Friday, August 8, 2014

A First Chicken Culling Experience.

It's been a hurdle I've been meaning to cross. You can't ignore this aspect of urban chicken farming and no matter how hard you try to ignore it, it is the most logical next step: chicken culling.

Until now, I haven't had to step up and attempt this since the natural selection process by neighborhood raccoons and dogs beat me to it. But harvesting your chickens when they get too old to lay is the way it is. When you have new chicks coming into the scene getting ready to lay - well, it's out with the old and in with the new and, according to Seattle zoning laws, you are only allowed eight chickens per yard so, naturally, not many get to roam until their geriatric death. Thankfully for me, my neighbor and co-urban farmer friend needed to 'manage his flock' as new chicks were coming in and two three-year-old hens that quit laying needed to head to the soup pot! Since I felt this would be a good opportunity for some hands-on experience, I naively volunteered to help.

Before this moment, he had only harvested one rooster (you can't have a rooster within city limits) and performed this daunting task while his vegetarian wife read instructions off the Internet and his brave 5-year-old daughter watched on. I had to give it to him (and his family) because I wasn't ready to do this so early on in my chicken farming career, but now I felt ready.

I couldn't help texting him earlier in the day, "Is it wrong I'm looking forward to it?"

"Nah," he replied.

But by the time we headed to his house, saying I felt uneasy was an understatement. When we arrived he had things ready to go: a table wrapped in plastic, a cone tacked to a board, two sharp knives, a plastic-lined garbage can, a cooler full of ice water and a soup pot with hot water.

It was go time.

His second grader grabbed the first chicken and my husband and toddler nonchalantly stood off  to the side while my neighbor grabbed the hen, tipped it upside down and attempted to pull her head through the cone. This process helps with a couple things: 1.) They can't move around and 2.) It puts them in a relaxed state.

I'm not going to lie, it wasn't the smoothest culling experience when the chicken's leg continued to get stuck up by the head and the cone, made of heavy construction paper, wasn't holding up with all the rearranging. But my neighbor was a trooper and adjusted to the situation like a champ until the deed was done. He ended up having to lay the chicken on the table and quickly sever it's artery. Next, he held it up to drain the blood and immediately placed in the pot of hot water for one minute which eases the next step: plucking the feathers.

Up until now I awkwardly watched the process but now it was time to roll up my sleeves, take a deep breath and pretend like I've plucked hundreds of recently-killed chickens before. I grabbed the hen and started pulling and was surprised how easily the feathers came off. Strangely enough,  I really started getting into a rhythm. (I can't believe I just said that). In no time this strange and lifeless bird started resembling something you pick up at the grocery store and the world as I know it started to return to normal. 

After plucking the feathers I bravely took the knife and cut the feet off - which ended up being a rather difficult and awkward task - and I have a broken knife to prove it. But, I accomplished this large feat (pun intended) and set them aside for my neighbor to make some of the best chicken stock around. Recipe here: Mother Earth News Chicken Feet Stock Recipe

The last step was placing the freshly plucked chickens in an ice bath helping to diminish smells when removing the insides. My first culling experience came to a close and although it's a rather odd and unsettling experience to actually take the life of a living being, you do appreciate the approach and embrace the full circle moment for taking responsibility by managing your flock.

Disclaimer: We had photos of the process and actual video but technical difficulties ensued and all documented material was lost. For more great information on chicken culling visit: How to Cull Your Old Laying Hens.