Monday we ran out of feed. I had to run to Stuart's Draft to buy animal food because there is a mill that offers locally grown non-GMO feed. It is over an hour away. I tried calling before leaving, but noone answered, so I went anyway. Philip and the boys worked on our chicken slaughter preparations and girls played outdoors. I drove. Got to the mill and noone was there. Two hours later noone was there, but a girl in the area assured me I could load up what I needed and leave a check on the desk in the open office. (I love rural America!) 1500 lbs of goat food, chicken food, hog food and dairy cow food later, I was back on the road. And down in my back. Why do I think I am invincible, unstoppable and able to load multiple bags of feed that usually only 23 year old young men are able to handle???
Got home around 6:30 and proceeded to wash down the cement barn floor to get ready for Tuesday. Ate supper and collapsed.
Tuesday morning Philip and I got up in the wee hours to prepare for our big day. Tuesday was the day we had all been waiting for, chicken slaughter day. We had around 50 birds and our friends, the Depret-Guillaumes had 25. Philip got an old kitchen counter at Habitat for Humanity store for $30. He was given an old stainless steel sink for free. He hooked it all up on saw horses which he and the boys built. They ran water through the faucets and it was quite an improvement on our operation. We set up the kill station. We set up the pre-scalding, the water heating and the scalding station. We set up the plucker machine. Did I mention that since I did not adequately put away the goats the night before, I had to sweep and clean the barn floor AGAIN? James and Serge showed up to help, we donned rubber boots and aprons. We were only 1 3/4 hour late starting the processing once we got all the pieces put into place.
The first chicken I started to process I seriously cut my index finger. I really wanted to cry as I headed back to the house to get gauze and a glove. Not because it hurt, even though it did. Because I could NOT believe that I was going to have to have stitches and that was going to cost us another hour in the day, along with the handicap of having an injured hand.
Did I mention that Serge is Dr. Depret-Guillaume? Well, he had his wife pick up a suture kit, and after lunch, at the table ( we did clear off most of the dishes), he put seven stitches in my finger. Little did he know that the cost of using our facility here would require not only his time and labor, his wife and daugher's home-cooked lunch, but also his medical services. Talk about community... They even provided some friends who wanted to learn something new. Those friends were catching chickens and eviscerating with the best of us before you could say chicken and dumplings!
We have processed up to 50 chickens before, but this was the biggest job we tackled so far. As we went along in the day we discovered areas where we could definitely become more efficient. The new stations are a great improvement, but we can fine-tune things like flow and system. Need more knives. Need more hot water pots. Need more defined roles. Need shorter lunch breaks with NO medical interventions. Need all set up ahead of time with animals securely separated from barn so we don't have to repeat ourselves. Nevertheless, we have come a long way, baby. Patrick has done a fine job learning how to humanely slaughter the chickens, and to work for hours. Maggie can eviscerate a chicken as quickly as me. Philip is doing a grand job of keeping that plucker machine running, Thomas doesn't really get into the processing, but he did a fine job of unloading 1500 lbs of animal food and putting it into the feed room. And taking mountain of feathers to the compost. And burying offal. Nora and Rose are good pinchhitters all the way around.
We were not terribly pleased with our results with the ducks. We are raising Pekin ducks for meat and slaughtered 6 of them after all done with the chickens. Maybe we should have called it a day when done with the chicken. I did not want to set everything up again, so we pressed on. It is very hard to pluck a duck. Definitely have to work on technique. But it was a joy seeing Maggie, Rose and Nora collecting the fluffly clouds of down, talking together about all the pillows they would make. I will keep you posted on whether or not all the culinary delights we anticipate will be worth all the work of processing ducks.
Late into the night I put chickens into vacuum sealed bags. Philip put all the equipment away and cleaned up. We were very very tired.
Next morning as I went out to pick garden, something felt out of whack with my neck. As the day progressed I discovered that my back and neck hurt so bad I could no longer work but had to go lie down. I spent two days in such pain I could hardly sleep. Farm life is hard on a body. Instead of pushing through, I decided to take a new tactic. I rested. I read to the children as they massaged my back. I took naps. I took lots of Naproxen and Ibuprofen. I did not weed. I did not milk. I did not do laundry. The world did not fall apart, and by Friday I was much better. Not 100%, but at least 75%. We baked and went to the Farmer's Market today and I let everyone help me carry stuff. Then, instead of coming home to work, we went to a friend's house and hung out for a very long time while the children played. It was a lot of fun.
It was a hard week, but one full of lessons. My body is not meant to lift and carry so much weight. No matter how badly I need feed for the animals. Maybe I better take strong son Thomas next time just in case.
Sometimes we are going to have to work really hard for a season. It is worth it, especially when the result is a couple of freezers of healthy chicken to eat. However, rest is necessary. I want to teach my children to know when to work hard and when to rest and play. There is a joy in the virtue of work, but let's not get crazy about it!
And PS, we have broken our farm chicken fast in a big way. Fried chicken, baked chicken, pan-seared chicken, and all that in the course of 3 days! Along with spinach and lettuce and the first baby broccoli. Boy, are we glad to have chicken on the table. What shall we have tomorrow night? Broiled chicken, chicken cacciatore, arroz con pollo, barbecue chicken, chicken salad, chicken with brown butter sage sauce, coq au vin, hmm. I think I better take a look at my most recent Gourmet magazine. While I rest.