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Freedom Ranger Harvest

July 24, 2011

Chicken Tractor

Image by Choconancy1 via Flickr

OR…Uncle Milton spends all Day, Processing Chickens

So dear reader, if you have been keeping up, you know that we opted NOT to grow Cornish-Cross-Rock broiler chickens this year, but opted for the *Freedom Ranger* chicken, which is a slower grower, but a better forager, and not as prone to leg and hip problems as the amazing Cornish-Cross-Rocks.  You may even recall that our day old chicks arrived back on April 29, 2011;  so they are right around 3 months old.

Freedom Rangers-meant to Range

When those day old chicks arrived, yours truly was at work, so the teenagers went to the post office and picked them up.  They brought the chicks home, removed each one, carefully dipped their little beak into the water in the water fount, and released them into the cardboard confines, within the chicken pen in the barn.  Under the red heat lamp, so they would not die of hypothermia, since they had no mommy hen to snuggle under.

When the temps moderated, and the little Freedom Rangers grew feathers, and put on some size, they were transferred to our new *Chicken Tractor*.  They have shared that space with seven turkeys, and have been devouring feed, as well as grazing their little chunk of pasture, daily.  The chicken tractor has two feeders and two waterers, and it gets moved (pulled by our little Ford/New Holland tractor) about ten feet, once or twice a day.  Immediately upon being moved the birds begin grazing the fresh green stuff, and they begin depositing their waste (yeah, pooping-for you impolite ones out there in readership-land).  Their waste (ca-ca?) is rich in nitrogen, and replenishes the soil.  And burns it out if you are not careful.  So we move them.  And they get onto fresh pasture every day, they get to range.

All this is Leading Up To

And all this feeding and watering and grazing and growing ultimately is leading up to, um, what exactly?  Chicken dinners.  We raise these birds to become chicken dinners.  Like fried chicken, baked chicken, chicken pot pies, chicken noodle soup, chicken and dumplins, chicken casserole; you name it.

But they don’t cook too well with all them feathers, so someone has to *process* them.  And Saturday that someone was your dear old blog writer, Uncle Milton.  Me. Not me and the kids, not me and the wife, nope not the neighbors and me.  Just me.

Describing *the Process*

So I thought I would describe the process, sans pictures, just for your enlightenment, and for your entertainment. I must tell you that no normal human being enjoys The Process, but it is a necessity.  Many of our friends from around Bippus grow chickens, and then haul them thirty miles to have someone else *process* their birds.  You guessed it, old Uncle Milton is too cheap to do that. So, in words, here is how it goes:

All the equipment is gathered and set up.  A wide flat stump with two spikes pounded into the top of it, about an inch apart.  A hatchet. An old smooth topped kitchen table with a cutting board, a heavy bladed hunting knife, a fillet knife, a meat cleaver and a nylon brush.  A feed bag, with the top rolled down two or three times.  A small deep cooler, full of cold water and a larger cooler also filled with cold water.  And a tall glass of heavily iced sun tea.  And really important to have is a garden hose right nearby and ready for immediate use.  All this stuff is brought outside to a shady, breezy spot.

*The Processor* heads out to the chicken tractor, and catches one of the birds by the tail.  He holds the bird by the back leg and proceeds to the stump.  He places the bird’s head between the nails, pulls the legs back to stretch the neck out and assures the bird that it will be over quickly.  Then he says a prayer to God the Almighty, both thanking Him, and asking him to guide the hatchet’s blade, so as not to mess this up.  And then,  WHACK!

The decapitated bird is allowed to flop onto the ground, and its severed head is placed in the feed bag.  Then *The Processor* goes and gets another bird.  I worked in groups of three, as that is what my small cooler holds.  By the time the third bird has been killed, the first bird is done flopping around.  Its legs are removed at the knee joint.  Its wings are removed at the elbow joint.  Its skin is split from the neck and then pulled off, uncovering the breast first, then the wings, then the thighs.  Last year, when I had Beaucoup help, we titled this a *Pajama Party*, because skinning chickens is a lot like taking hot, wet too-tight pajamas off.

The skin is removed down to the tail joint, and then severed with the thick bladed knife.  One big handful of chicken skin and feathers goes into the feed sack. The breast bone is then lifted up high, and ALL the entrails (for you coarse people…the GUTS) the entrails are removed.  The fillet knife is used to trim any loose skin or fat from the bird.  The crop, or what what rednecks call the craw, is removed from the wishbone area on the neck.  If you fed these birds today, this is a very messy thing, as everything that they ate today is in their craw, and now you get to  remove it.The windpipe and other *little tubey things* where the heart used to be are pulled out.

Then the whole work area gets sprayed down, and rinsed clean, and once the water is running cold again, the skinned chicken is rinsed off.  Then it goes into cooler number one to soak a little.  Being that the temps were in the nineties yesterday, when I got three birds to this state, I went and jumped in the pool.  Of course, Wifey had to get her little *Honey-Do* list done too, so this was a good time for her to *show up* and demand “wah, waaa,wah,wa,waah” which I graciously completed before returning to the task at had.

And After the First Soaking

Yeah, after the birds soaked for a little while, they would be removed and *gone over* again.  Little bits of feathers, skin fat, gristle or organs magically appear and must be removed.  Then they go into cooler number two for another soak.  Then I could kill  a few more, process fill cooler number one, and swim.  Lather rinse repeat.

Then I found out that the plan of putting them up in two gallon zip lock bags had a little flaw in it.  A WHOLE Freedom Ranger, at three months with our excellent diet program will not fit in the bag.  So the birds had to be cut into pieces, and then bagged.  We will need bigger bags for the ones that we want to prepare as a whole bird, but that won’t be any of the birds processed on Saturday.

Overall, these Freedom Rangers were nice to process, in that the skin came off well, they pieced out nicely, and they were not quite so ugly as the Cornish-Cross-Rocks with their hobbled legs, and featherless breasts that are too big for them to lift off the ground.  Of course, the math still needs to be done on the economics of raising them, but the birds were a pleasure to work with.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 26, 2011 10:30 am

    This city girl has seen a chicken or two processed, believe it or not. But as I recall they were plucked, by first dunking them in boiling water. Your method sounds easier and they end up skinned. They must be big chickens if they don’t fit in 2 gallon bags!

  2. July 26, 2011 12:51 pm

    Wifey corrected me on this point. We used 2 gallon bags to put the whole chickens in, they would not fit in one gallon bags.

    And you are correct about scalding and picking-that is the correct process for those golden skinned roasted birds (which I love!) but that process just isn’t worth it most of time. And dry picking (which can be done, too) takes one heck of a lot more time.

    But I should scald a few of the next batch, and pluck them. After the bird is roasted, for those last 10 or 15 minutes, with the roasting pan cover off, and the oven cranked up to 400, umm, that skin turns golden brown and gets crispy, and delicious. Yes, 2browndawgs I think you have convinced me.

    • July 27, 2011 12:16 am

      And here I thought you were raising chickens that were bigger than turkeys. 🙂 Roasted chicken sounds good but not until we get a break from the heat.


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