The night before we harvested our beloved pigs, we watched 3 new baby chicks fight their way into the world.
Life and death is so raw and in your face on the farm, and we’ve had our share of both. “It’s real life,” as Andrew used to say.
Learning to hatch our own chicks is probably one of the most rewarding things we’ve done so far. All you need is a rooster, one broody hen, a clutch of eggs, and 21 days.
The mother’s metabolism slows, she nearly stops drinking and eating all together, rarely leaving her nest even to relieve herself. The eggs should be candled at 12 days. Sometimes you can even see blood vessels and a pulsating mass. It’s so fascinating.
I felt like a child the day our first chicks hatched. I walked to the coop to check on them every 10 minutes.
What is even more incredible is watching a hen mother baby chicks- keeping them warm beneath her feathers, teaching them to scratch and eat and drink, protecting them from the rest of the flock, and leading them out of the coop only when the time is right.
She even knows just the right time to release them from her care.
A few weeks ago I helped my friend Cary harvest a pen of roosters as practice for our turkeys and Thanksgiving that is just around the corner.
While we worked we talked about the place that death has in farming. For every farmer the time comes to cull or process an animal.
In our case, the more chicks you hatch naturally, the more roosters you have running around. And you only need (and can afford to feed) so many roosters.
I learned a lot from Cary that night (as I always do) and also brought home 3 new Roos, thus sparing their lives and increasing the fertility of our flock. Blue, Mr. Splash, and Flakes seem to be performing well so far.
Death on the farm is never a stranger for long. But then again, neither are baby chicks.
How to kill a chicken:
- Prepare your work area. You will need: a sanitized table outdoors, bleach water for all equipment, a bucket filled with bleach water to keep knives and pruners clean, a propane stove to simmer water for de-feathering, clean bucket of cold water for carcasses, and a trashcan.
- Obtain a chicken.
- Tie it’s feet together (bungee cord works great) and hang somewhere.
- Clip spinal cord with pruners located in posterior part of neck; the chicken will be rendered dead instantly.
- Step back.
- Once flapping has subsided pull down on head and cut off with a knife, allow blood to drain in bucket. Compost the blood later.
- Cut off wings at joints.
- Dip in simmering (not boiling) water for 20 seconds. Too long and the skin will rip, too short of a time and de-feathering will be near impossible.
- Remove all feathers. Difficult pin feathers can be removed later in the kitchen sink. Keep the chicken moist with water while working.
- Cut off the feet.
- Remove the oil gland by cutting dorsally at the base of the tail above the bone.
- Make a superficial cut from the base of the neck to the top of the neck, just cutting through the skin.
- Remove the trachea, esophagus, and crop carefully by cutting away and pulling.
- Trim the neck.
- Make two cuts between the legs now on the ventral side of the chicken.
- Carefully cut out the vent and rectum, discard in trash.
- Reach into the body cavity and remove the intestines by pulling, discard.
- Remove the gizzard, lungs, liver and gallbladder, heart, and kidneys.
- Rinse well.
- Put the carcass in a bucket of clean, cold water.
- Finish cleaning in the kitchen sink.
- Allow the meat to rest in the refrigerator for 2 or so days before freezing.