Thursday, September 29, 2011

2011 To Do List Update: Chickens

Our update continues with chicken raising/killing/processing/selling.  At the outset of the spring, we decided to raise just one batch of 50 chickens to see how it went, along with one batch of 30 turkeys.  Accordingly, we built two chicken tractors to keep them secure in the pasture, and brooded up the 80 birds in the barn.

Then 200 more chickens fell in our collective lap, all ready to be processed within the same week.  And so we did what any suddenly chicken overwhelmed farmers would do: assembled a team of farm veterans for some marathon processing events.

Luckily, chicken processing equipment was included at bargain pricing along with the chickens, so building it wasn't necessary.
 The kill floor

The group processed three batches of approximately 70 chickens each during the week.  The first round took the five of us six hours - about as much time with your hand inside a chicken as is enjoyable.  After all that practice, the Big Man and I, just the two of us, were streamlined enough to do the last batch of 65 in a 3 hour Saturday session, with another 2 lazy hours the next day to weigh, label and bag.

As for the experience.  As with any process that involves dispatching life, it is strenuous and messy in both the physical and spiritual sense.  Chickens, however, are comparatively easy.  They are not cute.  They are not anything close to intelligent.  They are unpleasant to work with and enjoy pecking at the hands that feed them.
The process itself, the way we set it up, was quick and simple (once we cleared the learning curve).  The birds die in kill cones, throats slit, upside-down so they bleed out as completely as possible.  Then they are dunked in scalding water to loosen the feathers.  I had been warned by both my grandmothers that chicken plucking is possibly the worst, stinkiest pasttime in the world, but I did not find it to be the case.  Perhaps because we weren't doing it by hand -- we had a plucker that, with the flip of a switch and a few quick whirls, did it for us.

Then extrananeous bits are chopped off, an incision is made, and the innards become outards.  The evisceration is where a backlog can build up.  If everything goes well it takes between 2 and 3 minutes, but sometimes the esophogas breaks and the crop must be fished out from the top end, which slows things up considerably.  Then a quick spray of water into the cavity and a rinse outside, and into the icewater bath.  It is work, certainly, but it is the kind of work that can accompany good conversation.  And a chicken goes from chicken to meat on ice in under ten minutes.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

2011 To Do List Update: The Downstairs Remodel

I thought it might be useful (harrowing?) to check in with our 2011 To Do List over the next few posts.  First up: the downstairs remodel.

 This encompasses a few items from the list; namely: reinsulating the first floor, new drywall, refinishing the first floor floors, new exterior house doors, moving the kitchen into the old dining room, and turning the old kitchen into a mudroom.  Plus some things that weren't on the list -- knocking out walls, building new walls, installing new beams, finding appliances, leveling the floor, fixing the rot on the sill, new support posts in the basement, rewiring, painting....

So far (amazingly enough), all of those items have been accomplished except for the kitchen to mudroom swap (and that is nigh on underway).  Here are some pictures of the transformation.

 old dining room; also tool storage facility

 living room, gutted; new doors, purchased

Big Man's ceiling shoes

Floor fixing involved cutting out rough patches and exposing a lovely beam

 Patched floors -  the light pine was later stained to blend in a bit more with the other woods

 Finished room with floor, paint, boots.  Not pictured:  LOTS OF INSULATION

 Taping out potential counters in the new kitchen

Building the "temp" kitchen (we decided to work with moveable/cheap counters for the first few months.  Turns out, designing a kitchen is Complicated.  How much counter top does it take to break down a whole pig?  Do we ever NEED to break down a whole pig in the kitchen?  But wouldn't it be cool if we could? How much room do we need to not bicker while making dinner? Or is bickering while making dinner an inherent part of our relationship?  Discuss.*)

 "Temp" counters installed, holding things

Oh, that little thing??  Just my ten burner two oven stove.  No big.

*  Seriously.  Everyone who has visited and cooked in the kitchen, or merely navigated themselves around it, or even just eyed these pictures or had a kitchen redesign themselves and have some wisdom to impart, is encouraged, nay, IMPLORED, to speak up.  A lot of y'all are very gifted with aesthetic observations.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Slow Death Known as Autumn

Astonishingly, the calendar seems to think that it is September 22. I tried to tell it that it must be mistaken, three weeks can't have rushed by like that, but it has stubbornly held its ground. The crunch of leaves underfoot and the crisp acid tang in the air have finally convinced me that it is, indeed, September 22, and Summer Is Over.

Fall happened quickly here. Within the space of one week, my garden necessities went from sunhats and quarts of cucumber ice water to rubber boots and sweaters, and post-garden activities switched abruptly from evening dip in the lake to evenings indoors, simmering canning pots and sipping red wine. Vegetables and meats are now roasted, not grilled.

I notice the change most in the garden, which has a notably different feel. The greens of leaves and vines are fading as pumpkins and tomatoes turn to autumnal oranges, yellows and reds. Now when I empty a bed by harvesting all of its tenants, instead of planting in beets or radishes or beans or lettuces or Experiments, it goes directly into Compost Mode. It gets piled up with grass and garden clippings, leaves, rabbit, chicken, or goat manure if there is any handy, hay, kitchen compost, coffee grounds -- basically anything to build it back up. Late in October, once most of the beds are empty, I will be commandeering some number of pickup truck beds full of horse manure and a round bail of hay to spread over everything. Then everything gets to settle throughout the winter, and the worms have months to tunnel down and up, moving nutrients closer to the surface and keeping the soil breathable and soft, and it is ready to plant (with hopefully much less angst) early next spring: no tilling required.

I suppose that autumn's sneak attack and our vanishing into the September mists for three whole weeks isn't that surprising: Much has been happening. With the help of some veteran farm members, we constructed an assembly line and kill floor for pigs and chickens on the west side of the barn. We then slaughtered and processed 225 chickens. We slaughtered, butchered and sausaged 4 pigs with a charming group of people. We had a lovely Harvest Party. We weaned the piglets and sorted out the new breeders from March's round of pigs (who subsequently unsorted themselves and had to be resorted several times over with various fence repairs). We installed appliances and moved into our new (albeit temporary) kitchen downstairs (ALERT: I have OVENS. As in, plural. AND: at least one of them is actually the exact temperature that you set it to. Also: a dishwasher, a real one that isn't just dish-pan-hands Big Man.) We found a sad tiny dirty loud kitten in a ditch that is now a confused tiny semi-dirty kitten all over the house. Canning, canning, canning. Escaped bunnies. Mysterious chicken behavior. The Boar ruins planning In the Name of Love. Grain prices make grumpy farmers. Details to all of the above will be delivered to you over the next couple weeks.