Our First Chicken Harvest

Reader Contribution by Tara-Sky Alford
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In the midst of fruit and vegetable harvest season, I took a break to help a friend harvest some of her extra roosters. Last fall, we attempted to slaughter her ducks. I suppose the attempt could be considered a success in that the ducks were killed. However, the process was messy and the quality was questionable. And, I must admit, I spent most of that experience crouched behind a tree, shrieking. I had a strong sense that I needed to redeem myself.

My friend had an abundance of poultry, and the roosters she bought as a “frying pan special” in May were large and increasingly in the way. On top of that, we jointly purchased 75 meat chickens a few weeks ago, which we intend to process ourselves. A practice slaughter sounded like a good idea before attempting something of that magnitude. This time, we hoped the inclusion of some sharp knives would help prevent some of our previous mistakes.

Thankfully, our process was much more streamlined this time around. The chicken went upside down into a cone nailed to a tree, and the head was removed. After the blood was drained, the chicken was dunked into a pot of steaming hot water to loosen the feathers. Then came our greatest improvement to the system: the chicken plucker. This invention is probably the best thing for chicken slaughtering since the hatchet. It has little rubber fingers on a cylinder that rotates at a surprisingly fast speed. The chicken was held over it, and the fingers quickly flicked off all the feathers with ease. I must note that there are two important operating rules: hold the chicken tightly and keep your mouth closed. That thing flicked more than just feathers; the air was suffused with a heavy misting of boiled chicken juice.

After the plucker, the chicken went to the processing table. Any remaining feathers were removed, along with

the feet and neck, and the chicken was gutted. While the men took care of the slaughtering portion, us women were in charge of the plucking and gutting. After shaking the initial qualms of sticking a hand inside a body cavity and ripping everything out, it went fairly smoothly. We quickly figured out where to make the cuts and how to find the stomach, which we pulled with firm and steady pressure to bring everything else out. One of my roosters maintained fully functioning lungs, and every time I pressed on his torso an unnerving squawk would emit from the place where his head should have been.

In all, ten roosters were bagged and thrown into a bath of icy water before heading to the freezer. We cleaned up, then headed inside for a change of clothes, a beer, and our weekly Bible study. For supper, we dined on a hefty pork soup from the pigs we slaughtered last month, supplemented with bread I had baked that morning. I left with a bagged chicken in hand, proud that I actually refrained from screaming references to King Henry VIII.