Monday, June 18, 2007

Workin' a little cattle, Pluckin' a little chicken

We received an awesome invitation from the sister of one of Don's co-workers for this past weekend. They had come to dinner on Christmas and got very excited when we told them of our farming plans and showed them Don's newly-built chicken plucker. So, this past weekend, they invited us up to Holbrook, AZ to work some cattle with some family friends of theirs.

They were planning on de-horning, vaccinating, branding, and in some cases, castrating (most of the calves were too young for castration at this point, though.) For the calves, this was the first time away from their mamas.
There was a whole lot of bawling going on around there. By both the calves and their moms. And those calves were so cute.

Many of the calves were very interested in us and did stop bawling long enough to pose for a few pictures.This little one was pretty young. You can still see the umbilical cord hanging.

While we were waiting for the men to finish up with the mama cows (it was de-worming time for them), the kids were able to get on one of the horses for a while. Rachel, the sister of Don's coworker, is holding the reigns.

Caleb was quite upset once the working started. I can't really blame him. The calves were led through a chute into a contraption that would trap them and then turn them on their sides. Then, while held in that, everything was done to them. Most of them hollered pretty loudly. It was heart-wrenching. Once the calf was finished, though, the thing was tilted back up & opened and he was able to jump out and go find his mama. I told him to go sit here where he could be a little away from the activities & just watch & pet the calves waiting their turns.

In the meantime, there was lots of bawling (by both Caleb and the calf) and the smell was horrible. The branding really is a terrible smell. And, of course, many of the calves let loose of their bowels in the thing. Those cowboys were all pretty dirty. Here is Don giving a shot. He bent a few needles before getting the hang of it. I tried once, but in the middle of injecting, the calf jerk so wildly that I lost my grip on the needle. That was the only one they let me try!

After all the calves were done, we got to try out the chicken plucker. They had a rooster and one hen that they wanted butchered, so we got to do the honors. First, there was the catching.
The women & children had the job of rounding up the chickens from the front yard. They were quick, but we got them in what I consider a very short time. Here I am with the first one we caught.
Here are the guys slitting the throat. They had first wrapped a plastic bag around the rooster's body and hung him upside-down from a tree to calm him & get him ready. He was amazingly calm in that position. It seems cruel, but we are told that slitting the throat is actually a pretty easy way to go for a chicken. They just bleed out and their heart stops. It's over very quickly.
The deed is done now & Don is waiting to put the rooster in the scalding water before plucking. We didn't plan ahead well and the water took a long time to get up to scalding temp. Don hasn't built his automatic scalder yet.

Unfortunately, I don't have pictures of the plucking. I had left to get our stuff from the house so we could scoot after the chickens were done. But, while I was gone, the scalding temp was reached & they went ahead with it. The plucker worked very well. The thing we will have to work on is just getting the timing better. It just took too long between killing and gutting. And, the gutting alone took quite a while. Of course, practice will make perfect. We hope to hear how the chicken tasted soon! It is a weird feeling to be doing this end of food production. It is definitely easier to go buy some package chicken at the store, but it really doesn't give you an appreciation for the food like this does. A chicken gave his life to nourish the bodies of our friends. The process isn't pretty, but we are thankful for the end result.

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