The snow was piled deep on the back porch as she browsed poultry catalogues. She had read books of animal husbandry. This is how we should raise our food. We should know how it was raised, what it was fed. She envisioned pastoral scenes of chickens pecking the lawn, eating pesky insects and fertilizing her garden. She calculated square feet required for winter housing, after the fall cull, per hen.
The key to a successful poultry project is careful management. Hatch twice as many layers or meat birds than you need. The flock will suffer from attrition. You will need to cull the males, known as cockerels, and any females (pullets) that have undesirable characteristics. Do not name your chickens and throughly cull every year. Leave only one rooster.
Dust motes danced in the shafts of sunlight that sliced through the darkness of the coop. She rolled the wheelbarrow, with shovel, to the door. Shovel, shovel. Inside, the warming spring rays revealed tiny chicks darting between Big Moma’s feathered legs. One chick lay splayed on the sawdust strewn floor. She scooped up the tuft of listless fluff and buried it in the yard.
When butchering poultry you can pluck or skin the carcass. Cleaning the cavity while leaving the skin intact requires practice, so the first time at it, skin the meat and scoop out the internal organs. Be careful not to soil the meat.
Her hand bled from where a beak had pecked during the struggle to capture the culls. She cursed her clumsiness, at how this felt so hard to do. A black cockerel flapped, strung up on the clothes line, as her hand grasped and extended his neck. With a decisive swipe, the knife cut through the gullet to the bone and chicken blood poured down her clenched fist. The cool autumn air was thick and stank of copper. The bird flapped. Come on and die already. The remaining chickens swung on the line, waiting their turn.
For the backyard poultry farmer the practical options fo slaughter are:
- Hold the chicken, cradled under one arm, with our free hand grip below the head, pull and twist, it helps to think of wringing out wet laundry. Hang to butcher. The advantage of this method is easy clean up, the disadvantage, feeling the spasms of the carcass.
- Hammer two nails into a chopping block. Place chicken’s neck between nails, hold firmly and chop off head. Follow the body until it stops running. Hang to butcher. The blood distribution is significant and there is the odd chance you will lose track of the carcass. The advantage is not holding a dying chicken.
- Hang live chicken by the feet on your clothes line. Extend neck with one hand and slice throat with sharp knife. Your carcass will bleed for a moment but with this method the mess will be contained. Butcher in place. Advantage same as in 2.
Her family sat for Thanksgiving dinner. The steaming bowls of vegetables crowded around the centre piece, the roasted bird, diminished by the silver serving platter. She pulled a smile across her teeth. Dig in! The meat tasted like her tongue.