The Way Out Here

Feeding the dream

By HUNTER HILL
Posted 6/24/20

One by one, my waddling broilers were handed off to my wife as she loaded the transport crate in the back of the truck with our freshly finished meat birds. Catching the chickens was hardly a chore …

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The Way Out Here

Feeding the dream

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One by one, my waddling broilers were handed off to my wife as she loaded the transport crate in the back of the truck with our freshly finished meat birds. Catching the chickens was hardly a chore since many of them opted to merely sun themselves out in the yard under the mild heat. At only eight weeks old, many of these birds had grown to a live-weight of around five to seven pounds. Their bodies were broad and their apathetic attitudes only spoke to their life of luxury for the two months of their existence. Perhaps they thought we were headed to the beach for the day; they certainly showed no concern for their imminent destination.

It was harvest day for our little flock. Having only grown a few flocks of meat birds in the past, my wife and I were curious to see how this batch had turned out in comparison. Our last batches had mixed results having been grown for a longer period of time and also being a mix of other breeds. For our son, Rorick, this was his first batch. As a consolation for him, we opted to keep a few extras from the flock to replace some of our aging laying hens. Being that we chose to raise Red Ranger Broilers this go-round, we had that luxury of using them as layers as well as meat birds.

With the box loaded and tools gathered, we set out to the farm where we would begin our harvest. The way out here, we make an effort to do as much as we can ourselves. It’s an easy thing to raise an animal and hand it off to someone else to do the dirty work; it’s’ quite another to have a hand in that animal from the very start to the very end.

After arriving at the farm, we set up our area with the necessary scalder and plucker. Lacking a kill cone, we did the country thing and improvised one from a five-gallon bucket with a hole cut in the bottom. As it would happen, Chelsea’s sister came at the same time with some poultry of her own. Many hands make light work, as they say, and soon we had a rhythm going where I started the birds, scalded and ran each one over the drum-plucker before handing the mostly plucked birds off to my wife and her sister to finish gutting, fine-plucking and cleaning them for packaging. Having not done this a great many times, the task did end up eating most of the afternoon. However, by the last bird, I dare say we started to get the hang of it. Just another thing about the way out here: You have to learn these things sometime, and all you can do is do them until you’ve got it down. Chelsea’s father came out to check on our progress several times, reminding us that when he started butchering nearly 15 or 20 years ago, that it took him two to three times as long to break down a half of beef as it does now. To prove his point, he noted that, before we even arrived that morning, he had already filled the freezer with three whole beefs—all those years ago, that would not have even been possible within a day. “Practice makes perfect,” my wife reiterated from across the room, her hand deep inside a chicken and her face contorted with perplexed focus.

All said and done, we accomplished our task and compared notes as we cleaned up, thinking about what could be improved for next time. In this way of life out here in the country, there are a myriad of less-than-pleasant tasks, but part of living the way we do demands we learn them. The way out here isn’t about keeping your hands clean and living the better-homes-and-garden image, it’s about buckling down shoulder to shoulder with your partner, doing what has to be done and living strong through a deep connection to our American heritage. Our little homestead may just be up and coming, but it’s not a thing that can be bought in a catalog. Every memory, every board built, every plant and animal harvested feed not only our bodies but, ultimately, the dream.

chicken, farming

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