A Farm to Table Thanksgiving and a Degree of Meat Independence
By Jennifer Quinn | Jan 14, 2016
As November approached I knew I’d need to eliminate a couple of young roosters from my flock. So it was time to add a new homesteading skill: butchering a chicken. Though I have Harvey Ussery’s book, The Small-Scale Poultry Flock, with its detailed, illustrated instructions on butchering, I didn’t feel confident tackling it on my own without at least observing it first.
So I prevailed on a friend who’s very experienced with this to give me a lesson. The deal was, she would demonstrate the process with one bird and keep that one for her own use, then help me with the other one, which I planned to roast for Thanksgiving. My friend is one of the kindest, gentlest people I know, so having her in charge made it seem more okay to be engaging in this seemingly brutal act.
Here she demonstrates a cut:
… and I tackle the job of plucking a bird:
We used killing cones — an easier method, where the bird is upside-down and immobilized while the killing cuts are made. Supposedly it also calms the bird, but I’m not so sure about that. I did think my rooster was breathing awfully fast while I prepared to make the cut, but I don’t know—maybe that’s just the way chickens breathe. Anyway the killing and plucking were easier than I expected — only the butchering presented a challenge, since it takes some skill and experience to know just where and how to cut and how to remove the various organs properly. Still, I got most of it done with a little help from my friend. I was a bit apprehensive about the whole affair, so it was a great relief when I was able to head home with a freshly-killed bird for Thanksgiving.
Also on the menu was a squash pie made from my homegrown butternut squash (my first-ever pie!) and chestnut stuffing, made from my own chestnuts. As for the chicken, I thought about 20 minutes per pound of roasting at 375 would do it. At about 3-1/2 pounds, that would be a little over an hour. Well, I must have roasted that bird for an hour and forty-five minutes, and it was still really tough, though still good eating — just hard to cut off the bones. In any case, I got four chicken dinners out of it, as well as three quarts of very good chicken soup.
Only later I learned that dual-purpose homestead breeds (like my Buckeye) don’t cook the same as your supermarket birds. In fact, I read on another homesteader’s blog about “brining” a turkey — soaking it for several hours in salt water — before roasting it. Then I somewhat belatedly acquired The Joy of Cooking, which has everything you’d need to know about cooking just about anything, and learned that lower-fat meats, such as game birds, need to be cooked more slowly, at a lower temperature. Also I learned that the darker meat of these birds is still somewhat pink when done, while I had taken this as a sign of underdone-ness.
Well, Thanksgiving week turned out to be a crash-course in butchering. Saturday morning at eight o’clock I got a call from a neighbor who, along with his nephew, had been trying to get a deer. He had asked me earlier if I’d like some deer meat, and I said sure, and offered to come and help cut it up. I had heard shots the previous evening, so I wasn’t surprised when he told me they had finally gotten one — two, in fact. So on Saturday I spent a couple of hours over at the neighbors’ place cutting up deer meat, and came home with 34 pounds of venison. That’s about as much meat as I eat in a year!
Wilderness Survival Skills: Foraging Edible Plants
Discover an abundance of edible wild plants that can be foraged in most regions of the United States.
Try this fencing option that’s easy on your back and pretty as a picture.
DIY Potting Bench
Few tools are as valuable to a gardener as a potting bench; use repurposed materials to build an affordable and customizable potting bench.