Shortening the Food Chain, part 2: Meat from Our Backyard



Of the 11 chickens we got from friends who moved away, two are still living, three died of old age, four are in the freezer and two were tasty.

 My husband and I butchered the six who have been or will soon be dinner, one at a time.  He broke their necks, killing them quickly, then cut off their heads.  We held them over a trashcan while their wings flapped and toes twitched, then hung them up by their feet over the trashcan and let them bleed out.  Next, we plucked them.  (Plucking chickens makes a sound like Velcro.)  I saved some of the feathers, which are very pretty.

Dealing with raw chicken from the supermarket has never been my favorite activity.  Cold, squishy, possibly laden with unhealthy bacteria…bleh.  Eviscerating a chicken that was alive a few minutes ago is absolutely, positively worse.  (And I was just assisting!)  We feed our chickens well, judging by the layer of fat Husband has to cut through to get to the body cavity.  Make me think about what a surgeon would see if I ever need an operation.  Ew.  The crunching of the neck as we cut it out is an unpleasant sound, but the weird sucking noise as he pulls the intestines out is really gross.  He can get everything out easily except the lungs – he can’t see them (they are a color he can’t discern), and they need to be kind of scraped out from between the ribs, so since my fingers are smaller, that’s my job. Oh joy.

After the birds are gutted, we wash them well, then refrigerate them to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit for a few days.  This allows the muscle tissue to relax, making for more tender meat.  (Though our birds are so old, they’re bound to be tough anyway.)

 This is a disgusting post, and I apologize if I’m offending anyone, or grossing anybody out.  Why are we doing this if it is so nasty?

Because we know what our birds ate, and it wasn’t ground up waste parts of cattle raised in CAFOs (“Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations”).  We know that we scooped up their poop 3 times per day, so they weren’t lying around in it.  We know that they were not confined to cages too small to turn around in, stacked so close together they had to have their beaks cut so they couldn’t peck each other through the wire, or be given antibiotics to keep from getting sick, or other drugs to keep them calm.  We know that the water we used to wash the carcasses was not contaminated with fecal matter from carelessly butchered chickens.  We know that our birds’ manure is safe to spread on our garden, and will nourish the food that feeds us, and the vegetable scraps that will feed the next generation of birds in our coop. 

Some parts of this journey are not been particularly pleasant.  We know what those unpleasant parts are, and they don’t scare us as much as what we don’t know for sure about the packaged meat at the supermarket.  That’s why.


4 responses »

  1. Please, you must not apologise! A goodly part of what is wrong with the western world today is the fact that we have so lost touch with our food source. I am of the opinion that most illness can be healed if folk would change what they put in their mouths. I am really happy to read a post – gross bits and all – about people as conscious as you and your husband. Your children are most fortunate to have chosen you two!! Did you know that old birds make the most amazing soup-stock and in the process become nice and tender…..

  2. You are right about the lung tissue, Melissa. Even in chickens from the grocery store, the lungs are so delicate in texture as to not easily pluck out in one piece, and their machines just don’t do a thorough job of cleaning a whole chicken.

    I bet there are moments when you would have liked to turn tail and run until the butchering is done. It was one of my prideful moments, though, to clean up after it was all done, knowing I did my best to help put meat on the table. I’m proud of your endurance.

    Somehow, I didn’t feel as guilty about the dead bird (ducks, geese, chickens, pheasants) plucking as I did about having caught a fish from whose throat a hook had to be ripped while the critter was still alive. The price to be paid for harvesting delicious protein!

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