Poultry Processing: Processing Chickens in Fall 2010

Weekend before last, I had the opportunity to head out to Prairie Turnip Farm in Osage County, Kansas, and participate in 3 hours of chicken processing in which about 40 birds went from pasture to freezer.

It’s always a good experience for me. Inevitably in that setting of editors, farmers/ranchers, spouses, scientists, country folk and friends, you’ll learn something or remember something long forgotten – even something as simple as that the atrium is the chamber of the heart opposite the ventricle (we kept wanting to say aeorta).

Anyways, it’s always good to get out there and process some birds, and bringing home a couple extra chickens in the 5- to 6-pound neighborhood never hurts, thanks to the generosity of others.

My experience this particular Saturday was mainly doing a lot of the killing at the kill cones. I’m a hunter, but taking a life is still something that wears on you, especially if it’s time and time again. I found myself being glad when I was alone; that way the process wasn’t rushed, and I could stand back from the kill cones at the conclusion and sort of let a minute or two pass and recognize the gravity of the moment as a way of paying proper respect. And I certainly didn’t want to feel the need to talk at that time; there’s nothing to be said.

I’ve watched deer die in the field, and I’m always glad to be alone. It’s just not something you really want to share with other people – I’m usually just deep in thought, and nothing about it is cheerful. And the repetitive nicking of the jugular and feeling the stream of warm blood on my hands, I have to admit I was glad when that part was over for me. When the final bird was dispatched, it was a relief.

Not that the killing bothered me. It’s obviously a necessary part of the process and I took pride in playing that role and performing it in the least amount of time as possible. I was glad to do my best to perform it well.

But, I do admit it was a good feeling to get past that and stand next to the evisceration table for awhile, where I spent most of my time the previous year.

The chicken plucker makes the process so much easier than my mom tells it. She remembers mainly the stench, like a lot of other people who’ve done significant home chicken processing. The Featherman plucker performed wonderfully.

After 40 birds (about 25 Freedom Rangers from MOTHER EARTH NEWS Sr. Associate Editor Troy Griepentrog, and 15 Cornish-Rock crosses from GRIT Editor Hank Will) in about 3 hours including cleanup, we were eating quiche under the eaves of the polebarn and making jokes about spices from the jalapeño chips getting stuck in our crops.

The whole experience just makes me wonder, When and why did mainstream America become so disconnected from our food?

Kill Cone and Evisceration Table Photos: courtesy Karen Keb