, and two rolls of smaller bags. I hope the largest bags are big enough to hold whole roasters. If not, I’ll have to figure out something else. The birds will be frozen up to a year; I don’t want them to get freezer burned.

The smaller bags will be used for pieces. We leave most of the thighs and legs together and put two in a package. About half of the breast halves are packaged together, the other half individually packaged for convenience. A half breast is enough for chicken fajitas and sandwiches for just the two of us.

I miss the ease and convenience of the zipper storage bags that allowed air to be pulled out. There’s a new one on the market, and I’ll give it a try, but I don’t have a lot of confidence in it. I’ll try it on a few packages and wait to see how well it works.

I need a new marker that will write on the packages and not smudge. Sharpies have always done well for me. Next on the list, two rolls of paper towels. We’ll use a lot of them to keep the butchering table neat and clean. (The chickens will be slaughtered away from the butchering table.)

Nitrile gloves are a must-have. My hands get cold quickly. Keeping them covered with thin gloves keeps them warmer and lets me still feel what I’m doing.

I’ll buy a new garden sprayer for the hose. The current sprayers have been on the ground and aren’t clean enough to use in meat processing. The new sprayer will be run through the dishwasher.

The coolers will be brought up from end-of-summer storage, scrubbed inside and out, and disinfected with a 10 percent bleach spray. Our well water is around 45 degrees. We’ll cool the meat in one cooler before moving it to other coolers to store overnight on ice. I’ll do the packaging when I get in from deer hunting Monday morning.

The chest freezer has to be cleaned out, defrosted and repacked between now and butchering day. We still have chickens left from last year that need to be placed in the top basket of the freezer to be sure we use them first.

Steve will sharpen the knives and ax, and prepare a new block.

I’ll feed the chickens for the last time on Saturday morning. They won’t get their usual pail of food late in the day Saturday. It’s easier to keep a clean work area if the birds have empty digestive tracts. They’ll have all of the water they need. If it’s not too warm on Saturday, they’ll stay in the tunnel so that they don’t fill up on grass.

I’m not looking forward to the work, and will be very glad when it’s done. It hasn’t taken a lot of time or effort to raise what I expect to be more than 200 pounds of meat for the freezer.

Robin Follette and her husband, Steve, operate Seasons Eatings Farm in Talmadge, Maine.

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