Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Day at Triple J

The following post contains pictures of chickens being processed for meat. There's nothing too bad, but there are pictures that some might find offensive. Proceed with caution!

Ok, you still with me? Today I spent the day learning the efficient way to process chickens. David happens to know a fellow through work, John from Triple J Farm, that raises and sells pastured poultry (for meat) and free-range pastured eggs. David's been talking to John about chickens for the last several months (actually since before we bought the house). Since we wanted to raise our own meat birds, we figured John was a pretty great guy to know! John told David he'd be processing his chickens Monday and Tuesday, so I asked if I could help him out today so I could learn an efficient way to process the birds. It will only be around another month before ours are ready to process, and I haven't done much chicken processing in the past. When I raised broilers for 4-H, we learned after the first year that it was much easier to pay someone to do it for you.

I really wanted to be able to do my own birds for a few reasons. First, it saves a ton of money! You can pay around $3 per bird to have it done, but that's a LOT of money per bird. Second, I think if I raise the birds for meat, I should be able to do everything that's involved with raising them. So, John (the very nice and patient man he is) allowed me to come to his farm and help him out today.

I'll try to explain the process the best I can.

John had some chickens waiting when I arrived. These birds were around 9 weeks old I think. If I remember correctly, processing got delayed because it'd been so darned hot here lately. You really want to avoid stressing the birds out, especially in the heat, because they could die. Plus, it's just not nice.

The first step is to take the birds from the crate, one at a time, and place them in a cone. The cones keep the chickens fairly still and contained while you kill them.

To kill the birds, you use a sharp knife to cut the carotid artery in the neck. This allows the chickens to bleed out. The chicken's heart pumps the blood out pretty quickly. After the chicken has bled out, you use the knife to cut the head off.

The next step is scalding. John has a great tool to help make this quicker. It's a stainless steel rack-type device that allows you to scald 4 birds at once. The chickens get scalded for a minute in water that is 145* F. This opens the pores and helps the feathers come out for plucking.

After the birds come out of the hot water, they go into the chicken plucker. Man oh man, is this nice! It will pluck all 4 birds in a jiffy. The bottom of this plastic tub rotates, and the rubber fingers pick all of the feathers off the birds. The birds come out 99.5% feather free. Sometimes there are stray feathers on the wing tips or tail, but those are easily plucked out. The black hose around the top sprays water to help wash the feathers away. I didn't get a picture of it in action, because it tends to spray water and I didn't want to get too wet with the camera.

After the birds are plucked, they go into cold water to cool down. The water also helps keep flies off of them. Everything is done so the birds stay fresh and clean.

Here's John's processing tent. It's a really nice set up, and it makes the job pretty easy. He's got freezers to the left, a nice tub deep utility sink, and an awesome stainless steel counter.

On the other side, he's got an oven and an nice big commercial refridgerator. He also washes and packs his eggs in here.

After the chickens cool down for a while in the cold water, they're ready to get dressed. The feet are removed with a sharp knife, and the oil gland above the tail is cut out.

Then you remove the neck and the internal organs. John did a great job of showing me how to do everything. After a couple of birds I felt pretty comfortable with the whole process. And I managed to only rupture one gall bladder and have it spray on my shirt. Sweet!

After the birds are cleaned out, they go in another barrel of ice water to get cooled thoroughly.

I didn't get any pictures of bagging, but it was pretty neat. John uses shrink-wrap bags. You place the chicken in the bag, put a chicken neck with it, and then use a hog ring (a metal ring) to tie the bag. The bag with the chicken gets dipped into a pot of boiling water, and in just a few seconds the bag is sealed, airtight.

Then you're left with very nice chicken in a nice package! John was generous enough to let me take this chicken home! It was a nice big one...5 lbs!

And a little while later....

It tasted delicious!!

John, if you're reading this, thank you so much! I had fun (is that weird?) and I learned a lot!

And readers, if you're ever in the Annapolis area, stop by the farmers' market and see John!


Becky said...

Katie! What a fantastic learning experience! He's got a great set up! You look like a pro out there. That must be nice to know that you are prepared with a facility and the know-how when it comes time to process your chickens.
The chicken looks yummy!!! :)

Patrick said...

That is so cool. Is it sick that I think it looks like fun! God we are such ANSC nerds.

debajohnson said...

How awesome Katie!!! I am so proud of you! I bet it tasted great! Hard to believe that your broilers will become shrink wrapped in just a few more weeks! Love you, Momma

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