Archive for the ‘Chickens’ Category

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

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Our First Real Chicken Dinner

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

Warning: This post contains material that may not be suitable for some readers.

I went outside the feed the chickens the other day and saw that Cornelius was covered in blood and that his comb had been torn near the back.* I’d seen him getting into minor scuffles with another rooster (Young Punk #2), but that other rooster had always just backed down in the past.

Well, YP2 had grown markedly larger than Cornelius, and apparently was no longer satisfied with 2nd place. I looked at YP2 and saw just the tiniest nick on his comb. Clearly, it wouldn’t be long before YP2 made a play for the throne. Since Cornelius represents fresh genetic material, however, the other roosters are all destined for our bellies.

YP2, I decided, was ready for the pot.

It was already evening, so I wasn’t going to kill YP2 right then. I let them all return to their chook house for the night, as usual.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like catching chickens during the day. A friend of ours uses a large fishing net to do the job, and after the antics I’ve experienced, I like that idea. I’d caught YP2 once before, when he had escaped, and it wasn’t pleasant. He instinctively knows that I’m bad news and he puts up a fight. (Becky says it’s because I’ve been feeling up his drum sticks since he was a few months old.)

If time allows, the best method for catching a chicken is to walk into the chicken house at night and simply pick the desired bird off the roost. In case you don’t know, chickens are pretty much switched off at night. So, a few hours after dark, I put on my headlamp and headed outside. In a matter of seconds, Daddy Wolf had YP2 under his arm.

YP2 wiggled around a little, but nothing at all like the mortal combat he’s up for during the day.

Now, what to do with him until morning?

The previous owner of our property used an old washing machine, minus the internals, as a compost bin. It just had a bit of dried weeds in the bottom, so I put YP2 in there with a bucket of water in case he got thirsty. It’s well ventilated, and, at the moment, it’s in the shade. I put a piece of wood over the top with a rock just in case he tried to push himself out somehow.

The next day, I got everything ready. Hot water, knife, and hatchet were laid out near the old stump outside our garage.

I went to retrieve YP2. Woh. He was pissed. He tried to jump through the top of the washing machine as soon as I removed the cover, but I managed to grab him.

While I was fairly confident with my ability to break the chicken’s neck by hand (from my previous lesson), this rooster was substantially larger and stronger than the one I killed before. I decided to go with the broom handle method.

This involves lowering a broom handle, or similar implement (I used my axe handle), over the chicken’s neck, standing on the handle and then pulling upward on the legs to break the chicken’s neck. This is done on a hard surface. It took a lot of force to break this rooster’s neck, so I’m glad I was able to apply it quickly and authoritatively so there was no question that the job was done. I’ll probably use this method again in the future.

I went about the business of plucking and gutting the bird. Becky came out to check on my progress. She had Reed in a pouch and Owen by the hand. She looked pretty proud and pleased with me. She has been looking forward to putting this roo in her Dutch oven.

And it’s a good thing that she bought the largest Dutch oven that we could find in New Zealand (29cm). This chicken just barely fit.

Ready for the pot

Becky specifically requested the chicken feet. She’s going to make stock out of them. I thought she was kidding at first, but she has been coveting them. It turns out the people who don’t use the feet are the minority.

She’ll probably write more about chicken recipes in the future, but for now, here’s a picture of the end result of all of our efforts. Becky prepared an unforgettable meal for us and her parents:

Chicken dinner

Wow! It was absolutely delicious. I’ve read about people who don’t go back to industrially produced chicken after raising and eating their own, and it’s clear why after the first bite. This British site refers to Barred Rock chickens as, “Walking dinner.” It’s not a joke. We were very pleased with the amount of meat on this bird. Four adults and Owen (who eats nearly as much as an adult) were easily filled up. And even though I gorged myself to the point of disgrace, there was still meat left. The next day, Becky turned the Dutch oven into a soup pot and we ate delicious chicken soup for three nights after this main meal. I don’t mean chicken soup with pathetic little scraps of chicken. There was plenty of meat left for the soup.

All in all, raising Barred Rock chickens for meat is very worth doing and satisfying.

* Don’t worry about Cornelius, he turned out to be just fine. A couple of days after his altercation with YP2, it rained and all the blood washed off of him. He looked as good as new.

I Slaughtered a Chicken for the First Time (With a Little Lot of Help from My Friends)

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

WARNING: This post contains material that may not be suitable for some readers.

I really like to eat chicken. Becky likes it too. However, we’ve gone almost completely off industrially produced chicken. The cost of organic chicken is about twice as expensive as the regular variety here, and those aren’t inexpensive.

Since we’re going to be eating our chickens, I needed to learn how to kill, pluck and dress them. Becky has a friend who’s husband also needed to learn these skills. This friend of Becky’s has a mum and dad who have been raising and eating their own chickens for decades. So, on an absolutely fine Saturday, we all converged on a nearby farmlet for a delicious lunch… and a hands on lesson in the skill of slaughtering chickens.

From the reading I’ve done, I knew that there were a lot of ways to kill a chicken. This time, we would be breaking the chickens’ necks (See: How to Kill a Chicken, or How to kill, pluck and dress a chicken).

The small children were removed from the area and Garth and I were each handed an Orpington rooster. The method of how to break the neck was explained. I was up to go first. As I stood there, preparing to kill the chicken with my bare hands, I wondered: How is it that, at the age of 38, and having consumed some unthinkable number of chickens in my life, this will be the first time that I’ve personally killed a chicken? The answers to that question are far more disturbing than the act of killing the chicken.

Kevin kills a rooster

A lot of things that are wrong with the planet today can be explained by the fact that the vast majority of people in “developed” countries have absolutely nothing at all to do with producing the food (and in many cases, alleged food, or pHood) that they are consuming. Once societies were sold on letting food production become someone else’s job—and in the most horrific examples, left up to the state—that was it. Heretofore unthinkable nonsense came to be seen as efficient, healthy and convenient. Toil outdoors was no longer necessary. Better living through chemistry. The green revolution. Trust us. Welcome to the brink of oblivion.

If you’re reading this site, you probably won’t learn much from watching, Food Inc., but I’d suggest watching it anyway, especially if you have a hard time with the idea of killing a chicken yourself.

So, there we were, Garth and I, holding the lifeless roosters. Leila, the chook authority of the region, showed Garth and I how to dunk the carcasses in hot water to loosen the feathers. Plucking the birds took the most time, but it was actually easier than I thought it would be.

The rest of the procedure was pretty much the same as you might read in the guides linked above, and in books. However, Leila showed us a great trick for dealing with the intestine and anus that all but eliminates the chances of… an undesirable rupture. A few centimetres forward of the anus, gently cut a small opening through the skin (cut in the direction perpendicular to the spine) until you can see inside the cavity. This will allow you to clearly see all of the plumbing that needs to stay intact as you cut out the anus. Then use the knife and draw backwards to cut out the anus. There’s absolutely no guesswork using this method because you’re able to see exactly where the blade is going.

Thanks to Leila, Ken and family for having us over and teaching us such valuable skills.

Hens Starting to Lay

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

One of our Barred Rock hens started laying about two weeks ago. Bask in the glory of the first egg (it was pouring rain, so this was taken inside):

The first egg

A couple of days ago, another hen started laying as well. She dropped a couple while she was on the perch and they cracked on the floor of the chook house. “Silly chook,” is such a perfect phrase, isn’t it? Oh well, she has figured out how the nesting boxes work now.

How do the eggs taste? As you might expect, they’re absolutely delicious. The yolks are a deep, saturated orange/yellow.

It’s hard to put into words how satisfying it is to be eating these eggs. Keeping chickens has been a dream of mine for a long time. As I toiled in the depths of my last corporate job in the U.S., I used a picture of some chooks in a field as the wallpaper image on my screen. Thinking about having chickens helped me make it through the day, believe it or not.

I should order a large print of that egg, frame it and hang it up proudly in our lounge. HAHA.

Bask in the Glory of Cornelius, Our New Barred Rock Rooster

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

We recently swapped roosters with a woman who keeps a variety of chicken breeds in Kerikeri. She had this particularly handsome Barred Rock rooster that she couldn’t bring herself to turn into a meal for her family. Since New Zealand is a village, and the Far North is an even smaller village within the village, news of this roo soon reached us.

We took our biggest Barred Rock rooster down to her, hoping that he would make a succulent meal for our new found friend and her family. She took one look at him, though, and said something like, “Oh, he’s beautiful too… Hmm. Maybe I’ll breed him.” So, he didn’t wind up in a pot, as far as we know.


The rooster that she wanted us to have had already gone with some mutual friends of ours. Since our roos aren’t ready for the pot, our friends offered to board this Kerikeri roo for us. Several weeks passed by and the time came for him to get settled in on our farmlet—although our roos still aren’t ready for the pot. We met up with our friends and picked up the rooster. (We gave them a sack of organic wheat in appreciation for keeping him for as long as they did.)

They had a different name for him, which was pretty good, but as soon as I saw him out and about, all I could hear in my head was, “Cornelius.”

Now, the friends of ours, who were temporarily keeping Cornelius, thought that he wouldn’t have any trouble with other roosters, since they had been keeping him with some roosters without incident. We decided to let him in with ours, hoping that it would go ok.

And it did go ok, for about five minutes.

But after that, the situation became a bit more tense. That is to say, I witnessed my first cock fight.

Our biggest rooster, who was scheduled to go to Becky’s cousin’s farm, had just managed his first, juvenile and pathetic crow the day before. Well, as far as that rooster knew, he was the boss. He strode over to Cornelius and stared him down. Cornelius cowered a bit. That wasn’t good enough for our Young Punk rooster, who had a peck at Cornelius. I waved a stick around and called out, “Enough of that.” Young Punk persisted in his pecking and Cornelius continued to cower and retreat. I started making my way into the run as this clearly was going… in a sub-optimal direction. Then Young Punk pulled on Cornelius’ comb and, how should I put this…

Young Punk started it, Cornelius was going to finish it.

Obviously, I know very little about keeping chickens, but I knew that this was very different than the rooster confrontations I’d seen so far. This was a full tilt cock fight. The loser was going to be dead, or wish he was. They were swirling all over as I tried to break them up. The hens and other roosters ran away. It couldn’t have been more than thirty seconds by the time I separated them, but they were both bloody. Cornelius, not so much. Young Punk, on the other hand, got his ass handed to him. He would have definitely bought the farm had I not intervened. Young Punk was stunned, wobbly and bleeding. He didn’t mind that I picked him up. As long as he was out out of striking range of Cornelius, he remained calm.

I looked Young Punk over and determined that his injuries were superficial. I asked Becky to call her cousin to see if she was still interested in this roo, and, uh, is it ok if he’s just been in a cock fight with an older, bigger and stronger opponent, and is looking a bit worse for wear?

Claire was keen to have the rooster, even in his current wretched state, so I packed him up in a fish bin and drove him over there. In case you’re feeling bad for Young Punk, definitely don’t. I turned him loose into a beautiful enclosure with about a half dozen Red Shaver hens who thought that he looked pretty good—even if he did just have his clock cleaned by Cornelius. By the way, Young Punk’s new name is Charlie.

Once Cornelius installed himself as the undisputed hierarchical dominator, there was peace with the other roosters. The lesser roos are content to simply stay out of his way.

Should we have brought Cornelius here earlier, before Young Punk/Charlie had any chance of challenging him? Would Cornelius have simply been the de facto boss at that point? After we discussed this situation with a veterinarian friend (and veteran chook lady), she said that we should have pulled the one that was making the play for boss (Young Punk), and then immediately introduced Cornelius. The lower tier roos would have thought, “Meet the new boss, older, bigger and stronger than the old boss,” and peace would have been maintained.

I’ll conclude by posting a video of Cornelius, basking in the glory of his victory, and surrounded by the hens and lesser roosters. His beautiful comb and wattles are a bit battle scarred, but, as you can see, he’s doing just fine.

Note: Make sure that your computer’s volume is turned down toward the end of the video! Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

A much higher resolution version of this video is available at YouTube: