The days have ticked by, the hours of daylight grown shorter and life a little crazier. This morning is the first day I woke up in three years and didn't walk out to the coop to let the chickens out. I walked onto the dark patio in my bare feet with a cup of hot coffee and heard …….. nothing. I walked in the house, looked at Butch and said: I have no reason to get up in the morning.
Yesterday was the day….. three years ago I bought a bunch of chickens, refused to name them, gathered eggs, let them free range through the yard and the neighbors yard and they added to this urban homestead, immensely. The manure for the gardens alone was exquisite and was the initial reason to get the chickens. Three years ago, this day was in the grand plan, it just arrived faster than planned.
The gals had stopped laying around the end of Sept. I waited patiently to see if one would poop out an egg to save the flock but nope. By November it was pretty plain there would be no more eggs. I was so hoping there would be a mother daughter bonding experience when my darling daughters came home for Thanksgiving but we ran out of time and the chickens got a reprieve. Cant believe they would rather go back to the mountains of Colorado than kill chickens with their dear old Mother. Then the gallery kicked in, finals at school started and we were firing kilns daily, time ticked away. I watched them intently and I thought I will know when the right day comes and you know what was shocking, I did know. I watched the chickens, I watched the weather and we had a window. It was the last day of the moons full cycle, the farmers almanac referred to this as the Full Cold Moon. It was time, I took the day off work.
Thank God I had gone to Blue Pike Farm and good old Carl showed me how to kill and process chickens. YouTube worked for the kitchen remodel but there is something about hands-on that jogs the brain into reality.
I started the night before, sharpened my knives, fabricated my killing cone, as my genetic cheap ass Hungarian/Scottish heritage took hold. Making my own cost $8, buying one was about $28 - $40 plus shipping.
I told Butch nothing as he had offered to pay big bucks to hire someone to kill and process. As my pottery life got super busy, I must admit I looked around and found no one! Then I had a long talk with myself. I feel pretty strongly about the food chain in this country. I raised these chickens and felt a responsibility to see them out to the end. I started this adventure with 10 chickens. One was a rooster and was dispatched early on, I learned to butcher chickens on that rooster. Then one fell ill last summer and keeled over. Then I lost another one last week, it literally bit the dust. Keeled over while it sat in the opening of the coop and hit the floor. They are buried under the holly bush in the way back. Seven birds remained. I never fell in love with these chickens but they had their place on this half acre. It was comforting looking out the studio window and seeing the gang of 8 strolling through the yard, eating bugs, checking out the cat, digging up flower beds and chatting amongst themselves. These birds had a great life. Through two hard Ohio winters they lived at club med with heat lamps, water heaters, fresh clean straw daily to keep their feet warm. Then every once in a while I had the thought; Wow, these are dinosaurs without teeth. They proved to be smarter than I thought they were.
All in all deep down, I know I'm gonna do this again…..
I started setting up around 7:30 am and there was a bit of hunting and gathering to get everything set up. I always knew I would be doing this and last summer I was so excited to buy a stainless steel turkey fryer on Craigslist that was almost brand-new….. the woman's husband had almost burned the house down during a Christmas turkey frying event and just wanted it gone. I couldn't buy it fast enough for $20! It even came with a thermometer! (It also worked for canning tomatoes.) Just about the time I hooked up the propane, the water heating nicely, I stirred with a small canoe paddle while watching the thermometer intently. From the edge of the studio, standing behind the evergreen; Butch, very quietly said; "You ok?" I'm off to work but I can change and help you." This is the guy who stopped a massive concrete pour on a nuclear power plant because there was a butterfly in the bottom of the pour site. He might never recover from this morning….. but he offered! Wow, he must really love me! I yelled back; "Nope, got it covered, go to work, thanks"……. and he did. I read the thought bubble over his head; Thank You Jesus, gotta go!
Now to catch the chickens….. I suck at catching chickens, especially all dressed up and running late to an opening in Cleveland. I let them out and lured them down to the end of the run, fencing them in. This worked pretty well. I caught the first bird and as I walked back to the table….. my brain kicked and said; Whoa, you're really doing this and my breathing accelerated and my hands were a bit shaky. I lowered the first chicken into the cone and I didn't make the opening big enough for the chicken to pop through the bottom. Damn! Suspended her upside down on the canoe hook; upside really is the most humane way to keep the bird calm. Grabbed the tin snips and cut the opening back wide enough. The bird slide down and popped out the bottom. Phew! I had learned at Blue Pike on the day we processed 40 birds to make a cut behind the ear and bleed them out. It takes a few minutes and I walked around keeping the pot of water at 140 - 150 F, checked the table and did everything but look at the chicken. Finally it was done. Donning purple rubber gloves gave her a quick dunk in the hot water, plucked the feathers, propped up my iPad so I could see step by step instructions for gutting the bird. Used my good Felco pruners for cutting off the feet and neck. Done, submerged her in an ice bath and had a shot of bourbon at 8:30 am…… 6 more to go.
Puurfect timing, the neighbor cat Rufus stopped by to hangout and see what was going on.
He sat on the raku kiln and watched, jumped down, rubbed up against my leg, around to the other leg, looked in the tub with the chicken on ice, batted an ice cube around and left. Thanks Rufus…. it is good to have an animal around. He stopped back several times and I found in him in the coop walking around with the chickens.
The next chicken I lowered into the cone, held her head in my hand and with the other cut off her head. One clean stroke, she was gone in seconds. It was much better than bleeding them out. It's quick, fast and much less traumatic for all involved! I will never bleed out another chicken, no matter what the chicken whispers say. The first place I read about bleeding out was in Joel Salatins book (he is a god in the small farm movement). It made sense, the chicken isn't under stress and he made it sound like the chicken just falls asleep. Nope, not like that; not when we did it at Blue Pike and not yesterday. I apologized to the first bird profusely and the rest went swiftly and smoothly.
I did thank each chicken for their eggs and just being part of happy acres for three years. I prayed they go quickly and quietly and most did……. except for one who bit the hell out of my hand and just about beat me to death getting her in the cone. Another shot of bourbon and I was fine…….
Every single chicken was bagged and tagged by 11:30 am.
They were big, they were unbelievably fat and incredibly healthy chickens. They were well tended over their three years and they will keep us warm through the winter with soup. I am so grateful I did not turn this over to someone else to do. I am also grateful for bourbon. I also understand my childhood a little better……. the men always drank when we butchered pigs, chickens or once a cow. This is not an easy thing to do and we have done since we have been eating. I wonder if beer came into being around the same time we started killing stuff?
Now what to do with the left over feed…….
Rufus should be laying in eggs in about a month……
I came in the house, ate a warm lunch of ramen noodles and broccoli. Had a cup of coffee and decided to finish off firing those 5 raku pots that have been staring me for a year.
I will be weaving all winter as they were big pots…..
Butch walked in the door around 8 pm and asked how I was doing. Told him I was really pretty good and felt pretty happy and content, the freezer was full. He said: "You know when I looked around the corner and saw you stirring that pot, adding eye of newt, I knew you'd be fine…. " Yes, my family knows I am a witch :)
Back to reality, the gallery will be open all weekend for Bizarre Bazaar.
Grueling hours: 10 am - 9 pm on Saturday
11 am - 6 pm on Sunday
Going down to the gallery today to weave and be still……..
Picked up a new display cabinet at Ikea last week…… Sweden could rule the world with an allen wrench and pictograms…… and who is allen?