An Off Grid Life


7 Things I Learned Processing Chickens Off The Grid

processing-chickens 

When we decided to get 20 meat chickens this past spring, I knew that meant we would soon learn a new self-reliance skill: chicken processing.

Although we’ve cleaned fish and small game, butchering chickens, then cleaning and prepping them for the freezer is different. There are more of them to process all at once, for one thing. Plus we were doing this outdoors from our off grid homestead in Canada’s subarctic Northwest Territories.

If you’re considering getting meat chickens for your own off grid homestead, use these tips to help things go more smoothly.

1. Get Help From An Experienced  Off Grid Homesteader

While much has been written about processing chickens in general, my online research didn’t yield much about processing chickens off the grid. This puzzled me. Was it because it doesn’t really matter whether you have access to power or not? Or just because off grid homesteaders are generally too busy surviving to have time to write about it?

I decided to ask my chicken-expert friends instead. We got some great tips from homesteading friends down in Saskatchewan (they’re on the grid) about the general chicken butchering part - the most important being “get an automatic plucker.”  

We lucked out because as it turns out my good friend Fran who lives up the trail has both experience butchering chickens off the grid AND she has a plucker too. Even better, she brought her family along so we had lots of help on our first chicken processing day.

Newbie Tip: Get advice in person, online, or over the phone from an experienced chicken owner who lives off the grid.

2. Set Out Supplies Ahead of Time

Based on what we learned on YouTube combined with recommendations from friends, we set out everything we thought we’d need the day before processing the chickens. This saved time the next morning and helped us feel more confident and prepared. 

I gathered clean rags, buckets, bowls, and knives. I also prepared one spray bottle of vinegar and water and another of bleach and water. We set up our fold-out table by our fire pit and I disinfected it with bleach and water. We then added a heavy glass tabletop to it and also disinfected this - and then we set up our DIY killing cones made from used milk jugs.

3. Make or Buy Ice

If your off grid setup includes an electric or propane fridge (with room in it), you don’t have to worry so much about having ice handy. Cooling down your chickens after butchering and plucking but before storing is important to avoid harmful bacterial growth - especially if it you are processing chickens outdoors on a hot day.

When you butcher several chickens at once, it can take some time to gut them and clean them. So keep the meat in the fridge in a large bowl or pan until you can get to it. Although we have an electric fridge (yes, it’s an energy hog) it’s jam-packed with food at all times for our large family. So we filled one of our extra-large coolers with ice to keep the birds cool until I could gut them.

4. Chicken Pluckers Need Power

Automatic chicken pluckers are just dandy - a real time-saver. So if you can get your hands on one, I highly recommend it. They’re fast and effective and will save hours when you’re processing chickens off the grid. However, the chicken plucker we used required power. So if you plan to use one, make sure you have an extension cord handy. 

Either plug your chicken plugger directly into a portable generator or run the extension cord to the house - this is what we did. Just remember to charge up your batteries or choose a sunny day for your solar panels when butchering your chickens.

5. Boil Water Ahead of Time

scalding

Whether you use the chicken plucker or the old fashioned “plunge and rinse” method of loosening feathers, you’re going to need a ton of scalding water. When you’re processing chickens off the grid, you have several options:

  • Boil water in large stockpots on an indoor stove then carry them outside
  • Heat water in a dutch oven over a campfire
  • Use an outdoor propane stove to boil water
  • Boil the water indoors, then keep it hot over an outdoor campfire or on a propane stove

We hadn’t thought ahead on this and didn’t have time to dig out our large, stand-alone propane stove. So we opted for method one and boiled three large stockpots of water on our indoor propane cooktop. The big kids carefully carried each pot of water outdoors and kept them warm on a backup propane heater while our little kids kept the dogs from getting underfoot.

6. Plan Your Storage

Before you start processing chickens off the grid, consider your short and long-term meat storage space.

Before I lived off the grid I thought nothing of buying meat on sale and tossing it in the freezer. However, as I now know, freezers use a lot of power, and until we have a better power storage option than our aging battery bank, we've given up our chest freezer.

Since we live so far north (about 250 miles south of the Arctic Circle,) we use our back deck as a freezer from the end of October through March. But we processed these chickens in August.

We do, however, have a small fridge freezer. Also, our close friend and neighbor Morris has a chest freezer with some room in it. (He has a better battery and solar panel set up too.)

We figured that if we butchered eight 5-7 pound meat chickens, and ate one for our Sunday dinner, we could store two in our fridge freezer and five in Morris' freezer. He agreed right away, knowing that he always has a seat at our dinner table.

(Note: Now that my new All American canner has arrived, I plan to can chicken going forward.)

The lesson here is to consider your off grid power options. Think carefully about where and how you'll store your meat BEFORE you plan your first chicken harvesting day. 

7. Clean Up to Avoid Predators

Now, whether you keep backyard chickens in the suburbs, at your rural homestead, or your off grid homestead like I do, cleaning up after processing is extremely important. Otherwise, you could find all sorts of new visitors in your backyard. Around here we have to keep an eye out for dogs, coyotes, wolves, pine martens, and this time of year black bears on a mission to fatten up for winter

station.

Once the chickens had been dispatched, gutted, and soaked in a cooler of ice, I was off to the kitchen to give them another wash and package them for the freezer. In the meantime, the rest of my gang was washing down our equipment with hot water and bleach. We had a roaring fire going outdoors and all the feathers and remaining bits were burned to avoid attracting unwanted predatorial guests.

Overall, our first time processing chickens off the grid was a great success. Our chicken dinner was delicious, and we're feeling more confident about our ability to secure our food supply by raising chickens at our far northern off grid homestead.

5 Off Grid Homesteading Challenges to Plan For Now

Sarita HarbourAs a child, the stories I loved best were the ones about people making their homes in the wilderness. You know, the ones where the hero(ine) creates a homestead in the middle of a forest using just a few pioneer tools. From the comfort of my family’s Toronto highrise apartment, it sounded exciting and adventurous.

What my ten-year-old self didn’t fully understand is that carving a homestead out of the wilderness, while rewarding, is also pretty challenging. Especially when your forty-year-old self moves off the grid to a boreal forest 250 miles south of the Arctic Circle.  And when you don’t even have the experience of farming or homesteading ON the grid.

If you’re thinking about homesteading off the grid, here are a few challenges to keep in mind plus a few notes on how we handle them.

#1. Getting Water for Gardens and Livestock

Now I knew we would need water for our gardens. And it was no surprise that chicks and chickens also require water on a regular basis.  However, I didn’t fully appreciate the work involved in getting water to go anywhere other than our house.  We’re lucky to have an off grid water pump system to fill our 1100 gallon tank at our lakeside house, but we don’t have running water in our chicken coop or sheds. We haul water to the chicken coop using buckets and feel fortunate that we can hand-water the garden with a hose. We have friends up the trail who struggle to haul water up to their off grid properties in the summer.

Before getting too far along in planning your off grid homestead, consider how you’ll water your garden and provide the water your livestock needs. How far is your water source? How will you transport it? Can you rig up an off grid irrigation system?

Plan for this before you need it so you can work out any issues without worrying about wilting veggies or thirsty chicks.

#2. No Lights in the Outbuildings

Since we live off the grid we depend on solar panels, generators, and a battery bank to power our home. Living in the far north, we have limited sunlight during a large part of the year -- as little as four hours in the winter months. While we do use electric lights in our home, our outbuildings aren’t wired for electricity. This means no lights or running water out there.

Motion-activated solar lights mounted on each building light our way from house to coop and shed, and alert us to predators such as bears, wolves, pine martens, foxes, and coyotes.) In buildings like the chicken coop, where chores usually require two hands we use headlamps Even my six-year-old has her own. Like most things out here, we find ourselves getting used to the routine of keeping a headlamp handy.

#3. Regulating Temperature in the Off Grid Chicken Coop

As any backyard chicken owner knows, small chicks are very temperature-sensitive. When we picked up twenty 1-day old Western Rustic chicks this May, we still had three feet of snow in our garden and ice on the bay of our lake. Keeping the chick brooder at 30 degrees Celsius (that’s about 86 degrees Fahrenheit) was definitely a challenge.

We had to improvise a heat lamp using an extension cord, duct tape and a bedroom lamp, a Rubbermaid tote, and three pieces of foam insulation. We kept that bedroom lamp on by running our portable gasoline generator on the cloudy days when our solar panels didn’t get enough light to charge.

Now those chicks have grown into hefty 8-week old chickens in our new outdoor chicken coop,  and we just added another 10 Barred Rock chicks, now three weeks old.  And I’m thinking ahead to how they’ll all fare through the -40 C to -50 C days that are right around the corner.

I’m hoping that heavy insulation and finding the right chicken-to-square-foot ratio will keep them toasty warm. If not, I might try a propane wall heater.

If you live in an area of extreme heat or cold, consider how you’ll keep your animals’ quarters at a comfortable temperature.

#4. Food Storage for the Garden Harvest

I work hard to improve our family’s food security by growing as much of our own food as I can. Yet gardening in the north is tricky. We have a short growing season of about six to eight weeks. During that time we get almost 20 hours of sunlight and about 4 hours of twilight. So it’s a very compressed season and everything is ready to harvest at the same time!

When we lived in the city I often bought frozen vegetables in bulk when they were on sale. Yet freezers use a ton of power. Although we get enough sunlight to power our freezers in the summer, by September our days grow short quickly, which means depending on our fuel-sucking generators. At the same time, it usually isn’t quite cold enough outdoors (yet) to keep our food on our back deck. 

This means I've had to embrace canning and preserving in a big way. I store our canned goods on shelves in our boiler room just off our kitchen. Even though five of our seven children are now grown and on their own, I hadn’t realized just how much food we eat over the winter, or how much room we’d need to store it all!

Plan your garden, harvest, and food storage areas in your off grid home carefully to make sure you have space and the power needed to safely do so. Consider a walk-in pantry, root cellar, in-ground cool storage, or propane freezer.

#5. Frozen Meat Storage for Processed Small and Large Animals

We count ourselves lucky to be able to provide meat for our family through hunting, fishing, and raising meat chickens on our off grid homestead. However, that meat must be safely stored to get us through the long winters. And that means either canning, smoking, dehydrating, drying or freezing it.

Now I’m a beginner when it comes to all of that except for freezing meat. Like the vegetable harvest situation, storing our home-processed wild game bird, chicken, moose, rabbit, and fish to last through the winter months takes some planning. I prefer the convenience of freezing cuts of meat in the portions we need for our favorite recipes. Yet we don’t have enough freezer space. For now, we store our extra meat in our neighbor’s freezer in exchange for giving him a share of it.

Living off the grid and homesteading in a harsh environment isn’t for everyone. Yet acknowledging the challenges we face and then finding solutions helps hone our problem-solving and self-reliant living skills. I hope our experiences help you to pursue a more self-reliant lifestyle too - wherever you are.

Off Grid Homestead







Live The Good Life with GRIT!

Grit JulAug 2016At GRIT, we have a tradition of respecting the land that sustains rural America. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing to GRIT through our automatic renewal savings plan. By paying now with a credit card, you save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of GRIT for only $16.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and send me one year of GRIT for just $22.95!




Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters