Monday, September 28, 2009

What a weekend!

Our very good friends, Todd and Shawna, are moving to Colorado this week.  It was sudden in some ways, and they have been hurrying to get their stuff squared away.  That "very good friends" part means that we have been helping.

Last Tuesday, Ben went over and killed their pigs, then put them in cool storage for us.  On Friday, I went over to help them dispatch the last of their chickens.  On Saturday, we rounded up some people to help cut and package the pigs.

I'll start by admitting that I do not mind cutting up dead animals.  I do not know why.  I have not had to kill any of them, but I have now cut up over 100 chickens, two deer, a moose, and four pigs.  I find the work oddly satisfying.  Maybe, it's the sense of filling the freezer and putting food by, or the final nature of the act.  I often feel a vague worry that it does not bother me, but it doesn't.

Anyway- the chickens were three-year-old layers.  They were still laying, but our understanding is that they cost more to feed at this point than they produce in eggs.  We do not have a place to house chickens.  Todd and Shawna did not want to take them with the dog and three children on the cross country car trip.  So, the chickens were killed as quickly and humanely as possible.  Well, almost.  We had some help, as we often do, and one of our helpers, a neighbor's son, could not quite bring himself to whack the neck with the force necessary to fully sever the neck.  This is a case where a kind heart might do a greater evil.  Todd ended up using his boot method to finish the job.

We are using the chickens for dog food, so Shawna and I skinned them, I gutted them, and the neighbor parted them and packaged them.  We had many anatomy discussions looking at the egg laden ovaries, the green gall bladder, the tube-filled lungs, and the rough inside of the gizzard.  Also, there were two fryers we killed which turned out to be roosters, so we all got to see one way to sex a chicken, though the chicken has to be dead to see the testicles.

Jason fetched the pigs from Ben and Penny's cool storage before 8:00 Saturday morning, then took the older two children to ballet.  I raced around making a good processing space for the pigs.  These pigs were killed a bit early, so they were each only maybe 80 pounds dressed.  We moved the butcher block up from the barn on Friday afternoon and sanded all the crayon and paint off the surface, then oiled it well.  I moved that in, covered the table, sharpened knives, and set out butcher paper, scissors, and masking tape.

Susie and her family arrived around 11:00, and we got to work.  The first half did not go so well.  The meat is all edible, of course, but the cuts are not any that you would possibly find in a butcher shop.  Part of the problem was that the pigs were much smaller than we had seen the year before, but really, our inexperience was the main hindrance.  We pressed on and had the first pig cut up and packaged (Thanks Mike!) before anyone else got here.  

The second pig went faster, and we were done and cleaned up by 2:00.  We sent our helpers on their way with some fresh pork, and shuttled the rest into the freezer we brought from Todd and Shawna's house.  Then, that evening, a new acquaintance brought over a 1.5 horsepower grinder and ground the meat we had set aside for that.  Two pigs, minus a few gifts, now sit in our freezer ready for winter.

We also rendered the lard and started bone broth from those parts of the pig.  The half pig last year resulted in 1/2 a gallon of lard, but these two together only had a quart of lard between them. The nice thing about doing the lard and broth at the same time is you get all the bad smells over at one time.

Yesterday, we canned applesauce, and we figure we'll do one more batch this week.  Jason picked up drops at Shelburne Orchards one evening last week and he'll do it again this week. We eat applesauce mixed with other canned fruit all through the winter, so we like to have a large supply put up.  The drops make it more affordable.

And finally, it rained and rained and rained last night.  Jason went to see how dry the basement was only to discover a small creek running through the rocks on one side and right on across toward the garage.  I guess it's not so dry.  Apparently, a well- designed basement would have channels dug into the dirt floor to move the water along.  This excess of water is strange territory for this ex- Tex.

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