The Older Brother puts a chicken in every pot

Hey, Fatheads! Long time since I’ve got to sit in the Big Chair. I asked Tom if I could fill in for awhile because I seem to be buying a book a week for my nook after his reviews and citations, and I wanted to give my PayPal account a rest.

If you’re a regular here, you may remember one of my last guest posts was “The Yankee Farm Report,” where I went on about chickens, cows, and compost.  For us it’s all about real food that you not only know where it comes from, but that you’ve also participated in the full cycle.

[ I know Tom and Chareva have their own land and chickens (and now they’ve had goats), but I figured I still had him on the whole farm life scene.

Then they ate a raccoon. On purpose.

Game. Set. Match. Second place again! Cripes. The Wife assures me we won’t be trying that. ]

Anyway, back then I had about 50 chickens that were too big and getting bigger because we’d bought them in September and by the time they were big enough to process (butcher) we were right in the middle of the coldest winter we’d had in decades. We (meaning The Oldest Son, Linda, and I) finally got started processing them in February, and they averaged about 10 lbs. Plus it was still damned cold out,so keeping the water you dip the (already killed) chicken in at the right temperature with a camp stove in a garage was a borderline proposition. But the biggest pain — and I know any of you who’ve ever lived on a farm will back me up on this — was plucking the now soaking wet carcass. After that is when you get the innards out and start making it look like what you see when you go to the store for a whole chicken.

We got four done the first time we tried but it took about that many hours. We did another eight and improved our time a bit, but it still took us about six hours.

We’re doing the math in our heads – twelve birds down, thirty-two to go. At that rate, we should be able to finish by, oh,  about Christmas, 2016! That pretty much did it for me. I told The Oldest Son — “we’re building a chicken plucker!”

We still had to process another dozen by hand while I assembled the Whizbang Chicken Plucker from terrific plans in a book by Herrick Kimball that Linda happened to have, but once completed, we really tuned up our technique with the remaining birds. We still weren’t super fast, but it went so much smoother that Linda agreed to trying another batch.

I was going to get another fifty Freedom Rangers — a breed that grows fast, but does well on pasture and without the health issues that make Tyson/Big Chicken’s Cornish Cross so pathetic.  Then my buddy Greg — the one with the truck and tractor from my Yankee Farm Report — asked me to get an extra twenty-five for him, so this would be seventy-five. Except when I called to place the order, the nice man on the phone pointed out that with the volume price break, it would cost me two dollars more to buy seventy-five than to get an even hundred.  So I figured Linda wouldn’t mind an extra twenty-five birds. I mean, they were FREE, right? Plus, they’re so cute and tiny when you get them.

Of course, right after I ordered, my buddy’s friendly neighbors passed an ordinance prohibiting backyard chickens in their  1,500 citizen metropolis (proving that little burgs can shove their heads just as far up their a**es as big cities). So I had to explain to Linda that there would be a few more chickens on the farm than we’d talked about. But only double.

At any rate, this time things actually went wonderfully. At about a month, the chicks were moved into some old chicken tractors  (think portable coop — Tom’s had pictures of his in previous posts) that had been sitting at the farm unused for years (after a bit of patching up). Linda used an ATV to move them once a day.  Here’s what chickens look like when they get to eat bugs, scratch in the dirt, get moved to a new patch of fresh pasture every day, and generally get to express their chicken-ness:

These are a black variant of the same Freedom Ranger bird…

Of course, after about three months, it was time to start processing. We’d made some improvements with our first “learning curve” batch, but with this group we really worked out the kinks.

We spent three Saturdays in a row processing, and got better each time as we made adjustments to our layout and process. Once we had the chicken plucker, the bottleneck became dispatching the chickens.

I’d made a home-made kill cone, but we decided to use a couple of traffic cones with the ends cut off.  They’re sturdier, easier to mount to the platform we were using, and I just didn’t have time to do any fabricating. Greg helped the first week, a friend that works with The Oldest Son helped the next. They were both there the last week, so we added another cone.

We did twenty the first Saturday, another twenty-five the next, and all fifty remaining on the third Saturday (I know — that’s not 100. We’d had some attrition early).

We got everything (kill cones, scalder, plucker, processing table, coolers with ice) lined up only a few steps away. Here’s how it lays out:

Linda would bring nine chickens at a time from the chicken tractor out in the field. We’d use the kill cones to quickly dispatch them three at a time (we started with four cones, but adjusted back to three):

After the kill, the birds are dunked in the scalder, which for now is a turkey fryer setup (which The Wife has banned me from using at home due to an unfortunate incident years ago!). The temp has to be around 145-150.

(I say “for now” because the scalder and keeping it in the magic temperature range of 145-150 degrees is now the new bottleneck, and the same author has published plans for a Whizbang Chicken Scalder.)The soaking/dipping in hot water for about a minute is what loosens the feathers so they can be plucked. Then they go into the amazing Whizbang Chicken Plucker…

About thirty seconds later, they come out cleaner than if you’d spent five minutes hand-plucking.

Plus you can put up to three in at a time, so you’re replacing fifteen minutes of wet, smelly labor with a flick of the switch. Gotta love technology.

Here’s how it looks in action (that’s Greg “narrating” and taking the video with his phone, and Linda running the plucker. She seemed amused by my answer to Greg’s query as to my total investment in the plucker):

Once that’s done, they go to the processing table, where in about two minutes The Oldest Son can turn a plucked chicken into a clean bird ready to go into the ice bath cooler to chill down prior to bagging.

That’s not Joel Salatin fast yet (I’ve seen a YouTube of Salatin doing a chicken in about 25 seconds, and he was talking the whole time), but with our other helpers at the table working about half to three-quarters of The Oldest Son’s speed, they get them done as fast as Linda and I can work the kill/scald/pluck side of the operation.

All told, we got to the farm to do the the final fifty chickens at about 9:30 am, and had all fifty bagged and in coolers, we’d cleaned and put everything away, and were pulling out of the drive by 3:00.

Five and a half hours of labor on a warm, cloudy summer day with some good friends and we had filled the freezers for us and some family and friends with weeks’ worth of real food. We felt, as one of Tom’s previous posts mused, the Joy of Being Dog-Tied Satisfied, while looking forward to many good meals…

We just received our newest batch of 100 chicks (Linda’s idea!)the first week of August, and they moved into the pasture two weeks ago.  That will be the last batch for this year, but by the end of October we’ll have freezers jam-packed with real food for winter; and I think we’ll get serious about seeing if we can make this, if not a full business, at least a paying hobby in 2015.

Cheers,

The Older Brother

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38 thoughts on “The Older Brother puts a chicken in every pot

  1. PJ (RightNOW)

    In my perfect world, I’d live within driving distance and could pay you for some. Real food from animals that got to live real lives. Can’t be better.

    Reply
    1. The Older Brother

      If you’ve got a local farmer’s market, ask around. Odds are pretty good someone could put you in touch with a local source.

      Good luck!

      Reply
  2. Jan's Sushi Bar

    One of the things I love about both you and Tom is that we don’t seem like such….nutjobs anymore. We live in the suburbs and can’t keep animals, but my Better Half has made up for that by turning our entire back yard into a vegetable garden – he grows lettuces, collards, Swiss chard, kale, cabbage, shelling peas, green beans, tomatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, romanesco, brussels sprouts, rhubarb, asparagus, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, black currants, Yukon gold potatoes, sweet potatoes, okra, zucchini, summer squash, cantaloupe, watermelon and 2 or 3 varieties of winter squash. It did so well this year that we’re dropping our CSA after this season. We’ve also done nothing on the weekends but process, can, freeze and dehydrate anything that can be processed, canned, frozen and dehydrated.

    You make me very grateful for our poultry farmer, though, who handles all of that processing for us, and delivers us fresh, pastured chickens six times a summer as well as pastured eggs every week.

    Reply
  3. PJ (RightNOW)

    In my perfect world, I’d live within driving distance and could pay you for some. Real food from animals that got to live real lives. Can’t be better.

    Reply
    1. The Older Brother Post author

      If you’ve got a local farmer’s market, ask around. Odds are pretty good someone could put you in touch with a local source.

      Good luck!

      Reply
  4. The Older Brother

    Ummm, thanks?

    Ha! Ha! Tom and I have been making people think they’re not such nutjobs for decades! Turns out, we all may just be on the cutting edge of societal evolution.

    The Older Brother

    Reply
  5. JCM

    I’m trying to imagine how these conversations go:

    You: Hey, you’re going on vacation next week. Can I guest host your blog?!?!?
    Tom: Umm, blogs don’t really need guest hosts.
    You: But the people need you. They need US!
    Tom: Nothing is going to happen if there are no posts for a week. Actually paleolithic people lived without blogs altogether.
    You: Pleeeeeeease?
    Tom: Don’t you have your own blog?
    You: [sulking] Yeah but no one reads it, and the local paper won’t publish my letters. Liberal dumbasses. Please please please? I NEED this. [Pause. Looks down sheepishly.] Linda’s been making me sleep on the couch again.
    Tom: Aww geez are you sleep humping again? Well, can you try not to write anything incendiary or boring?
    You: I’ll write a farm report about my chickens!
    Tom: I said not boring.
    You: I promise to diss Obamacare in the comments.
    Tom: If I say yes will you go home?
    You: Sweet!!!

    Reply
  6. Jan's Sushi Bar

    One of the things I love about both you and Tom is that we don’t seem like such….nutjobs anymore. We live in the suburbs and can’t keep animals, but my Better Half has made up for that by turning our entire back yard into a vegetable garden – he grows lettuces, collards, Swiss chard, kale, cabbage, shelling peas, green beans, tomatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, romanesco, brussels sprouts, rhubarb, asparagus, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, black currants, Yukon gold potatoes, sweet potatoes, okra, zucchini, summer squash, cantaloupe, watermelon and 2 or 3 varieties of winter squash. It did so well this year that we’re dropping our CSA after this season. We’ve also done nothing on the weekends but process, can, freeze and dehydrate anything that can be processed, canned, frozen and dehydrated.

    You make me very grateful for our poultry farmer, though, who handles all of that processing for us, and delivers us fresh, pastured chickens six times a summer as well as pastured eggs every week.

    Reply
  7. The Older Brother Post author

    Ummm, thanks?

    Ha! Ha! Tom and I have been making people think they’re not such nutjobs for decades! Turns out, we all may just be on the cutting edge of societal evolution.

    The Older Brother

    Reply
  8. JCM

    I’m trying to imagine how these conversations go:

    You: Hey, you’re going on vacation next week. Can I guest host your blog?!?!?
    Tom: Umm, blogs don’t really need guest hosts.
    You: But the people need you. They need US!
    Tom: Nothing is going to happen if there are no posts for a week. Actually paleolithic people lived without blogs altogether.
    You: Pleeeeeeease?
    Tom: Don’t you have your own blog?
    You: [sulking] Yeah but no one reads it, and the local paper won’t publish my letters. Liberal dumbasses. Please please please? I NEED this. [Pause. Looks down sheepishly.] Linda’s been making me sleep on the couch again.
    Tom: Aww geez are you sleep humping again? Well, can you try not to write anything incendiary or boring?
    You: I’ll write a farm report about my chickens!
    Tom: I said not boring.
    You: I promise to diss Obamacare in the comments.
    Tom: If I say yes will you go home?
    You: Sweet!!!

    Reply
    1. The Older Brother Post author

      Whew. At first I thought maybe you worked for the NSA. But I don’t even sleep in the same house as Linda. She’s the woman with the farm where our cows and chickens are, not The Wife.

      Cheers

      Reply
    2. Tom Naughton

      Actually, those conversations go like this:

      Me: I need time off for [insert reason here]. Would you mind taking over the blog while I’m gone?

      Older Brother: Sure, no problem.

      I’m more intrigued by what I imagine is the conversation at your end:

      Your Wife or Whatever: What are you doing?

      You: Reading a blog and writing comments to people whose libertarian political views annoy the hell out of me.

      Your Wife or Whatever: Sounds like a great use of your time.

      Reply
      1. The Older Brother Post author

        Well, to be fair, JCM’s version was funnier though. The “sleep humping” thing was a bit crude, but I thought the rest was hilarious. Would’ve been a good intro.

        The Older Brother

        Reply
      2. JCM

        You couldn’t be more wrong Tom, my wife would never ask me what I’m doing.
        Plus I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t consider anything that prevents me from bothering her as a waste of time. Now if you’ll pardon me while I go literally hug a tree.

        Keep up the great work, I read the blog because I enjoy it not because it annoys me, believe it or not.

        Reply
  9. Tatertot

    Hey, older brother;

    I butchered a bunch of 6-8 week old Cornish Crosses a while back, and thought since we eat mostly boneless, skinless breasts anyway, I’d just fillet them out like we do grouse and quail. HUGE MISTAKE.

    If you cut into the still quivering, warm meat of a chicken, it ‘seizes up’ like a charlie horse in your leg, and won’t relax, even after cooking it. Apparently the chicken processing plants use electricity to speed the processing time. Something about rigor mortis, cold shortening, something like that.

    But yeah. If you want to fillet a chicken, kill it and hang it over night.

    Those electric drum pluckers are the schizz.

    Reply
  10. Kristin

    My dearest friend is renting a house from a friend of hers that has a farm out on Vashon Island in Washington. She has had some money troubles lately and has been discharging part of her rent out on that farm doing chicken processing. Since I eat meat and I do not at this stage kill it (except the occasional fish when I get lucky) this was a really interesting post. I was imagining the work my friend is doing every other Sunday out there. And she is bringing me a couple of chickens plus extra feet when she comes to visit soon (she keeps the heads to put in her cat food.)

    I’ve been a conservative and I’ve been a liberal. I think these days my political views are mostly disappointed. Is there a party for that?

    Reply
  11. Galina L.

    I don’t know if you aware of it or not but USA is shaken by another great debate – air-chilled verses water-chilled chickens. People from America Test kitchen claim that water-chilled absorb too much water and less tasty
    http://www.americastestkitchen.com/taste_tests/567-whole-chickens#, so they
    recommend buying air-chilled chickens, not water-chilled. I guess on a warm summer day ice-water-chilling is more practical, but , probably, you could try air-chilling when weather gets cold. My guess you would gladly skip cold water on a cold day.

    “It is in this water chilling system that chickens plump up, absorbing up to 14 percent of their body weight in water, which is chlorinated to help kill bacteria. (Since chicken is priced by the pound, of course you’re paying for that water.) Labeling law says that this water gain must be shown on the product label, and in fact, six of the eight chickens in our lineup were processed this way. Of those six, one was also “enhanced” (read: injected) with a solution of chicken broth, salt, and flavorings, further plumping up its weight.

    This water chilling process (and/or enhancing) helped explain why tasters found the meat in several of these birds to be unnaturally spongy, with washed-out flavor.

    Up in the Air

    That left just two birds that weren’t water-chilled. Instead, they were air-chilled, a method in which each bird is hung from a conveyor belt that circulates them along the ceiling of a cold room. According to Theo Weening, the global meat buyer for Whole Foods Markets, this popular European chilling method is just catching on in the United States, and it produces a superior bird. Why? “First, you don’t add water, so you don’t dilute the flavor,” Weening said. He also noted that “air chilling breaks down the muscle tissue and gives a better texture.
    “Our tasters concurred, noting that these two chickens (a California-based bird sold out west and a Pennsylvania-based bird sold east of the Rockies) took top marks for flavor and texture. They were juicy without being soggy. What’s more, the lab tests showed that these two air-chilled birds also contained more fat, giving them an inherent flavor advantage. (A higher percentage of fat in these birds makes sense, since less water is taking up a percentage of their total composition.)”
    I understand they are talking about commercial meat operations, and you don’t use chlorinated water, but there are some points worth consideration.

    Reply
  12. Tatertot

    Hey, older brother;

    I butchered a bunch of 6-8 week old Cornish Crosses a while back, and thought since we eat mostly boneless, skinless breasts anyway, I’d just fillet them out like we do grouse and quail. HUGE MISTAKE.

    If you cut into the still quivering, warm meat of a chicken, it ‘seizes up’ like a charlie horse in your leg, and won’t relax, even after cooking it. Apparently the chicken processing plants use electricity to speed the processing time. Something about rigor mortis, cold shortening, something like that.

    But yeah. If you want to fillet a chicken, kill it and hang it over night.

    Those electric drum pluckers are the schizz.

    Reply
    1. The Older Brother Post author

      We made the same mistake with a couple of our first chickens — took it home and cooked it that day. Pretty tough. You definitely want to let freshly butchered chickens age for at least a day or two (in the refrigerator) before consuming if you’re not going to freeze it. Chicken needs some time to get past the rigor mortis stage just like beef, although not as long.

      The Older Brother

      Reply
  13. Kristin

    My dearest friend is renting a house from a friend of hers that has a farm out on Vashon Island in Washington. She has had some money troubles lately and has been discharging part of her rent out on that farm doing chicken processing. Since I eat meat and I do not at this stage kill it (except the occasional fish when I get lucky) this was a really interesting post. I was imagining the work my friend is doing every other Sunday out there. And she is bringing me a couple of chickens plus extra feet when she comes to visit soon (she keeps the heads to put in her cat food.)

    I’ve been a conservative and I’ve been a liberal. I think these days my political views are mostly disappointed. Is there a party for that?

    Reply
    1. The Older Brother Post author

      Thanks. If it’s within driving distance, I’d recommend you attend once to see the processing and maybe help out for the experience. There’s no joy in taking the life of an animal, but it does convey a sense of honesty about your food and what it really means. The Oldest Son, after one of our first sessions, said it really changed his attitude about going into a Buffalo Wild Wings and ordering 20 wings. I hope you’re using the extra feet for stock!

      If you think you’re conservative on keeping the government out of your business and liberal on keeping it out of your personal life, you could possibly be a libertarian (note small “l”). There is a Libertarian political party, but as libertarians by definition don’t like government except in very limited doses, they aren’t particularly successful at winning races. It would be like a team of people who detest baseball trying to win the World Series. But the philosophy is starting to get more attention. Ron Paul was the best example of a successful libertarian politician, although he belonged to the Republican party. There’s plenty of info around. Check out a few issues of Reason Magazine or “The Independents” if you can get Fox Business Network. Tom and I have both mentioned numerous authors and resources with a libertarian angle. Please be advised that if you look into it and start to become a libertarian, there is no known cure.

      Cheers

      Reply
      1. Pat

        Political pop quiz time

        What famous politician said in 1967: “”There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.”

        You may return to the chickens now.

        Reply
        1. The Older Brother Post author

          Had to Google it. Dang Canadians. Wouldn’t put Trudeau in the libertarian camp, however — at the same time, he was calling for more restrictions on gun ownership. More of a libertine, eh?

          Cheers!

          Reply
          1. Pat

            You wrote “If you think you’re conservative on keeping the government out of your business and liberal on keeping it out of your personal life”

            So I suppose he fits your “liberal” definition, and he was a liberal, and a Liberal, Liberal Justice Minister, then Liberal Prime Minister actually. Even more radical when you remember that was 1967. Re gun legislation, attitudes are more European (British?) here re guns. He was not radical there.

            From the CBC archives:
            “A young, charismatic Pierre Trudeau, acting as Justice Minister, has introduced his controversial Omnibus bill in the House of Commons. The bill calls for massive changes to the Criminal Code of Canada. Trudeau makes an appeal for the decriminalization of ‘homosexual acts’ performed in private, telling reporters in this CBC Television clip “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” Trudeau goes on to say “what’s done in private between adults doesn’t concern the Criminal Code.”

            The other controversial parts of Trudeau’s comprehensive Omnibus bill concern revisions to abortion laws, making it legal for women to get one if a committee of three doctors feels the pregnancy endangers the mental, emotional or physical well-being of the mother. The bill also calls for the legalization of lotteries, new gun ownership restrictions and would allow police to perform breathalyser tests on suspected drunk drivers if they have reasonable and probable cause.”

            Back to the chickens!

            Reply
            1. The Older Brother Post author

              Yea, I read the same thing. I went with libertine, because in 1967, he was way out in front of the liberals. Today, even relatively conservative Republicans would agree that it’s none of the government’s business what consenting adults do in private, and requiring a committee of doctors to approve an abortion would be considered a jihad against women by the left and a stretch goal by the right.

            2. Pat

              He was radical for the times – people loved him or hated him, he did not generate lukewarm feelings – still does, all these years later. Interesting to see how times have changed. He was a change from our staid, if sometimes weird, PMs.

              Back on topic – I wish I could keep chickens here – a friend did once and her roast chicken was incredibly tasty. Must start looking for a local supplier.

      2. Bret

        Kristin, John Stossel is another good libertarian personality whose show you can find on Fox Business (and Fox News ipse usually reruns the episode once a week on Saturday or Sunday). He also wrote a book called No, They Can’t (in regards to “Yes, We Can”), which was fun to read and informative.

        Reason.com is the online version of Reason Magazine. Most of the regular commenters there will knock your socks off with their wit and brevity.

        Reply
      3. Kristin

        Regarding chickens I do indeed use those feet in stock. Really amps up the flavor. I am several hours from this chicken operation or I probably would indeed volunteer for just the reason you state. I might even consider setting up a visit sometime. I do know the woman who owns the farm.

        I had only heard of Libertarian with the capital L before which isn’t me at all. I had to chuckle at the World Series reference as it makes a lot of sense. I just know I cannot in good conscience support either of the ruling parties anymore. I’ve read through the thoughtful comments here and appreciate all the input.

        Reply
  14. Galina L.

    I don’t know if you aware of it or not but USA is shaken by another great debate – air-chilled verses water-chilled chickens. People from America Test kitchen claim that water-chilled absorb too much water and less tasty
    http://www.americastestkitchen.com/taste_tests/567-whole-chickens#, so they
    recommend buying air-chilled chickens, not water-chilled. I guess on a warm summer day ice-water-chilling is more practical, but , probably, you could try air-chilling when weather gets cold. My guess you would gladly skip cold water on a cold day.

    “It is in this water chilling system that chickens plump up, absorbing up to 14 percent of their body weight in water, which is chlorinated to help kill bacteria. (Since chicken is priced by the pound, of course you’re paying for that water.) Labeling law says that this water gain must be shown on the product label, and in fact, six of the eight chickens in our lineup were processed this way. Of those six, one was also “enhanced” (read: injected) with a solution of chicken broth, salt, and flavorings, further plumping up its weight.

    This water chilling process (and/or enhancing) helped explain why tasters found the meat in several of these birds to be unnaturally spongy, with washed-out flavor.

    Up in the Air

    That left just two birds that weren’t water-chilled. Instead, they were air-chilled, a method in which each bird is hung from a conveyor belt that circulates them along the ceiling of a cold room. According to Theo Weening, the global meat buyer for Whole Foods Markets, this popular European chilling method is just catching on in the United States, and it produces a superior bird. Why? “First, you don’t add water, so you don’t dilute the flavor,” Weening said. He also noted that “air chilling breaks down the muscle tissue and gives a better texture.
    ”Our tasters concurred, noting that these two chickens (a California-based bird sold out west and a Pennsylvania-based bird sold east of the Rockies) took top marks for flavor and texture. They were juicy without being soggy. What’s more, the lab tests showed that these two air-chilled birds also contained more fat, giving them an inherent flavor advantage. (A higher percentage of fat in these birds makes sense, since less water is taking up a percentage of their total composition.)”
    I understand they are talking about commercial meat operations, and you don’t use chlorinated water, but there are some points worth consideration.

    Reply
    1. The Older Brother Post author

      I’m not sure how the commercial water-chilling stacks up against what we do. I suspect there may some type of fast- or quick-chill process involving pressure that would account for the amount of water gain. Of course, for us the air chilling would be problematic as we don’t work with a ceiling that they could be air-chilled under! I’m thinking that what we do is going to compete quit well with any process that includes a conveyor belt.

      The Older Brother

      Reply
      1. Elle

        I imagine that being raised on grass has a far bigger impact on the taste and texture of the birds then the method they were chilled at any rate.

        Reply

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