Sunday, October 28, 2012

Another Chicken Harvest

We bagged the chickens today, sending most to others' freezers, and tucking twenty into our own. The birds came in at a good weight, averaging 6.5 pounds. The first year, they averaged 6 and last year they were only 4.5.

The first year, we did not kill them until 13 weeks. They did not seem to gain much that last week, so we decided to kill them earlier the following year. Part of the deal is that once they get a certain size, they really eat a lot, so you have to compare what they might gain to the cost of feed.

Last year, we tried a different food that was not specifically formulated for maximizing growth. We also killed them at about 11 weeks. That was one depressing harvest, as we killed chicken after chicken that were so obviously smaller than the year before.

This year, we fed them "grower" food, and we supplemented with all of our waste milk. The past two years, we really didn't have much milk to spare for chickens. Since most of our milk is going into butter this year, and we're not sharing with a calf, that left gallons of skimmed milk for the chickens.

About a month ago, I helped a friend kill his chickens. His were a different variety, one that is more manipulated to grow big and fast, and I knew they would be bigger than ours. Still, I looked at them one week, and we both thought they looked a little small; the next week when we killed them, they averaged 8 pounds. I had a bit of chicken envy, and I upped the amount of milk our birds were getting.

A couple of weeks after that, a friend killed her chickens, which were a breed similar to ours, and hers all came in around 5.5 pounds. Now, maybe that sounds plenty big, but there is another meal on a six pound chicken; that half pound of meat really does make difference. Also, when you're putting 6 pound chickens in the freezer, none of the grain costs seem to matter; whereas when we sold 4.5 pound chickens at a price per pound that had counted on them being 6 pounds, it was painful. My friend's experience made me worry about whether ours would be big enough on execution day.

We picked up the chicken rig the evening before, and we felt pretty good about getting everything going, as we had used this setup the past two years. Well, harvest morning, we could not get this scalder to light. Jason worked and worked with it; he took the propane tank and had it topped off just in case that was the problem. Our friend showed up to help, and he worked on it. We got a huge pot of water heating on a propane burner, and still Jason and our friend tried to figure out the problem with the scalder. They actually had a good idea of the problem, but we were already two hours into our harvest and not a single chicken had been killed.

That's when Sylvie let all sixty chickens out of the fence.

Finally, chickens were rounded up, water was at temperature, and we were off. The rest of the day was uneventful. We realized that the scalder was nowhere near as important as the plucker and killing cones. We spent roughly 4 hours doing in 60 chickens; our friend, as well as Ezra and Phaedra learned how to eviscerate, Sylvie learned how to clean gizzards. It was quite a team operation.

Unfortunately, there were no free hands for a camera, so I'll try to describe the one thing I wished I had a picture of. At about 3:00, I looked at Jason, and he had chicken blood all down his neck, splattered across his face, and all over his clothes as he grimly set about killing the next chicken.

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