The Chicken Harvest

I’ve mentioned before how raising our own meat (chicken, in our case) is as difficult as it is rewarding. I don’t anticipate that will ever change.

This year’s chicken harvest was such a blessing in so many ways, though.

Answered Prayers

I had prayed for a breeze. I always pray for a breeze on this day. It keeps the flies away, it keeps us harvesters cool, and – for me this is the biggest deal – it keeps the smell blowing away.

Chicken processing is a smell that stays with you. And it’s not pleasant.

Praise God, it was a strong and steady breeze that morning as we set up outside. My dad and brother-in-law arrived and we set in to work quickly enough.

Little Man did several running jobs for us. Little Miss got right in there and did one of my least favorite jobs of all, which I detest so much I can’t even bring myself to mention it. She didn’t utter a single complaint.

Hubs, Dad, and Bro-in-law had their stations and their chicken processing responsibilities they manned masterfully. We developed our rhythm pretty quickly, and the processing went smoothly.

It was a warm day, but with the cloud cover and breeze, we never once got overheated.

Start to Finish

From the time the first chicken gifted us with it’s life until we put the last chicken in the ice water, it had been two hours and 25 minutes. We were a little tired, but far from finished.

We took a break for lunch, during which I served up some deli meats, crackers, fruits, and cheeses.

Once the scalder was back up to temperature, we set back to work putting the chickens in shrink bags and sealing them up for the freezer. I had originally planned to section some chickens up into breasts/legs/thighs/wings and portion them in my freezer that way. I soon realized, however, that was more work than I was willing to put forth at that time, so we put whole roasters in the bags and sealed them.

As we put them in the bags, we weighed each one to see how much meat we were able to raise over the previous almost-nine weeks. The bagging process took about 30 minutes. We processed the 28 birds in under three hours, start to finish.

I’m still completely dumbfounded by this. Each chicken was on average 7.5 lbs. We had three that weighed in over 9 pounds. I dubbed each of those a Thanksgiving chicken.

When it was all said and done, we had processed a whopping 241 pounds of chicken. (Counting the four we processed and weighed the previous week.) I am blown away by that.

The Journey

For all the care and nurturing I poured into those chicks from the time they arrived at the post office until we put the last one in the freezer, it was an eventful nine weeks.

We fed, watered, and moved these chickens to fresh grass on a regular basis. I checked on them incessantly – Hubs might say neurotically – making sure they hadn’t been harassed by predators, had plenty of food and water, and were healthy and thriving.

We lost seven meat chickens total, which is a big loss. It was 17% of our flock this year. That’s still a hard pill to swallow. That said, however, still raising 241 pounds of chicken to feed our family and many others is an incredible accomplishment.

And to have finished the meat chicken rearing with such a perfect day!

We had a breeze. We had cloud cover. We had laughter. We had safety (no one was hurt!). We made memories. It was a really peaceful, blessed day.

When I was in my early 20s, I went elk hunting with my dad. I told him I would go along with him, but if I filled my elk tag, he would have to be responsible for field dressing (aka gutting) my elk. I couldn’t imagine doing that.

All these years later, I asked my dad if he ever imagined one day he would be helping his daughter processing meat chickens, as I gutted the birds myself. He chuckled and answered, “No.”

The Result

The following day, I had two chickens in the instant pot. I cooked them up, shredded them, and got them ready for canning. I turned to Hubs and said, “Can you believe these chickens were alive yesterday and are going in the canner today?”

It’s hard to beat that level of freshness.

While it is never an easy day, I was so grateful for the processing day we had. It went as smoothly as we could have hoped, and everyone walked away with some hilltop homestead chicken for their freezer.

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