Saturday, September 10, 2011

My First Time Processing Chickens and the things I learned ( No graphic pictures)

 As nature would have it, we ended up with more roosters than hens this summer.  Having chosen the ones that will be my breeders for next year, that left the others to cull.  Though the Cochin don't have much meat on them at this age, I hate to waste anything.  So this morning I went outside and caught five to put into the freezer.  I figured women have been killing, plucking, and gutting chickens for hundreds of years - how hard could it possibly be?  I even watched a couple of videos on the computer showing how to do it.  Piece of cake!, I thought.
  I gathered my knives, got a pot of water heated for scalding,  my glass picnic table ready with a trash can-  I was set.  

Step 1- Hang chicken by feet and cut it's throat and let the blood drain out.  

Hanging the chicken by its feet was easy enough.  I grabbed the knife in one hand and held his head in the other and with one swift motion... nothing.....  the knife would not cut.  I thought maybe it was because of the feathers so made sure the blade was against the skin.
Confidence in Free Fall
With a deep breath and one swift motion... nothing.  Not even a scratch!   ( Big Sigh....) The same knife I had tested the night before- on a soft tomato and it slid right through it like it was  butter- was  not  cutting the skin of the chicken.    The confidence I had for this adventure suddenly took a nose dive.

Weapon of mass destruction

Determined not to give up, I was able to find an old mop.    Laying it on the ground,  I put the chicken's neck underneath the handle while placing a foot on either side of it's head.  Holding the chicken by the feet, one quick jerk upwards and it was all over, the neck was broken. Some of my confidence restored, I moved on to the next step.

Scalding pot
I needed a large pot of water approximately 145-148 degrees. Having  grabbed my largest pot  it was sitting on the fish cooker, warming up.  Earlier the temperature of the water had been 160 and short of turning off the gas altogether, that was the lowest I could get it.   Figuring I could  compensate by not leaving the chicken in the water very  long, I reached over and lowered it down into the pot-  Well most of it anyway.  Apparently the pot wasn't quite as big as I thought it was.  The chicken fit, if I forced it, but just barely.   After, swirling the chicken left and right, then lifting him up and down a few times I was able to easily pull out a wing feather.  Hey, this wasn't so bad!

Pulling the chicken out of the water, I hung it by the feet again and called my 14 year old son to come pluck feathers so I could move on to the next rooster.   Now,  my son is a little taller than me and can be quite mature at times.  This was not one of those times.  One look at the soaking wet chicken and he scrunched up his face and started saying " Ewwwww!"   And he didn't stop saying it the entire time he plucked  the front of the chicken.
Uncool Cooler
By the time he got the front of the first chicken done, I had the second chicken scalded, plucked  and was ready to drop it into the first cooler of ice.
Opening the lid, I realized that the ice was still in the bag, and I needed to add water. ( DOH!)  Helpful Hint : It is  a lot easier to add chicken to a cooler that already has ice free floating in water, than trying to hold a naked chicken in one hand, while trying to open a 20 pound bag of ice, dump it in the cooler then add water using the hose with the other hand.
Once the plucking was finished, it was time to remove the insides of the birds.  Surprisingly, this was pretty simple and straight forward.
After gutting, I went on and  cut the chicken into pieces.  While doing so, I noticed the outside of the breast meat had turned white from being slightly cooked  while scalding.   Oh well, it's all going to be chicken 'n dumplings anyway.   Because of this experience, it will go better next time.  Especially since I now know what not to do.
One small cut up chicken

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Something new in the Chicken kingdom

     I am always looking for things that are sustainable and  renewable, especially when it comes to feeding the chickens and now quail.  Enter the meal worm. Though not actually a 'worm' , it is instead  the larval stage of the Darkling beetle.
High in protein and low in fat they are a wonderful
treat to feed to the birds.  I had bought some freeze
dried ones before and my birds loved them.
However, buying them freeze dried is a bit expensive.  So, after a little research and preparing I placed my order online and got 2,200 of them two days later.

What do they need at a glance: 
* Stable Temperatures.  Warmer temps for growth, 45-50 to slow down metabolism if needed.
* Smooth sided bin, either glass or plastic, deeper is better.
*Wheat bran for bedding about 3 inches or so deep.  They also use this for food.
*Something for moisture like a slice of apple, carrot or potato

What will you see happening: 
* Upon setting up and getting your worms, they will eat and shed their exoskeletons as they grow.
*Once they are grown, they will become small white pupa that will  become beetles.
*Once the beetles are grown, they will run around mating and laying eggs in the wheat bran which will hatch   as teeny tiny baby worms and the cycle begins again.

  Starting a colony  is so very simple and you can easily do this yourselves.  All you need is a cheap plastic bin with deep, smooth sides ( to prevent escape).  You can get these at the dollar store or walmart  very inexpensively.  If you use a bin with a lid, then you will need to add a lot of holes for air circulation or you could simply make a top out of screen.  I saw where someone had used a 10 gallon aquarium and  bought a ready made screen lid that fit it perfectly.    Once you get your container, then  add wheat bran for the bedding which is also what they eat. You can find this at  most health food stores, or grocery stores, even feed and seed stores carry it.  For moisture, a slice of apple, carrot,  potato,  or similar item is placed inside.  I put mine on a small plastic lid to keep from getting the bran moldy, as moisture in the bran will cause mold and  is a bad thing.  Toss in a couple pieces of newspaper and you are set to start your  meal worm farm.  

I have mine inside to keep the temperatures warm as I want to be able to feed them year round, especially in the winter when there aren't any bugs  to be found and all my chickens will have is feed.    Should I ever have too many,(doubtful- have you seen my chickens eat?!) I can then place some wheat bran in a dish, place them inside and cover with lid and put them in the refrigerator for  weeks at a time.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Then and Now Bo Blue

It is that time of year for us.  Time to decide who gets to stay and raise the next generation of Chicken Super Stars and who gets to stay...for dinner.   We will be processing our roosters in the next couple of weeks and getting the pens ready for this coming spring breeding season.   Funny enough, my first instinct when they were little is still who I am going with now that they have begun to get some size to them.   
Here is Bo Blue at 2 months.  Hard to believe he started out completely blue, but soon he started to show some buff feathers on his chest, then wings then it just kept going....
Here is Bo blue at 6 months.  Amazing what a change in only 4 months makes!  He has the  most amazing feathering on his legs and feet and I can't wait to see what kind of babies we get from him.

Friday, September 2, 2011

OH MY Quail!!!

I know, I know it's a chicken blog, but.. we got Quail!!!! 
We decided to start our adventure with the Georgia Giant Bobwhite quail.  Four males, the ones with the white stripes on the head, and 8 females are all together in the cage I brought them home in.  Jeff will have the outside pen finished for them tonight and then they will have a lot more room. 
Having just bought them last night, they have been sitting on my dining room table ( O.O  a foreshadowing of things to come!! Shhhhhh!)  making the sweetest sounds!

Georgia Giant Bobwhite

Of course, my adventure didn't stop there.  As I was happily walking back to my truck, I happened to see a different kind of quail.  (At this point, my chicken friends are nodding knowingly.  For everyone else, well let me just say birds are like potatoe chips...  you can't have just one, or two, or three...)

Valley  quail have absolutely beautiful grey and blue plumage.  The breeder had two pair and I was able to talk him out of one.  As they pair have recently gone through a molt, I can't wait to see them in another couple of week with all new feathers!
Mountain Quail