The Meat Bird Menagerie

I thought the meat birds were dropping like flies. One went down on a Friday, another passed just two days later on a Sunday.

We made the decision to bump our processing date up an entire week, since we wanted the chickens to end up in our freezer instead of in our landfill.

The Dilemma

One glaring issue with that decision, however, was the fact we were now planning to process birds over a holiday weekend. I don’t know about you, but when we ask people to help us with such a gruesome chore, we don’t really want them to have to give up holiday plans to do so.

So instead, I told the people who had originally agreed to help us, that they didn’t have to change their plans and Hubs and I would just do what we could do on our own. (Then they rejected our rejection and agreed to help anyway. Because we have the best people.)

Another important detail was the fact my inlaws were coming for a visit that weekend. How many times have you had company coming to stay with you and you tell them, “We’re going to harvest our meat birds while you’re here!”

That’s not the most hospitable greeting I can imagine.

The Supplies

On Thursday, I started going around gathering items we’d need for the weekend harvest. The plastic tablecloths to cover our folding tables (aka “blood and gut barrier”). The sharp knives to get the meat into the appropriate pieces. The gloves for handling it all (because as tough as I am, I still can’t stick my bare hand inside the cavity to grab said guts).

I started looking for the kill cones. And kept looking. And kept looking.

I gave up looking and started looking for the shrink bags to put our chickens in for the freezer. And kept looking. I looked again. Hubs and I both searched and searched.

No kill cones. No shrink bags.

Sure, we could dispatch the chickens using a different method. But once they were processed, what were we going to put them in before putting them in the freezer?

This was a big issue. Big enough that I shed a few tears in frustration of it all.

We have no idea where they are. Did we leave them in Minnesota? Could we have put them in a place so safe we can’t find them now? Did someone come and rifle through our chicken supply belongings so they could steal our cones and bags?! (No.)

The threat of birds dropping like flies still loomed. The meat birds were huge. They waddled instead of walked. They could pass at any moment, because they’re grown to size, and that’s it for these birds.

I ordered kill cones and shrink bags to be shipped to us. Two day shipping has now become seven day shipping in these times we find ourselves living. We really had no choice other than to wait another week, and move the harvest date back to the original date we planned on.

The Day Of

I talked it over with Hubs and we decided we would still dispatch four of the chickens I felt were at the biggest risk of not making it one more week.

Saturday didn’t go seamlessly. There was an argument between two married people (and I’ll give you a hint, it was not between my inlaws). Unexpectedly, there was a brief fire and a melted propane hose. There was a hard lesson learned about scalding temperature and time.

My father-in-law jumped right in to help and the three of us made a pretty efficient team, despite the obstacles presenting themselves. He doesn’t know this, but the next time we do meat birds, I’m going to try to plan it specifically for when my father-in-law can come down and help.

The weather outside was absolutely perfect and beautiful. The process ended up being successfully productive.

By the end of it, there were four chickens ready for future consumption. I had a vacuum seal bag ready for the smallest chicken, which weighed in at 5lbs 11oz. That was the smallest.

The other three weighed in at 6lbs 1oz, 6lbs 3oz, and 7lbs 1oz. A SEVEN POUND CHICKEN.

I tried to fashion a vacuum seal bag big enough for the largest chicken, since it was still intact and roaster quality. It took a lot of maneuvering, but I finally managed to get it in the bag and sealed.

The remaining two six-pound chickens I cut into pieces and cooked in the instant pot. The plan was to cook, shred, and can the meat. This would keep freezer space available, and since the skin was shredded in the plucker after the scalding lesson, I didn’t want to keep them as roasters.

I could not – still cannot – believe that in four chickens we harvested almost 25 pounds of meat.

The Plus One

The remaining meat birds were moved to fresh ground in their chicken tractor, but one gave up walking halfway through the move. I carried her to her new patch of land and put her back with the others. The next day, I had to pick her up and carry her to the water bucket, and fed her from my hand.

I knew for sure she wouldn’t make it another week, and may not make it another day. A decision had to be made.

The next morning, just as the sun was starting to lighten the sky, Hubs and I went outside and set her free from her misery.

We didn’t have the scalder or the plucker set up, so the plan was to skin her to remove the feathers and piece out the meat.

It was a lot of work and harder than I’d like to admit. I’m grateful for knowing how to do things the hard way, but I’m especially grateful we have the means to do them simpler (and more quickly).

When all was said and done, we had chicken meat we had raised ourselves, and stored away for future meals.

With more to be done.

The Truth

At the time of this typing, we’ve got 28 birds to process this coming weekend. The kill cones arrived this morning. The shrink bags are on their way.

The help who was going to still come last weekend to help even though it was a holiday is planning on coming this weekend to help instead. Because a) we have the best people and b) they’re related and they want some chicken.

Now, I want to be clear about something.

It is a privilege to be able to raise and grow our own food. The health benefits and connection to our food is a reward unlike any other.

That said…

It’s not enjoyable to harvest animals. The perspective I’ve maintained through all of this, however, is one of viewing it as a gift.

We gift the animals with their best possible life. We care for them in every capacity. Shelter, comfort, fresh water, food. We treat them gently and respectfully from the moment they arrive on our homestead until they’re prepared for our meal.

The animal, in turn, gifts us with its life. I don’t view it as us taking the life of the animal, but rather, the animal gives its life to us for the sustaining of our health and wellbeing. It fulfills its purpose in serving us after we’ve dutifully served it during its entire life.

Harvesting our food is a gift. Sometimes it’s a lot harder than words on a blog post can portray. In any event – whether it’s filling a basket with green beans or filling a freezer with meat, we have the utmost respect and gratitude for the ability to provide our own food.

The experience isn’t an easy one, but it’s an important one. It’s an experience I’m thankful to have, and to be able to repeat.

Homesteading is a gift. We’re connected to our food. We’re aware of the work and care that goes into keeping our family nourished.

Our Hilltop Homestead is more than a location. It’s an experience. A lesson. It’s a way of life.

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