Over the weekend we found out that we undoubtedly had a rooster in our flock. We caught our lanky, very tall bird in the act of terrorizing trying to be amorous with one of our hens. It was quite the ruckus. Feathers flying, hens screeching…not a pleasant sight. It was the first time we had witnessed aggression in our otherwise quiet, gentle Mr. Rooster. Still, that’s what roosters do, isn’t it? And since he was still quiet and not causing any other problems, we let it go.
The next day Wyatt was out mowing the lawn and heard a sound over the whine of our mower AND the neighbors mower. Listening a second time he realized it was the rooster…CROWING! The neighbor stopped what he was doing and listened as well. Over the course of mowing the lawn the rooster continued on, his crow echoing off the nearby houses in our otherwise nearly silent neighborhood.
A rooster is not a “city-friendly” chicken. We’re lucky enough to live in one of the few towns in South Dakota that allow city chickens. The only stipulation with having them is that your neighbors don’t complain. Before purchasing our chicks last spring we spoke with our neighbor and cleared the whole chicken-raising idea with him. “No problem,” he answered, and added with a chuckle, “just no roosters, right?” Right.
What to do. Wyatt came in and told me of the predicament. Could we give him away? Maybe a family member at a farm would take him? Wyatt’s anxiety about the situation grew as the rooster continued his somehow excruciatingly loud crowing.
I’ve always dreaded the idea of killing an animal I raised. Yes, I want to farm. Yes, I eat meat. Yes, I would like to raise my own meat. But still, I’ve got some hang-ups about doing the deed my self. I’ve been a vegetarian in the past, mostly because I objected to (and still do) the industrial meat production system, but also because I felt that since I didn’t have it in me to kill an animal for food I shouldn’t be eating meat. Having found farmers who raise animals OUTSIDE, on GRASS, on small farms, and who humanely process meat, I went back to an omnivorous diet feeling content to support local farmers raising REAL FOOD (and just not dealing with the “but I couldn’t do it myself” thoughts…sound familiar to any readers?).
However, being fresh from a chicken butchering skill session, the “how-to” knowledge was right at my fingertips. I had experienced the journey from taking chicken (bird) to chicken (meat). And it went well. But those birds were strangers to me, not with my own animals.
And the rooster crowed on. I thought about the (purchased) chickens in my freezer, and about the real risk of having one of our neighbors complain and possibly losing our ability to raise layers. The decision was made. Time to meet our meat.
Wyatt was excited to try his hand at backyard chicken butchering. Since we live in town I suggested we spare the neighborhood children and complete the task in the garage. I talked Wyatt through the steps and he went out to take care of the bird while I started heating water to scald the chicken. When he came back in he looked a little frazzled and admitted the “doing the bird in” process was a little more gory than he had expected. Without a killing cone, the bird wasn’t contained (you’ve heard about the headless chickens running around, right?) and as he hung from the rafters he made a bit of a mess of the garage door. But the hardest (in my opinion) part was over. Time to get on to processing the bird.
We dunked him in hot water (heated to 160 degrees) in our cooler until his feathers were easy to remove, then hung him back up and did the plucking.
Afterward we moved on the the evisceration, which would have been a LOT easier had we actually had any sharp knives in the house. Wyatt did a good job and got the main mass of innards removed in one sweep. We then looked in the cavity and scraped out any leftover organs until it looked clean and empty (we found later a few bits were left in, but it did no harm). We then rinsed him well and popped him a cooler of cold water to chill.
At this point the bird looked just like the beginnings of Sunday dinner…say…
Time for supper! I pulled out some potatoes (ours) from the basement, dug up some leeks, threw in a few carrots, seasoned the bird, and popped him in the oven. While we were waiting I made up a batch of fresh goat cheese. Why not? We were on a roll with this food processing kick (the night before we had harvested and processed much of our garden, but that’s another blog…).
An hour and half later we enjoyed a nearly “zero mile” meal (the carrots were purchased since ours did so poorly this year). It was a delicious chicken dinner, and we marveled at our newly gained self-sufficiency. We had raised a healthy bird on grass, garden scraps, and sunshine and had ensured a humane death and a clean processing. That is sooo much more than can be said for any bird coming from the industrial food system. We took responsibility. And it tasted really good.