Yesterday I was standing in the hot, sweltering sun slitting chicken throats and had one of those sudden, it’s time to process the chickens already? thoughts that sometimes pass through my brain once we’ve done something consistently for a few years, almost like Christmas.
It seems like we’ve been doing this forever but actually it is only our third year of growing our own chicken, and our second year selling to the public, and our first year attempting it entirely on our own, without the guiding eye and arm of our old friend Rich Cook, who died from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident almost exactly 1 year ago.
But maybe it seems routine because we’ve learned a few things along the way. Like how to keep ravens from eating your flock, or how to brood 60 chicks destined for pasture so they know what grass looks like, or how to keep your broilers alive in a heat wave which predictably arrives just as your birds are obese, huge and two days away from being made into meat. Or how to shame competing Agways into giving you the best price for grain. Or how to slit the jugular of a chicken without also cutting the trachea and then to reliably remove all feathers, internal organs and extraneous bits in a timely fashion so that you can process all of your brood in one day.
There are some things we haven’t figured out, like refrigeration, which is why we still carted our birds over to Bifrost Farm to do the deed, but we’re thinking that part through. All operations can stand to improve their process. But even so, our two (newbie) volunteer helpers broke out a video camera to film us as we did our respective tasks, and as I was explaining my technique for reliably bleeding out a chicken I suddenly realized I was being viewed as an expert.
As the day progressed we got more and more sure of ourselves and by the end of the day we looked at all the meat packaged in the cooler and remembered why we’re doing all this in the first place. There are vague and varied philosophical and ethical reasons to raise and butcher your own protein source, but it really all comes down to how you feel about it at the end of the process. And we felt good. We felt achy, tired, hot, and entirely at peace. We ate late and the Bundles were cranky but it didn’t really matter. Not at that moment. We had just made real food for an entire year. What else do humans live for?