This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to learn about processing chickens with some good friends of mine, the Hammonds. They operate My Dad & Me Family Farm a few miles away where they raise; Jersey Cows, free range laying hens, pastured poultry, and all types of fruit and vegetables. We’ve been buying raw milk from them and eggs as well untill we got our own chickens. We’ve become quite close to them as we are very similar in our points of view and values.

Broilers ready to be processed

As I mentioned, they raise pastured meat chickens. These birds spend their lives out on pasture where they get to live their lives with access to sun light, fresh air, grass and insects. They are kept in portable shelters called Chicken Tractors. Every day they are moved to a new patch of pasture where they will also deposit copious amounts all natural, nutrient rich fertilizer. Raising poultry in this manner is incredibly essencial to the management of their pastures, keeping the grass lush and healthy which then feeds their cows.

When I arrived, I was first put to work scrubbing out large cans in which the chickens would be placed on ice after processing. After David H. finished his chores feeding and moving cows, we proceeded in his truck to the pasture. The chicken tractors were fenced off with a line of electric fence, to keep the pigs from going after the chicken’s feed. We got out and David tells me to just push the insulator down the post. OK, hold on, before I go any further, I am not ignorant about electric fence. I’ve been around it most of my life and I’ve been shocked numerous times. What happened next was totally my fault. The grass was soaked with dew. I placed my steel toed leather boot on the insulator, on the side holding the wire. Electric fence does not carry a continuous current, it pulses. As I started to push the isulator and whe wire down, I felt a surge of electricity course up my right leg and down my left, completing the cicuit between the fence harger and the ground. That was when I noticed David pushing it down from the backside so he didn’t contact the wire.  I made a mental note.

Chickens in the crate

Now the fun really begins, it’s time to catch chickens! We unloaded the crates and set them in front of the tractors. David would pull them forward on to new grass, and then crawl inside with 20 birds going beserk, flapping their wings and bouncing all around. He would grab one, pass it back to me and I would put them in a crate. That was going well until the ice truck arrived. David had to operate the tractor (a real one, not chicken tractor) to unload the pallet of ice. So I set myself to catching chickens alone. I’d just snatch them up as they came to the front of the tractor. It wasn’t going quite as fast and I was starting to wonder how long it would take to unload one pallet of ice until, I see David’s very pregnant wife Tina walking toward me carrying a pole with a hooped end and a burlap sack attached. “I’ve always wanted to used this,” she said with a grin. Well, it wasn’t very effective at catching chickens, but man were they afraid of it, and they would all hide in the back of the tractor. So we decided to try to use it to scare them forward so I could just reach down and grab them. It went quite well, until we moved on to the next tractor. As Tina lifted the back of the tractor to prop it up and stick the chicken chaser underneath, a few or them escaped. First we caught all the chickens still in the tractor, then we turned our attention to the escapees. The following mishap is what I get for two things, 1. Forgetting my gloves and having to borrow David’s old wore out gloves with the fingertips missing. 2. Standing by while his wife did all the lifting. Tina chased them down an alley between two tractors, as i reached for one, my exposed middle finger caught the edge of the metal roof , gouging out a chunk right next to the nail. We caught all the escapees and then I begged off so I could tend to my wound. The chicken drew first blood.

In case you havent scrolled down already, let me caution you, there are photos with blood but no guts.

The whole process is quite efficient, first the chicken is placed in a killing cone for slaughter, after the carotid artery had been severed, the chicken would bleed out. The birds were then transferred to a rack for dunking in a scalding tank to loosen the feathers. Next, they are moved to a plucking machine which removes their feathers. After the feathers had been removed, the go onto the tables where head, feet, and necks are removed before they are eviscerated. The final steps are a wash down, inspection, then they are put on ice.

Killing Cones

David’s dad, Daniel, starts dressing birds.

 Hey, those are starting to look like the ones in the supermarket!
Look out below, animals have actually been killed for human consumption.

Bleeding out

Well, I hope nothing here was too graphic for anyone. I firmly blieve that we all need to understand and know exactly how our food is produced and know where it comes from. It’s okay if you want to eat meat but you don’t have the stomach for killing your own food. If you are going to depend on someone else to provide you your meat, wouldn’t you rather it be from animals that are raised humanely and by someone you know? When you buy meat at a supermarket, it comes from animals who have a less than pleasant existance raised by people you’ll never meet. Learn more about Factory Farming: CLICK HERE. 

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