eggs & tea » Blog Archive » Processing Day (and the things I’ve learned)

Processing Day (and the things I’ve learned)

[WARNING: this blog gets graphic in the middle.]

Preparations started on earlier in the week. Wind storms were in the forecast for the weekend.

Thursday, Ben & I had to figure out a way to transport 17 almost three-year old hens to Jan & John Dean’s chicken processing shed in Kalopa Mauka. The have a wonderful homestead, Maluhia Farm, where they raise wool sheep, cattle & plymouth barred rocks.

We have a portable coop that Jimmy (my stepfather-in-law) built for us Christmas 2006. I normally use it to quarantine a hen (illness or broody). It can hold max 10 hens for Saturday.

Next, Ben found Theresa, our neighbor’s old, rickety, broken chicken tractor. Jimmy kindly fixed the broken wood struts and found new chicken wire to patch the holes, especially the hatch on the top. I used some strips of duct tape to soften the wire edges of the hatch and a piece of wire to secure it so the hens won’t fly out. This smaller coop will hold the remaining 7.

Thursday evening, we transported five hens to Matilda’s house, our friend in Waimea. But that adoption story is for another post.

I created a spreadsheet tracking the hens’ breed, personality, temperament, death (due to illness) about a year ago. What I would like to do next time in 2010 is color band the hens and determine a method who is laying and who is not. I didn’t keep track the last several years who are the productive hens.

I selected 17 hens (out of 37) to process. Did I select them randomly? Not quite, I kept 7 pet hens and the remaining hens I did not develop a strong attachment. Out of 17 hens yielded 16 processed stew hens. One silver-laced wyandotte’s body did not look healthy (liquidy feel when pressing on the belly, knife-thin keel, thin breast meat) so I chose to compost the carcass.

  • 5 silver-laced wyandottes
  • 6 white rocks (they were among the larger hens)
  • 2 barred rocks
  • 2 buff orpingtons
  • 3 black sex-linked hybrids (have dark pin feathers)

Friday, I was gathering my supplies and creating a checklist for processing. Late in the afternoon, the sustained windstorm knocked out the power (for 1 hour) in my neighborhood. Ben & I decided to drive downtown to Honokaa (about 7 minutes away by car) to fill our 5 gallon propane tank at Scoshi’s Propane and buy four 7 lbs. bags of crushed ice and one 15 lb. block of ice at Kaneshiro’s. I wanted to buy more ice, Ben convinced me otherwise.

Late Friday evening Ben helped me move the 17 hens to the two portable coop on back of the Ford F-150. the wind storm that started on Thursday did not make the task any easier. We covered the smaller coop with a tarp. The coop that Jimmy built has a sturdy corrugated roof. I felt very light misty raindrops on my face; at least the hens in the truck are covered with a tarp.

I couldn’t go to sleep. Too much to do. I printed out Herrick Kimball’s blogpost on how to skillfully butcher a chicken in ten easy steps. His post is complete with photos and step-by-step instructions. It became our chicken processing bible Saturday morning. I also recommend “Basic butchering of livestock & game” by John J. Mettler, Jr. The book covers beef, hog, veal, lamb, venison, rabbits, small game including squirrels! You can place a hold for the book from the Hawaii State Public Library.

Overnight, the rain became heavier. I’m glad we decide to bungee a tarp over Theresa’s coop before we went to bed.

Saturday morning was gray, windy and damp. I had a feeling that rain was going to return.

When Ben & I arrived at the chicken processing shed at Kalopa Mauka, it started to rain again. The wind made the air feel chilly. Overnight, the hens pooped quit a lot in their portable coop. It was stanky! Phew.

While John Dean helped Ben with the setup, I was hosing down the truck bed because of the wet poop. John has catchment for water supply and solar hot water for the scalding pot. He hooked us up with a wonderful flexible hose that has a fireman’s nozzle. The setup took about 30 minutes.

Four people helped us process chickens: Miliana & Jeff Johnson, Ryan Zink and Kim Ino. Ben & I met Miliana & Jeff from a previous farm visit, Kim Ino from Hawaii Tea Society. Three of them are our neighbors (iwthin a 4-mile radius) in Ahualoa. Ryan’s wife Angela purchased a small amount of organic chicken feed from us last year. Ryan came to visit our homestead in Ahualoa and Ben doesn’t remember. Ben is a friendly guy, but doesn’t remember names at all so well.

At a quarter to nine, Miliana started the morning with a pule (prayer) to give thanks to the chickens and to ask for a smooth morning processing the hens. Miliana’s pule started the morning on a thankful, humble note.

In my opinion, it can be an overwhelming experience to slash a chicken’s throat and gut the carcass if you’ve never had been exposed to chicken slaughter at a young age. As a young child, I remember I watched my mom drain the chicken’s blood in our restaurant’s large commercial sink. I enjoy eating the poached chicken liver from the freshly processed chicken.

I summarized the steps:

  1. CUT carotid artery
  2. BLEEDING 75 seconds
  3. PICK 25-30 seconds
  4. SCALD 143 degrees F at 75 seconds (longer, not hotter for larger hens)
  5. Pre-chill at 35 degrees F
  6. GUTTING gentle with gall and avoid FEMAT contamination
  7. FINAL CHILL at 35 degrees F

Ben selected three silver-laced wayndottes from the truck and put them in a woven breathable feed sack. He sometimes forgets to tie the bag. Didn’t want to spend energy chasing a hungry, thirsty chicken.

Ben demonstrated how to stick the brain and cut the artery. After the hot scald, everyone help plucked the feathers off the bird. I showed how to eviscerate (gut) the chicken. It’s pretty hard to verbalize what I’m doing when the last time I processed chickens was more than one year ago. I referred to the butchering bible in the beginning.

Below is a slideshow of the processing day. Click it to view in a Picasa Web Album to see larger photos.

Everyone slowly started with processing with what they felt most comfortable. Sticking and cutting the artery? Ugh, not for me. Scalding? Easy. Just make sure you swish the bird up and down, round and around to get the hot water through the feathers. Plucking? Fun. Gutting? Kinda hard if you’re unfamiliar with the chicken anatomy. I really don’t mind pulling out the innards; Ben is not so good with gutting.

I sent Ben to the gas station to get more ice. I failed to plan for pre-chilling and post-chilling. I needed more than 120 pounds of ice to properly chill the birds. It was slightly disturbing to reach in a warmish chicken carcass to pull out the guts. A chilled carcass felt…right.

Ben returned with 40 lbs of ice, two chicken curry manapua and a chocolate brownie.

About two hours in, I was beginning to get seriously cranky because I realized I didn’t eat breakfast. I didn’t forget (I did bring jasmine tea and potato salad) but I failed to prioritize my needs. Kim told me to eat the curry chicken manapua and the rest of the crew will do the dirty work. I was very grateful for that.

A little before Noon, we’ve processed ten birds. Jeff & Miliana had to leave because of a pet emergency. Kim & Ryan stayed until 1:00 pm to process the remaining seven birds with Ben and myself. They left with one bird each as a payment for their help. Kim took the gizzards & the hearts. I kept the livers and chicken feet for myself.

There was a daschund who wanted to lick the blood chicken off of the concrete floor. Every time I shoo her away, she keeps sneaking back searching for any tidbits dropped on the floor.

After the last bird was chilling, Ben & I started to clean up the black grate that served as the eviscerating table. I was running on adrenaline for the last five hours.

I calculated it took the six of us 4 hours to process 17 birds. Yes, it did take a long time, but these were our first birds! I give credit & props to Miliana, Jeff, Kim and Ryan to be actively partipating in the whole process.

We bleached down the grate and paper toweled the surface to rest the chilled birds upright to drain. I was thankful for the cool weather to allow the stewing hens to keep cool. Then, I covered the birds with another layer of paper towels to dry the skin as much as possible.

While the carcasses are draining, I took all the tools and put them in a solution of bleach water. Ben took the two bags of guts, feathers and heads for his long-term compost pile. He dumped out the pre-chill water on the bare dirt. I scrubbed down the scalding pot, lid, smaller coolers and now-empty trash cans. I felt like I was walking through molasses as we packed everything back in the truck.

At the end of processing day Saturday, I discovered the most difficult thing for me was the cleaning up (which took 90 minutes) the shed afterward. I wanted to leave the place cleaner than we found it.

We now have 15 birds living in our chicken coop. This morning, they laid five beautiful brown eggs. I hope to have kept the laying hens. Seven lively hens are available for adoption for those who have a secure chicken coop for the birds.

As I finish my post on a chilly Sunday evening, I’m still mentally recovering from Saturday’s events…

This entry (Permalink) was posted on Sunday, January 18th, 2009 at 11:50 pm and is filed under chickens. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response , or trackback from your own site.

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