Knowing food’s origin is worth the ‘ick factor’

Lots of things have been eye-openers in our first year on the farm. First off are the sheer numbers of bugs. Since we don’t use pesticides, it’s really incredible how many bites (or ticks) a person can accumulate on a routine chore round—and that happens four to five times a day. Luckily, I’ve got some guineas to help with that. Here’s hoping they stick around.

Weeds are interesting. Again, no herbicides, so we’re overrun with poison hemlock, which we’re starting to control with liberal use of machetes. At least the chickens like the fresh greens.

The amount of poo that two horses can produce is pretty impressive, too. It’s amazing how they can turn simple hay into fertilizer so quickly. I think it’s nature’s joke that it takes so much longer to compost than produce.

Another huge surprise is how many chickens I’ve managed to accumulate—without my husband killing me—in the last year. I actually counted and I’m up to around 60. Fancy ones, rare ones, laying hens—and that’s not even counting the guineas. Granted, 20 of the chickens will be slaughtered at the end of this month….

That was my biggest eye opener. I’ve been hunting before, but it’s lots different when you’re up close and personal, and have to do the evisceration yourself. I got a steal of a deal on some Cornish Crosses. Luckily, I found Russell’s name in a book and tracked him down. Luckily he didn’t think I was a stalker. Even more luckily, I got to meet his wonderful wife, Jeanne. The two of them promised to guide us through every step of the process. It was an added bonus that our family and theirs have so much else in common.

The day dawned bright and sunny…. Oh wait, no it didn’t. It was chilly and rainy. I called Jeanne and no, they didn’t want to wait for the storms to pass through. They were on the way with the processing table.

Swell, I thought. I was still dealing with a good bit of nervousness—after all, I’ve got all these meat chickens. What am I going to do if I can’t kill them?

Well, they got here and we started setting up under the overhang of our barn. The original scalder arrangement didn’t hold a consistent enough temperature, so we had to improvise a bit. We got the processing table—aka, a really big stainless steel sink with a hose hooked up to taps—set up. They had to modify my killing cone a bit, but man, these folks were pros. If it wouldn’t have been for them, the whole day wouldn’t have been possible.

Even with the late start, the rain and the initial ick factor, the day went smoother than, well, water off a chicken’s back. I’m telling you, Russell and Jeanne have this down to a science. I started out wearing latex gloves, but soon discarded them because they got in the way. I won’t go into the gory details—so to spare you folks your own initial ick factor—but we processed 16 chickens in under two hours.

Bear in mind, that’s with two beginners who had never done this before and took some time to learn the ropes. Even the kiddos were interested in what we were doing and learned from it. We had some great conversation and jokes as we worked, which I’m entirely sure helped make us comfortable with the whole idea. Everyone switched stations so everybody got the hang of everything.

I’m sure some folks are going to have a problem with the whole idea of killing and eating your own chickens. While I can understand where they come from, I like meat. I like to know where it comes from: how it was raised, what it was fed, and how it gets processed. I don’t like a lot of chemicals to get in the way.

These chickens were raised by me on unmedicated feed, with no hormones added or injected. They were humanely killed and processed with nothing but good clean water. And I’ll tell you what: They taste fantastic! I honor them for providing me and my family with good clean food.

My sis-in-law told me this weekend that she doesn’t want to know where her meat comes from. I want it to be just the opposite: I want to know exactly where my meat comes from. Heck, I want to know exactly where all my food comes from.

I’m just blessed to have found good friends in this adventure. If anyone wants to come out for the next round, I’m in the phone book. We’d love to have extra hands to help.

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