So what does it take to grow the best food possible? What goes into raising a chicken from a day old chick on organic feed on pasture until it is large enough 9 – 10 weeks later to be converted into food?
Well here’s a run down in a very condensed nutshell. First we map out the schedule for the entire year to pick the weekends that we will process the birds. We borrow some of the equipment from another farm so we plan around their schedule. I work every third day at the fire department and so we plan around that schedule. Next we have to take into consideration any holidays such as Labor Day, Memorial Day, etc. which might render farm members unable to pick up their birds. This generally leaves us just a couple of weekends a month to choose from for processing our birds. Also in all this planning, we have to consider the time frame in which we are going to grow out each flock of birds and ensure that we allow for enough time between flocks. Oh, and each batch of chicks must be ordered 4-6 weeks in advance. Then we have to decide just how many chicks to order. We don’t want to order so many that we have a load of birds that don’t sell but, we don’t want to order too few that we don’t have enough to sell when a new member joins.
Next we have to put together our feed order. In order to make organic feed as affordable as possible, we order it by the ton. One ton of chick-starter feed and grower feed costs between $1300 – $1400 which is a substantial investment before we put the first chick in the brooder.
Then we get the call from the post office that our chicks have arrived. Yes, that’s right, the chicks are sent via United States Postal Service. But they don’t deliver them to us, we have to finish up whatever project we’re in the middle of and get to the post office and pick them up.
The chicks are then placed in the brooder where they will live for the next 3 weeks until they are big enough to live on pasture. Every day they are fed and watered at least 2x’s. We also must monitor their temperature to ensure they are warm enough. Once we move them to pasture in the chicken tractors, we no longer just feed and water them twice a day but we are also moving them to a new patch of pasture twice a day. For 6-7 weeks we maintain this routine along with all the other farm chores and family commitments. All of this then cumulates on that fateful day when these birds are converted from living animal to food to nourish bodies. On that day, we rise an extra hour early to complete the other farm chores and choke down a quick breakfast. We set up the processing area, giving all the tables and containers a final scrub down. We make sure the scalder is heating so that we have hot water for loosening the feathers. When the ice is delivered, we hand unload 1500+ lbs of ice for the warm up to all the activity the day has in store. We then take to the pasture to catch the birds and place them in crates or cages for hauling them up to the processing area. Then the real work begins.
In order to make a chicken edible, it must be killed, plucked and eviscerated. Performing this task on 100 – 150 birds takes around 6 hours if we don’t take a lunch and we have 4 or more volunteers who come to donate their time and labor. After the last bird goes on ice, cleanup begins. All equipment that was used; tables, buckets, knives, killing cones, scalder, & plucker must be cleaned of blood, feathers and other parts. Because I am the slaughter-man, I am covered in blood and other excretions and I make for the shower before any members show. Now we are waiting on folks to come during the two hour window we set for them to come get their birds. After the designated time is up, we now have all the same chores that we did once already this morning. After all that we remember we have kids to feed.
And so ends one phase, but there’s another flock of birds on the pasture and in a few short weeks we will convert them into food.