The Farm Report: Construction and Destruction

      51 Comments on The Farm Report: Construction and Destruction

Our seven hens are only producing about three eggs per day now, so I guess they’re getting long in the tooth … er, beak.  At some point it will be time to start converting them into chicken dinners.  That means we’ll have to learn how to de-feather and process chickens.  Too bad my great-grandparents are all gone.  That’s what they did in those days; go out back and choose a chicken for dinner.

Our 18 chicks are growing rapidly, but aren’t yet ready for prime time.  The picture below is of them all huddling together as far away from the camera as they could get.  Apparently they believe a camera is some kind of chicken-killing contraption.

Once we sacrifice our current egg-layers, some of these chicks will probably live in the barn.  But the plan is to raise most of them in portable chicken houses and move them around the land.  Chareva has made quite a bit of progress on her first chicken house.  Man, there’s something about a good-looking woman using a power drill …

While she’s been constructing, I’ve been destructing.  The once-frightening pile of logs is considerably less intimidating now that I’ve had a couple of weekends to perform in my own version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Okay, to be honest, I don’t remember the bad guy in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre driving to a Stihl dealer to find out how he managed to mess up his chainsaw.  I’ve done that twice over the course of this project.

The first time, the chain locked up on me and wouldn’t turn even when the engine was running.  Turns out I was using the wrong oil to lubricate the bar.  I saw these nice little bottles of oil that were (I swear) labeled as chainsaw lubricant, so that’s what I poured into the oil tank.  Heh-heh-heh.  That’s what happens when longtime city-dwellers move to the sticks and starting playing with power tools.  I managed to miss the big orange container of chainsaw bar oil sitting right there next to the chainsaw in our garage.  So I was using the oil that’s supposed to be mixed with the gas.  Fortunately, I didn’t cause any actual damage.

I saved the actual damage for the screw that tightens the chain.  I didn’t realize that before turning that screw, I’m supposed to loosen the nuts on either side of it.  I thought those nuts were there just to attach the faceplate.  So while trying to tighten a loose chain that wasn’t ready to be tightened, I snapped the screw.  Oops.

Both repairs prompted a lesson in the proper care and feeding of chainsaws by a nice older gentlemen at the Ace Hardware/Stihl dealer.  After the second repair job I asked him, “So when people like me leave the shop, do you just shake your head and wonder why there are so many idiots in the world?”

“Naaaah,” he answered in his New England accent.  “I wasn’t born knowing everything, and I don’t expect you were either.”

In my defense, what I mostly wanted to know when we bought the chainsaw was how to use it without cutting off my own foot.  I got that part down right away and forgot the other bothersome details, such as which oil goes in which tank.

Now I at least know enough to get through a weekend of cutting without having to go visit my buddy from New England and ask what I did wrong this time.  I’ve also gotten pretty good at recognizing when the chain needs sharpening.  (Hint: if there’s no sawdust coming from the log and little puffs of smoke are rising from the cut, the chain isn’t really sawing anymore.)

It was a gorgeous weekend, around 70 degrees and sunny, perfect for outdoor labors.  I wasn’t the only one with that opinion.  As I was working on Sunday, our nearest neighbor came over, chainsaw in hand.  He explained that on days like this, he feels an urge to work outdoors.  He heard me sawing away and thought maybe I could use some help.  Would I mind?

Mind?  Are you kidding me?

I was delighted to have an extra pair of hands and extra saw working on the pile, since I’m feeling a bit of deadline pressure.  Two weekends from now, my work buddy Jim Taylor and I are sharing the cost of renting a log-splitter.  We’ll split his wood on Saturday and mine on Sunday.  I don’t know how quickly those things work, and for all I know, I’ve already cut more logs than we can split in a day.  But if it turns out to be quick work, I’d like to have as many of the logs cut up and ready to go as I can.

As I called it a day on Sunday, I thought about the advice featured in last week’s post … you know, eat your waffles or cereal in the morning and then have a high-carb snack every two hours or so to keep your energy up.  Processing that log pile is hard physical work.  The chainsaw is heavy, and it takes some pushing and pulling and rocking up and down at my end to get through the thick trunks.  After cutting chunks of logs, I have to pick them up and toss them aside to avoid stepping on them while working my way through the pile.  Both days qualified as long workouts.

On Saturday, I had ham and eggs for breakfast around 10:00 AM.  My next meal was at around 7:00 PM — after I played 18 holes of disc golf to unwind from the day’s chainsaw labors.  On Sunday, I had coffee with cream to wake up, then started on the logs.  It never occurred to me to stop for lunch.  I wasn’t consciously fasting all day; I was just busy and determined to get a lot done and didn’t think about food.  So my first meal of the day was dinner (Chareva’s chili).  That was around 6:00 PM.

According to the carb-pushers at, I should have run out of gas by noon.  But I didn’t.  I didn’t run out of gas until I literally ran out of gas – for the chainsaw, that is.  That’s when I called it a day.  So I’m pretty sure we ignore the advice from


51 thoughts on “The Farm Report: Construction and Destruction

  1. rudy-in-la

    Tom, you went about your chainsaw situation all wrong! It’s obviously a very dangerous product and most likely a defective design. A lack of hundreds of warning stickers caused your potentially deadly situation. You don’t need chainsaw lessons……you need a LAWYER. Seriously though, your farm stories are inspiring and cause me a bit of envy at the same time.

    Yeah, couldn’t be my ignorance. That will be my lawyer’s story, anyway.

  2. fredt

    the thing I remember about old hens was the dog liked them. A lot of them flew off the plates onto the floor. We people, other than mother, were not fond of those old hens, and she would eat anything. She was never wrong.

    I suspect our dogs would happily eat the old hens.

  3. Debi

    Saw a magazine in Lowes a week or so ago with a cover article on how to deal with Henopause. Silly me, I thought there was only one way to deal with it and that I’d find some good recipes. Nope! All kinds of suggestions for making them pets, or finding retirement farms, but no recipes.

  4. Karen

    Okay, here’s how we fixed chicken dinner when I was a kid.

    Just after breakfast, Grandma ringed a chicken’s neck then chopped the head off and pinned it up where the dog couldn’t get it. Then she boiled a tea kettle of water and took that, a bucket, a knife and the headless chicken to the pasture.

    Holding the hen by the feet, she poured the water over the chicken and into the bucket. Then she plucked the feathers. I remember chickens being dipped in and out of the bucket to loosen feathers and feathers being thrown onto the ground. It seems like she had to work at it to get most of the pin feathers off.

    Anyway, then she eviserated the chicken and left the innards in the pasture for the dog. I don’t remember her ever keeping anything but the gizzard.

    So, she dumped the scald water in the pasture and rinsed the chicken and bucket at the well pump. In the utility room, water and salt went into the bucket with the chicken and it sat for a few hours to draw the blood and tenderize before she fried it up in the electric skillet for dinner. Granddaddy had bread and gravy for dessert before settling in to watch All My Children.

    It’s been 20 years since I’ve had grandma’s fried chicken and nothing has ever equaled it.

    Your grandfather watched All My Children?

    1. Karen

      Granddaddy was my great-grandpa & yes, he did watch AMC. My husband’s granddad watched it, too. Old farmers and horsemen went to bed early when I was a kid, sometimes before the sun went down in the summer, so they had to do their tv watching during the day.

  5. j

    Thinking about the article reminds of how hard it is to change people’s minds about the SAD diet. When I try to talk to people about better eating, I can sometimes see their minds go blank as if subconciously blocking out any different information…probably goes against the programming..
    Think I’ll start a town for like minded, low carbers like myself…grains will be banned (upon popular vote of course)..

    To be fair, I see people’s minds go blank on all kinds of subjects.

  6. Vicki

    To de-feather chickens or turkeys, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Turn the heat off. Grab the bird by its feet and quickly dip the carcass in the water. Pull out feathers. (For ducks and geese, add some paraffin to the hot water… about 8 oz. to 1 gal.)

    Thank you for the tip.

    1. Tony Dickson

      In the US, paraffin is candle wax, in the UK paraffin is the same as what we call kerosene. Two peoples, separated by a common language.

  7. Howard

    “At some point it will be time to start converting them into chicken dinners.”

    A word of warning: Meat from an old chicken tends to be really tough. When a hen gets too old to lay eggs, she’s past her prime for the stew pot, too.

    Males get tough long before they are incapable of breeding. When we slaughtered our old rooster (Charlie), I recall that the bird was all bone & sinew, almost no meat to speak of. What little meat there was would have made a durable pair of (small) shoes.

    Remind me to tell you about Charlie the Rooster next time we get together. He was an interesting bird. I learned some interesting lessons from Charlie.

    Well, if nothing else, the dogs will eat them. They eat raw chicken anyway.

    1. Karen

      I buy a dozen old hens from my egg farmer in the fall because they are $5. I brine them and cook them on low in the slow cooker with NO water. They’re scrawny old things, but they cook up tender that way and the bones go right back into the pot after supper to make excellent broth.

      The dogs will like them, though.

  8. Judi

    Our neighbor has used a log splitter and it seemed to go right along. He processed a huge pile in one day. And kudos to Chareva – every time I see her on your blog she is doing something really impressive. That’s a good role model right there!

    With Chareva as a role model, our girls certainly won’t grow up believing women can’t build things.

    1. Elle

      Yup. In fact you pretty much need a tough old bird to make a good Coq au Vin. All that connective tissue turns into gorgeously velvety sauce.

      Wine, garlic, mushrooms, and fatty pork – what’s not to love?

  9. Galina L.

    I had to deal with different quality chickens. If it was obvious that the bird was old and tough, I scraped away all meat from her bones, boiled her carcass, organs except a liver,head and feet in a pressure cooker, scrapped again away any remnants of meat. I processed then together raw and cooked meat in a meat grinder with an addition of plenty of sauteed onion(it is also good to add sauteed mushrooms) and a raw egg. You could add some rolled oatmeal and make an amazing chicken patties. Such recipe could make your dogs unhappy — there would be almost no leftovers except fevers and dry bones. I am sure your wife would find a very reasonable way to use a quality chicken broth.

  10. Jay Jay

    I’m in sawing and splitting mode too. Which also means several days of small engine repair….

    And uggh, plucking chickens is the worst! Horrible, horrible, horrible job.

    Messy, stinky, slow, and gross.

    But you should try it once!

    I recommend skinning them. Much easier.

    And the previous posters are right. Most older chickens aren’t even good for stew. But they do make PHENOMENAL stock.

    Stock, dogfood … we’ll find some use for them.

  11. Leon

    I find myself enjoying coffee with cream throughout the day, and generally only needing one meal a day. Dinner. A feast compared to my low fat, high carb diet a few years ago & it’s panic stricken, frantically eaten, mirco-meals.

    Good luck on the chicken chopping, not gonna lie, I’d be a little intimidated.

    I’m a little intimidated too, but if we want to raise and eat our own pasture-fed chickens, I’ll need to get over it.

  12. Beowulf

    After processing four chickens a couple months ago, I can tell you that they are MUCH easier to pluck if you put a little soap (a tablespoon or two) into the hot water. Our first chicken (no soap) took forever, but the next three had soap in the water and were much easier. The soap helps the hot water penetrate the feathers. It’s still an annoying job to do by hand, but if you’re just doing one or two at once it isn’t too bad.

    Oh, and the feet make a great addition to stock. Clean them beforehand by dropping them in a pot of boiling water for a minute and then scraping the skin off. All the poop and dirt comes off with it. You also give the nails a twist and the outer cap comes off.

    I’ve heard the feet should go into the stock pot. It’ll just be weird looking at chicken feet, at least at first.

    1. Molly56

      I wrote this over on Jimmy Moore’s forum, but I’ll repeat here. Chicken feet are excellent in the stock. They are gelatinous so you can make aspic without adding Knox gelatin. Before you drop them in, though, I learned and practiced countless times in Mexico to singe them over an open flame so the tough outer skin can be peeled away quite quickly and easily. Cut off the nails with kitchen shears. The meat on them is minimal, but there is a bit. It’s the gelatin that’s valuable.

      Good advice, thanks.

  13. TonyNZ

    FYI: It’s a good idea to run your chainsaw out of gas before storing it. It prevents fuel delivery problems. If you think there’s a chance you won’t run it for another 2 weeks or so, run it out.

    Good advice. I pretty much always quit for the day at the end of a tank.

  14. Pat

    I defense of the hens:
    How old are your hens? Homestead hens, as opposed to commercial hens, can easily lay for 3-5 years. Their output is dropping right now because the days are getting shorter and they are getting ready to moult. Once they moult they will start laying again. This break gives them a chance to replenish nutrients they may have used up in egg laying. Sort of like people not having babies 10 months apart.

    If you want consistent output all winter, they need additional lighting to mimic a longer day. They also need more nutritious feeding since you are pushing output.

    You can also tell how they are doing by looking at the colour on their legs. Yellow, not laying – bleached looking, the yellow is going into the yolks. That is why roosters have more vivid colouring. People often keep the pretty hens, when it is the less attractive ones who are doing the producing.

    I got all this information from a lady at a country fair who has kept chickens for years. She has an 11 year old Buff Orpington hen, who is now too old to lay eggs but is a wonderful foster mother for the new chicks.

    It would be nice if their production picks up again. They’re just now about two years old.

    1. Jim Butler

      I was going to post the same thing, glad I read the replies first. A couple of “clip on” lights, usually about $4 at a hardware store, plugged into a cheap timer, and I bet your production will increase significantly.

      Also, one of my favorite chicken meals is chicken and dumplings from the Farmer’s Home Journal Cookbook printed back in the 50s. You boil the whole chicken for 3hrs, then pick all the meat off and complete the recipe. We cook many many meals in our home, and all of our friends enjoy our cooking immensly, but chicken and dumplings is at the top of ALL of our “comfort food” lists…especially during fall and winter.


  15. Cyborcat

    “Our 18 chicks are growing rapidly, but aren’t yet ready for prime time. ”

    So they’re the Not Ready For Prime Time (Egg) Layers?

    … Sorry XD

    You’re forgiven. That was worth a chuckle.

    1. Leon

      That’s going to be a really dark episode of Fat Head Kids Club…

      LOL. I probably won’t videotape Sara beheading a chicken.

  16. Leo

    Man, you’d think I would’a remembered something from your blog, I must say though that woman with the power drill sure has “something”… :>)

  17. Chuck

    I have never had to clean a chicken either, but this lady makes it look easy and offers some good tips.

    I have cleaned many squirrels and one deer though. Lots of people are turned off by squirrel, but it is actually quite tasty.

    You shouldn’t have to push on the chainsaw, let the tool and gravity do the work for you. My Stihl chainsaw came with a chain designed to help stop kickback, which makes it cut much slower. You can buy more aggressive chains that will go through like the log like it’s warm butter. My brother has a cheap P.O.S. chainsaw with an aggressive chain and he is usually working on his third cut by the time I finish my first one (When his runs). A good sharpener that I found was the Husqvarna brand, it has the round and flat file built in to file both surfaces at the same time, and the round file can be flipped to file teeth facing both directions. One to three passes on each tooth (too many passes will shorten the life of the chain) and your off and running again. My dad always carried a yellow tire marking crayon to mark the starting spot when he sharpened the chain. Another handy tip I learned was to rub a piece of chalk on the files. This will prevent the metal shavings from clogging up the file making it last much longer.

    The saw glides through some of the logs. Others have very dense wood and take more work. I can feel the difference when I pick up the chunks to move them.

  18. Firebird7478

    “Man, there’s something about a good-looking woman using a power drill …”

    Chareva the Riveter?

    Her family calls her Reva, so Reva the Riveter works for me.

  19. Sue

    My dog ate raw chicken also, but he turned up his nose at stewing hens. He’d rather not eat at all for a few days than eat those. He would bury them somewhere, but never, ever ate them.

    I guess we’ll find out if our dogs like them.

  20. Dave, RN

    Old laying hens are not good eating. They are tough.

    However, they make the best stock ever. Be sure to throw in the feet for a good gelling stock.

  21. Daci

    I do hope your girls will be able to handle this part of raising chickens since they have nurtured them since they were little puffs of joy.
    Time will tell I suppose.

    We’ll find out. They were warned from the beginning that the chickens will become food someday, but they are kids.

  22. Allen W. McDonnell

    Tom, when we cleaned the birds we kept only three parts of the viscera for eating, the Gizzard, the Heart and the Liver. When removing the liver you must carefully slice off the bile ducts, one slip of the knife and the liver is ruined. Better to loose a little of the liver instead of the whole thing. Hearts and Gizzards were usually boiled and then diced for use in stuffing or in scrambled egg omelets, Livers we would slice up and pan fry just like beef liver. Thanks now I went and made myself hungry just thinking about it lol. We would typically raise 50 chickens, and a dozen each of Turkeys and Ducks each year, some years we raised half a dozen Geese as well. I still love roast goose for Christmas Diner but those birds are a very mean bunch. We didn’t keep our flocks at 50 chickens that large for long, at three to four months 22 of the roosters would end up in the deep freeze because we didn’t need more than a couple in case Dad wanted to breed. Also in a flock that large the pecking order can be very viscous, the bottom hen would end up with a bare back and sunburn if we kept too many birds in the coop and yard. We used the pot of boiling water to blanch the feathers loose method other have described on this thread, very effective but smells like a wet dog that has been rolling in the creek mud.

    An online friend of mine built a chicken tractor like the one you are doing, he recommends against it in southern Missouri but your soil conditions could be much more favorable for it than his are so let us know how it turns out.

    For eggs to eat I always loved Goose eggs, they are so nice and big, and I like the subtle flavor difference of Turkey eggs, though that might just be a childhood imagination. We had a hen one time that frequently laid double yolk eggs, I always wanted to breed her to get Siamese chicks but was consistently voted down 😀 As a school boy I thought having a flock of double headed chickens would be neat.

    I appreciate the tips.

    1. Allen W. McDonnell

      You are quite welcome.

      One thing I neglected to mention, if you keep the Gizzard it is at the base of the throat between the esophagus and the stomach about the size of a golf ball. You need to split it in half and wash it right away, it will be full of sand and tiny rocks chickens use to grind up their feed. Our chickens were in an open top pen, if you want a large fenced area for them a net roof becomes difficult. As tree fowl they would naturally be able to fly away but if you clip off the flight feathers on one wing but leave the feathers on the other wing alone they can not fly because they are unbalanced when they try. We did the same thing with the Ducks and Geese, no balance means no flying. If you clip both wings they can still fly short distances by beating their wings really hard.

  23. Bruce

    Whoo boy. Using a power splitter about 10 years ago to split about 3 oaks worth of wood. Could not straighten up my back by the end of it. I sat on a chair and my wife rolled the logs to me to put in the machine.

    Maybe you could rent this type.

    Wow! I could process the whole pile in a day with that thing.

  24. Vic

    We have 5, three year old hens that are only giving 1-3 eggs a day. I am fond of the girls and I know they will lay at least one more season. We did go on Craigslist and buy 12 “pullets.” Right. I am observing these girls and told my husband I thought he had a few roosters. He was in denial. They started to crow. “Err, honey, I am sure you have some boy “pullets” out there.” “No” he says, “I googled ‘crowing hens’ and sometimes they crow when there is no rooster.” Okay. About 2 weeks later he is incensed because his little hens are being gang raped. The Barred Rock ‘pullets’ are very aggressive. He watches a few you tube videos and sharpens the knives. I now have 4 young roosters in the freezer. We put one cute rooster in with the old hens, a real shock to their systems, and one stayed in with the five(real) pullets. So all is now well in chicken world. Very funny advice on a website he found when researching ‘crowing hens’—“First see what your farm store’s return policy on boy pullets is.”

    If we start hearing a cockle-doodle-do from then “hens,” we’ll know what happened.

  25. Sabine

    I just thought of another chicken recipe: Shred the chicken meat and combine with other ingredients/leftovers and some cauliflower rice or some shiratake rice and make a Spanish paella.

  26. John Totten

    Build a chicken Plucker

    Many ways to go about it. Cheapest options run around $20. Spinning models around $100. Commercial models (Ez Plucker) Start at around $500.

    If you plan on eating a good bit a chicken its a worthy investment. If you’re handy then it’s a fun weekend project(being a programmer you should be able to put something like this together)

    I once made one out of a bucket and some Rubber Fingers($20) and a Drill.

    Sounds like the kind of project Chareva would enjoy. She’s the arts-and-crafts person in this marriage.

  27. Marilyn

    Off topic, but I’m sure many will relate to this.

    “Non Sequitur” from the Sunday funnies.

    Drawing: A limousine has obviously turned off the main street, and into a dark, blind alley.

    Caption: “G.P.S. for Pundits and Politicians: Keep going straight. Changing directions is a sign of weakness. Ignore actual results, and keep heading straight.”

    Then explain that the lousy results prove you need to go even farther in the same direction.

  28. Chareva

    Tom, I love your blog readers. They are a wealth of information! Thank you, poultry-raising Fat Heads.

    I love ’em too.

  29. Becca

    Thanks for the post!

    I’m planning to make a hoop coop too! I have a friend who thinks I would need something to bend the cattle panels over something round to make a round hoop shape…. Every DIY blog about cattle panel hoop coops that’ I’ve read does not mention anything about the difficulty of bending the fencing…. Did you guys have any trouble getting the panel to bend/flex into a hoop shape?


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