Processing. It's such a nice, clean word, no? Not at all like the job it attempts to define. And it's not just me. The chickens don't seem to really get excited about the "process" all that much either.
Two months ago, our 100 day-old broilers arrived from Murray McMurray. Half mixed heavy breeds and half Cornish X rocks. Though they were all the same size to start, it wasn't long before those Cornish X chicks pulled way ahead of the others in weight and size. They are truly meat-producing machines. And like any high performance machine, they require a bit of finesse to deal with.
Within 2 weeks, we had lost 11 of Cornish X chicks. Eleven. That is a dismal mortality rate. Was it us? Most likely. But in our defense, we lost only 1 of the 50 heavies, which is an expected rate of loss. And then last weekend, we went to move them to find another 10 dead. We have no idea what caused the deaths, but they were all Cornish X chicks and all very large. It didn't look like a predator, as there was no blood spilled. Regardless, it is strange that whatever caused the deaths did not affect the heavies at all. All in all, I'm not too keen on EVER raising Cornish X chicks again. We have an excellent track record with all the other chicks we've raised, excluding the trouble we had with the chicks from the farm store and their deformities and immediate deaths, of course. We know how to keep chicks alive. But these Cornish X are a whole 'nuther ball of wax.
And another strike against the Cornish X are their appearance. I don't raise meat birds for show, obviously, but they are lazy, pushy, and downright filthy. They flop themselves over to the feed and water, usually laying down to eat. They often block the smaller heavies from the feed, at least at first with each fresh batch. And because they are nearly always laying down, they are just dirty. They are dirty on their bottoms from laying in their own filth and dirty on the top from getting walked over (and sometimes pooped on) when they are too lazy to move.
The heavies all look healthy, active and clean. And apparently, are easier to raise to processing weight. At least for these couple of farmers. And after all, isn't that the whole point? If they die before we can kill them, then it was all for naught.
Today we began the first of many days of processing. You'll notice that this is a photo-free post. Your welcome.
I would, someday, like to show pictures of the whole processing, well, process, perhaps with a few gore warnings beforehand, but when we are doing it, the last thing I really want to do is prolong the process by snapping photos.
We started with what is left of the Cornish X chicks. Packaged weight was nearly 5 pounds on those bad boys, with only 2 months of growth. Of course, they ate like total maniacs, so I'm not convinced that they are all that economical in the long run. The 50 heavies have a ways to go before they'll be ready, but we also have what is left of the farm store birds to process. There are probably 20 of those. They are huge, but since they forage so much and are relatively easy to take care of, we aren't in a hurry. Once they're in the crock pot, it doesn't really matter the age. They'll still turn out tender.
We only did 8 this morning as we were under time constraints, but plan to knock out another 10-12 tomorrow morning before we get together for fellowship with our friends. The last time we did processing, it was barely above freezing outside and we took so long to accomplish anything. This time, however, we were pretty streamlined and were able to move pretty quickly. It helped immensely that Abby blessed us by staying asleep for the whole thing. We'll have to time ourselves tomorrow to get a per-bird rate.
If you asked me if I enjoy processing, I'd have to probably respond with something like, "Are you on crack?" But what I do enjoy is having the freshest possible meat in my crock pot right now, knowing how my dinner was raised, and providing for my family in this way. It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it. And frankly, I'd rather it be me than some men in white coats who don't know the birds and don't know my family. And that is not even to say anything about the birds' life on the factory floor.
Eat local! Know the farmer who knows your food!
Update 7/27/07: Today, we did 14 chickens. From first slice to the closing of the freezer door, it took right on 2 hours and 20 minutes, which works out to 10 minutes per bird. Not ideal, but certainly fine for our quantities. With even one more adult, I know we could shave a lot off our time.