CHICKS! ( can you see the one poking its beak through the hole in the word baby?, I didn’t plan for that!) This morning we received that early morning call from our local post office, “your chicks are here”. 60 little meat birds that is. Off we went to retrieve them, wanting to get them home as quickly as we could. After two days of travel, they were ready for food and water. It is not at all uncommon to have new baby chicks arrive in the mail. Most people around here order their birds from a hatchery in the mid west, there are not too many hatcheries in the north east. Once we arrived home and unboxed our little hatchlings, we set them up in their brooding area. We use the kid’s old tree house. It has access to electricity ( for a heat lamp), is way up off the ground so the chicks are less susceptible to predators, and it’s draft free. The chicks will remain in their “high rise” until their real feathers appear. Usually they are completely feathered by the 3rd to 4th week. Then they move outdoors into a shaded hoop house, along with an outdoor run so they can spend their time foraging.. Every couple of days we move their housing and their run to fresh grass. Between 8 to 10 weeks they will be ready for butchering. We do all of our butchering here on the farm. This year we are raising birds a bit later than usual. I think in the long run the timing may actually work out better ( than early spring or mid summer), by the time we are butchering it will be the first part of October and much cooler. These 60 meat birds ( remember we cut back this year!) will fill the freezer back up with a winter’s supply of chicken. Home grown, that’s the way we like it!
As we have mentioned in the past , we raise a lot of our own food here at Fernwood. Along with the rows of canned vegetables and fruits lining the pantry shelves and the freezer bags full of blanched greenbeans, broccoli, and swiss chard, we round out our supply with the chicken, lamb, and pork we raise. Yesterday, it was time to process the meat birds we had bought as chicks back in June. Our system for processing chickens has become fairly efficient over the last few years. We always process our own birds, opting to not send them off and have a butcher shop do it for us. It’s the same with the lamb and pork we raise. We raise them here on the farm and see the process through to the end. It’s a choice. Most often, we share the work with another farm who also raise their own critters for the table. Many hands make light work, as they say. We process their birds on one day and the next day we are back here processing ours. Having the right set up for efficiently processing 70 meat birds is crucial. We start by making sure that the eviscerating table is set up, the knifes sharpened, and by keeping a big pot of water heated to 140 degrees. Once the chickens are killed, they are submerged in the hot water to loosen their feathers, then they are ready for the plucking machine. The plucking machine ( ours is a Picwick) is worth its weight in chickens and feathers. It saves us a huge amount of time. With the plucker, a chicken is defeathered in about one minute. We are very thankful for the chicken plucker! The chickens go from the plucker to large sterilized buckets filled with ice water. This cools them down and gets them ready for eviscerating. Once the birds are cleaned out, they again go into sterilized buckets of ice water. We chill the birds in ice water for 24 hours, changing the water several times, before bagging them for the freezer. Everyone has their job, and we tend to keep our ‘station’ through the whole process. I am usally running the plucker. Rick and our friend Len are usually at the eviscerating table. We’ve also had the help of our friend Rick H. , who before he began helping us pluck and clean chickens, had a lifetime career as a surgeon. He’s a very thorough chicken processor. We are very glad to have his help and he will usually take payment in the way of a chicken……and often some livers. The chicken plucker was bought between three small farms ( ours being one of them), and this helped with the initial cost. Now, all three farms have use of the plucker, and most often the help of many hands. Pluckers are pretty pricey and there is no real sense in each farm owning one, unless they specifically raise chickens as a cash crop and are processing on a regular and continued basis. It takes us about 2 1/2 hours to process 70 birds. Not too bad. As long as we continue to have meat in our diet, raising this meat from start to finish, keeps us very mindful and appreciative as to where the meat comes from. We are also committed to raising our animals in a healthy and humane way. We are always grateful for all of the food we raise and how it helps to sustain us. We truly give thanks. Always, after this big chore is done, we all sit down to share a meal. This is one of the best parts of sharing farm labor. The mid day meal. Always a treat after a job well done.
Our order of chicks arrived last Friday, 70 Cornish Rocks which will be raised for the freezer, and some new layers for egg production. This breed of meat bird matures faster, taking eight weeks to reach butchering weight. In the past, we have preferred Freedom Rangers, a free range meat bird that takes a bit longer( 11 weeks) to reach a desired weight. This time around, and because of the busy season, we opted for the 8 week bird. The Cornish Rocks will still free range, though they tend to be less active than the Freedom Rangers. Once they have their adult feathers and are large enough not to get lost ( or eaten by predators) in the tall grass, they will be moved out to a pasture area with a movable shelter. The shelter allows us to rotate their grazing area, allowing the chickens to forage and graze on new ground. The fencing and shelter are moved weekly.
Ten new layers arrived with them……Buff Orpingtons, Barred Rocks, and a couple of Black Australorps. Oh, and one black Silkie that will join our friend Sally and her flock. In the kitchen, the bok choy is making its way into a variety of meals, including eggrolls with home made plum sauce. When we find ourselves with an abundance of cabbage, eggrolls go into production. They get gobbled up pretty quickly and…..they freeze really well. Bok choy and pak choi….along with the tatsoi are some of the earliest vegetables we bring in. Right now they are all needing to be picked. Once those beds are empty, they will get a dose of compost and be planted with something else. This could be late carrots or beets or maybe more salad greens. Every space being used and recycled.