Yesterday we took the second batch of chickens (the slower growing ladies and one giant rooster) to the slaughterhouse. I’m glad I went this time and saw them through the whole process. I have similar conflicted feelings as Andy when it comes to eating meat. Ending lives is sad, no matter what species they are.
The second batch of chickens on their last day
It was interesting to watch the whole process of live chicken to food. It’s amazing how quickly it all happens. I’ll spare you the bloody details.
I like to tell myself that at least these chickens died quickly in a slaughterhouse where the human workers don’t seem to be mistreated or exposed to dangerous conditions. The chickens lived their lives outdoors with fresh grass every day. I’m certainly more excited to eat them than any chicken we could buy in the grocery store.
The really hard part of yesterday came after we got the chickens home. First, we cooled them in ice water. We’ve been told that it’s important to cool the meat as quickly as possible. Since we still have almost a week until we cook the chickens, we had to figure out how to keep them fresh and safe for our guests. We talked with people at the slaughterhouse and did some research to find that fresh chicken can be stored safely for a week on ice, as long as it’s kept below 39 degrees. Even though we have two refrigerators, both of them were full when we came home with the chickens, one with mostly pickles and melons. Somehow, though, Andy found space for 19 chickens on ice. We went out and bought some more ice and we’re monitoring the temperature carefully. So far so good.
Sometimes I look forward to the end of this whole project, because then there won’t be so much to keep track of and think about. It seems crazy that, without any prior experience cooking for crowds, we’re trying to pull together a meal for more than 90 guests. But I do not regret taking this on, and I’m determined to do enough planning ahead of time so we can simply enjoy ourselves next weekend. As Andy keeps reminding me, it’ll be great.
We finished chicken tractor #2 yesterday and put the chickens out in the yard. It’s great to watch them happily foraging. They were looking a little cramped in the garage.
Chickens are out foraging!
The chicken tractor is simply a frame covered with one-inch chicken wire. We put a tarp over two thirds of the structure so they have plenty of shade. We also laid out chicken wire on the ground around the outside of the chicken tractor so burrowing predators can’t get in to the chickens.
Skunk the cat is very curious about the chickens. She likes to sit on top of the chicken tractor and guard them.
Prison guard for the chickens
We hope that by giving the chickens access to fresh pasture (we’ll frequently move the chicken tractor), they’ll be healthier, happier and tastier. Hopefully they’ll eat less grain as well.
The call came at 7:30 this morning. “This is the post office calling. We’ve got some chicks for you.” We immediately drove the mile to the post office and picked them up. On the box the packing slip read, 51 chicks hatched the day of the postmark. They were mailed two days ago.
Once we got them home, we dipped each chick’s beak in water, which we had prepared ahead of time with a vitamin powder. We arranged plates of food and water containers in the cardboard circle we had prepared inside the chicken tractor, which is inside the garage. Their bedding is a layer of shavings with paper towels on top so they don’t eat the shavings. All the details of how to prepare for them we learned from my parents, who have been raising chickens for years. My mom writes a blog about raising chickens.
Baby chickens, just arrived in the mail from Pennsylvania
The chicks almost immediately began eating and drinking. Their instincts are strong.
These chicks are meant for dinner. We won’t keep them long enough to get eggs out of them. They are a variety called Freedom Rangers, which are supposed to forage well and produce delicious meat. They don’t grow as fast as the Cornish Cross broilers. It makes me a little sad to know that we’re raising them only to kill them. But I hope they’ll live a happy and safe 11 weeks, with fresh grass and bugs once they get a little older.
We plan to keep them in the garage for three to four weeks under a heat lamp (they like to be at 90 degrees in the beginning). Then we’ll move them out to pasture. We’ll move their cages every couple of days so they have fresh pasture.
We will roast the chickens whole for our wedding dinner, then carve them and serve. Yum! I can’t wait.