Originally I’d wanted to write a post about our first experience butchering chickens in two parts: one before, and one after. I’d wanted to compare my thoughts and impressions from the idealistic, perhaps naive beforehand perspective, and the more grounded, realistic perspective that I expected to set in after the event. But to write about what a challenge it was that we faced, and how it was beyond our comfort range, even to express my thoughts on the merits of making one’s own food – all this seems so obvious, so clear – so unnecessary. I didn’t want to appear all greener-than-thou, and I certainly didn’t want this to seem like a bigger deal than it was. Plenty of my friends hunt. I know people who’ve killed many times. Clearly it wasn’t beyond my ability. And the principal of it should be pretty apparent. Yeah, we can pretty much all agree that it’s a good thing to take responsibility for your own food if you’re able, and to offer the creatures happy lives and quick ends. So in the end, especially now after having done it, the preamble I’d originally planned seemed kinda silly.
There is one thought that stays with me, however, an image I’ve had in my mind for years that’s related to the acquisition of ‘live’ food. As Westerners, we don’t exactly grow up seeing our food while it’s still alive. The only exception I can think of is lobsters. I might be way wrong here, but I’m kinda thinking that we’ve all felt that quiet, inner conflict when passing those tanks of tangled, doomed lobsters at the grocery store. And should we actually take one home, we manage to talk ourselves out of our remorse, cuz hey, this is gonna be one delicious meal after all. Maybe we offer the creature, or even Creator, some thanks, and so the guilt lessens even a bit more. But not all folks on this globe feel the same about their food. Years ago in New York City’s Chinatown I once witnessed an old woman shopping for dinner. I will never forget the scene – one I wasn’t expecting, one which I wasn’t even fully understanding until the moment was over. She first pointed to a huge barrel filled to the top with live bullfrogs, the clerk scooped out two, laid them out on the counter and before I knew what was happening, he bashed them over the head with a bat. It wasn’t a killing blow, and I watched in horror as they haggled over the price of the still-moving and clearly horribly injured frogs. They were paid for and bagged up, and the grandma took her bag in hand, along with all her other shopping bags and left the shop. She was obviously not bothered, as I was, at the spasmodic kicking that continued from inside the bag as she made her way down the sidewalk and into the crowd on her way home to make dinner.
That little scene blew my mind. And it changed how I thought about food. Sure, there was something right about the freshness, the immediacy, but there was something very wrong with the lack of humanity with which the dispatching went down. A couple things to be learned there. I always wondered after that – in a tiny, almost inaudible voice – if one day we might live on a planet where all our food would be gleaned in a responsible and humane way. If one day we might finally take the horror out of it. Whether factory farmed chickens who live in darkness and pain or miserable frogs piled dozens deep – might we hope to one day end such profoundly crappy, disrespectful treatment of fellow creatures? But back then it was just a fleeting philosophical question which hardly lasted a minute as I dashed off to the next gig, the next project, the next rehearsal. With no solutions in sight, why make myself miserable thinking about it? I had no idea that at some yet distant chapter of my future I’d actually find myself closer to an answer. That one day I wouldn’t be living in the city. That I’d be a country gal, a mom, a chicken farmer. Yeah, it’s closer at hand, but we’re still not there. A one afternoon how-to class doesn’t make us self-sustaining farmers. Still working on it; Elihu and I continue to run the numbers, discuss the nitty-gritty details, and visualize the goal. Ya never know. Everything has to start out small.
Idyllic Eastern New York state – the town of Cambridge. Rolling hills just East of the Hudson River soon meet the rolling hills of Vermont. It’s here that Jared and Shannon Woodcock run Taproot Farms, an all-around farming venture. They have a toddler and a tiny baby and big dreams for what this project and life could potentially be. By teaching their farming skills and sharing their knowledge they help broaden the community of like-minded, good folk that wish to do things as they should be done. It sound blessedly simple, and yet there’s so much to it. There’s always so much more to things that it appears…
Bringing the young chickens up to the barn.
Jared goes first, demonstrating the two swift cuts on either side of the neck. It’s so quick, I can tell you it’s a minor event for the bird. Super sharp knife, just two, three seconds. Done.
Jared helps Elihu get the bird in the cone.
At first it’s hard to see the blood. But soon you get in the groove and you see instead the task that you’re doing.
Our first bird. I was nervous about slicing my hands and needed Jared to hold my hand to assure a good cut. Better next time. Here the bird is bleeding out. Doesn’t take more than a minute. And their legs do kick, but it’s clearly a physical, nerve-related action. By then the dear soul has moved on.
Elihu did his own bird too. Jared helped, but the kid was involved in the entire process.
You gotta dip em in hot water to loosen the feathers before you pluck em. A couple of short dips and they come right off.
A beautiful, simple machine. A motor, a belt and a wheel with a bunch of rubbery fingers that rotate and just zip off those feathers. I’d be interested to see how much more time it takes to pluck a bird without this little gizmo.
We’re just cleaning up a few feathers left behind. But not many.
and inserts it into the magic wheel
First, Elihu learns how to cut off the feet; two easy cuts and they just kinda pop off.
Jared’s helping him loosen up the trachea and crop from the top end, so that it’ll all pull out more easily from the bottom end later on.
things are gettin kinda slippery…
….and warm! Yeeks! And – wow – there’s a lot in here, too!
Elihu’s been wanting to eat chicken’s feet for I don’t know how long. Finally I can cook up some crunchy feet for my son!
Wrapping things up. Literally.
What a lovely little operation! Thanks Jared (and wife Shannon, plus tiny Calla and tinier baby boy) We love Tapoots Farm! (And Jarred’s also a ‘bird boy’ like Master Elihu – he actually studied orthinology. !! Really hope we see these folks again some time!)
The house smelled divine. And no kidding – in a blind taste-test Elihu totally knew the ‘home’ raised vs. factory chicken. If ever a kid was born with the potential to grow his own food, it is Elihu. And he certainly is fast-gaining the qualifications for the job….
6 thoughts on “Corner Turned”
Very cool. Thanks for posting. I agree that taking care that our farm animals “only have one bad day” is a very good thing. Glad your son is getting in on this early and first hand. Whether he becomes a vegan or a carnivore when he grows up, he will have a lot of knowledge that is more than just conceptual on which to base his decisions. Taproot Farms sounds awesome!
Nice post. But!!! We named our birds and we don’t think we can eat them. Too much like pets. Actually they are spoiled pets.
Thanks, Gene… What Jared is doing is such a great service… we all need to share skills so we can empower ourselves just a bit more…
Oh Ed, we know exactly your predicament – it’s ours too… so, we’re going to hand em off the the Amish fellow and look away… not saying it might not be tearful even, but they are TOO many to pay for over the winter – and the spring cleanup is HUGE and backbreaking (and REALLY stinky). So, Shirley Nelson and the gang must go (and she’s our first green egg layer. Sad.)… we’ve agreed to save Madeline and Thumbs Up. The rest we will kiss goodbye, and thank from the bottom of our hearts.
Glad you wrote your post and shared lots of pictures. I think it is sad so many of us are so far from understanding the cycle of life that goes into the food we put on our table. I looked at your plucker with interest. I skin all mine because I do so few, but would love to do a whole with skin sometime.
late response here… that plucker is an old machine, and from some quick online searching, not cheap (if you can find one) at around $400… I’ve seen some tutorials on how to make one, and while I get it in theory, I myself am not handy enough to build one. Sounds like a most valuable piece of gear, however! Worked like a dream.