At the start of the pandemic my family, as well as so many others, began to have questions about where our food was going to come from. As farmers, we are blessed to have a bountiful garden and a matriarch that is talented beyond measure in regards to food preservation in the forms of dehydration, canning and freezing. However, protein became the big question. With two large freezers in our garage, we have the capacity to purchase half or whole animals to fill our freezers for the upcoming fall, winter and spring.
Our family wasn’t the only family and after some consolidation, we realized that broilers or meat chickens were the one protein that we would be lacking. Beef and pork, the other two proteins that we commonly eat, were going to be easy to get as we simply purchased from our local county 4H youth livestock auction. If you don’t have the funds to purchase the above rate animal, you can sign up for the buy back program to purchase the animal at cost. It’s a great way to give back and support while also filling your freezer.
This all began in April to May which meant that we spent about two months researching all things meat chickens in the process. We learned through our research what makes the “experience” of slaughtering chickens “terrible” and what makes it more efficient.
“You’re going to process them yourselves?” Is the constant exclamation that my boyfriend and I receive when we tell people that we are processing the birds ourselves. It’s a fair exclamation because, as most of the generations before us have learned, cleaning birds can be a very messy experience. The two biggest pain points are the actual act of killing and the plucking of the bird.
When we first started lining up for meat birds, there wasn’t a single butcher shop in our area that wasn’t backed up until 2021 with a wait list. I think that this had to come from the fact that there was a major crash in the beef market and that direct market became their only access point to the buyer. These buyers than filled the butcher shops up as ranchers tried to get animals processed and people tried to get freezers purchased (there is a shortage there) to be able to hold meat for longer periods of time. Food security was a very real question – something we talked about on the That Western Life podcast with Kaylin Maree Schimpf (https://www.thatwesternlife.com/podcast/episode52).
A lot has happened in the processing equipment for birds now in 2020. Killing cones allow for you to restrain the animal safely and humanely, letting the blood flow to their head and making them unconscious, prior to making the simple kill cut. A large washing machine like contraption with rubber fingers allows you to pluck the bird thoroughly with no effort besides running a garden hose. At a bird plucked every 60 seconds with no damage to the meat, it’s an amazing time saver.
We will need to report back to all of this initially commentary AFTER we go through our first processing weekend to see if this all adds up accordingly! I do have to say, though, that it has been a great conversation starter this pandemic!