Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Chicken Processing October 14, 2009

The weather finally let up so we could process some chickens today. This is our last batch for the season and I am more than ready to be done with the chickens for this year. I thought I would share with you exactly how we process the chickens in this post. I know that several of my friends from Facebook have some pretty wild ideas as to how a chicken is processed. They pictures things they have heard about or remember from their childhood about chicken processing. Let me just say, we don't process them like your grandma use to but they taste just as good as hers if not better!

We process our chickens when they are 8 weeks old. Yep, that's right, only 8 weeks to grow a chicken. This is one of my selling points, that they are nice, young, tender birds not old stewing hens! Danny's parents, Bob and Penny, come and help us each time we process. They live near Walden, Colorado where Danny grew up. It takes about 4 hours to get here from there. We could not have our chicken business without their help!

We raise a Cornish cross chicken that we order through the mail from Pennsylvania. The hatchery ships them as soon as they hatch. They usually hatch on Tuesdays and they arrive here on Thursdays. I find it very fascinating that the nutrients they receive when they are still in the egg is enough to sustain them until I get them. I take them individually out of the box and give them each a drink of water by gently dipping their beaks into the waterer. I usually order 200 at a time, so this usually takes me a while, but it is always a pleasure. They are so cute!

I'm getting off track, I was going to tell you about the processing, not the raising and everything else.

Where was I? Oh yes... Two people start by catching the chickens, which doesn't involve us chasing chickens all over the place because by now they are very use to me since I am in with them at least two times a day. They either come right up to us, or we put a board in front of the door of the coop and just take them out of the coop. We transport 10 chickens at a time in a large wagon to the "holding" cage. When we have gathered about 40 chickens we start the process. Danny has four "killing cones" which he puts the chickens in, four at a time, and slits their throats to let them bleed out. The cones are a humane way to euthanize the birds since the cones restrain them. In others words, there are no chickens running around with their heads cut off, no hatchets, no chopping blocks, no broom handles! Ha, ha, I've heard them all!

After the chickens have bleed out, they are carried to Bob who runs the scalder. We have a commercial scalder that has a basket that rotates the four birds in and out of the water for about 60 seconds. This means no kettles of hot water, holding the chickens by their feet and dipping each chicken in and out of the water. After they are scalded, Danny takes all four of the chickens and puts them into a commercial plucker. The plucker is like a huge washing machine that spins the chickens around the tub with rubber fingers in the middle that snatch the feathers off in 20 seconds. The plucker does such a good job that there is no burning the pin feathers off. So no smelling of burnt feathers!

Next the chickens go to the rinse sink where their heads are taken off, any stray feathers are removed and the feet are cut off. We all take turns at this station. After that, they are ready for the eviscerators, Penny and me. Eviscerator is a nice way of saying the "gutter!" We have done so many birds now that it isn't near as bad as you would imagine it!! We can even do it with our eyes closed! Well, almost all of it. There is some cutting which you would not want to do with your eyes closed! Then it is over to the final rinse and into the chill tank. After we have that batch done, we bag them, weigh them and take them to the refrigerator/freezer. And there you have it. Not near as bad as you were imagining it, right?!?

Our chicken processing operation is state inspected and approved. We even have the federal inspector show up every once in a while although we are not under his jurisdiction. You have to process over 20,000 birds a year to be under his jurisdiction. I don't foresee that happening anytime soon! Not here!! We are processing 1000 birds this year.

I will say that a shower has never felt so good after a day of chicken processing. We did 65 chickens today since we got a late start due to the weather. On a good day we usually do 80-100, but we don't push it. One of the things that my customers like so much about our chickens is that they are so clean. We don't want to compromise the quality of our processing for the quantity that we do in a day.

We even had chicken for dinner! Yep, oven roasted BBQ chicken. I'll have to put the recipe on here later. It is a new recipe I found in the latest Better Homes and Gardens magazine. The BBQ sauce was wonderful and of course the chicken was the best I've ever eaten!

Well, there you are. A day in the life of a chicken processor! Not so bad after all!

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