May Chicken "Harvest"
I came home after a week away and was awakened the first morning by the rooster crowing at 4 am. That sealed his fate. It had been a long time since I'd had an uninterrupted night's sleep, and I wasn't ready to go back to a 4 am wake-up call. Since it is a lot of work and angst to butcher/cull/harvest chickens, I decided that two of my oldest hens who haven't laid an egg in a year or two would meet their maker as well. One of them received a last minute pardon from my nine year old son who claims she is his favorite chicken, but no one cried over the rooster or the mean old hen. (Except my daughter, but only on principal, not because she liked them. She is a tenderhearted girl.)
I think this brings me down to twenty chickens, seventeen of which are middle-aged, if not quite perimenopausal. I think that when they stop laying, their day may also come, most likely early September this year.
I feel a certain amount of fear over the chickens, not because I feel bad about eating them, but because I am so afraid of hurting them or killing them badly. To put this into perspective, I'm also afraid to trim my dog's nails. I finally realized that sometimes you can outsource, and it doesn't need to be a cause for shame. Some people have no problem trimming dog nails, some people can butcher chickens. I do other things.
My father and husband stepped in for the part where I had to look away, but I stuck around for everything else. I have enough trouble touching chicken feet when they're alive let alone grabbing filthy dead chicken feet to swirl a bird in hot water before plucking them.
Once I removed the head and feet I felt much more reassured that the bird was done suffering and the rest really wasn't too bad. In fact, once I saw the quality of the meat I knew I'd be doing this again. So if this is really disturbing to you, don't look, but if you were ever interested in anatomy, keep reading.
The older hen in particular I thought would be useless for anything but the stock pot. She was never pretty to look at, and it seemed doubtful that anything tasty lay beneath. But it seems I was wrong. I have never seen a fatter bird. There was an unbelievable amount of golden fat all over her, and the meat was just the same as the roosters' from a few years ago.
She had undeveloped eggs, and this was a first for me to see since all the birds before were roosters. They look so beautiful. Maybe a little gross, but beautiful.
At the end of all this the meat produced was unbelievably fresh and clean. I washed everything down with salt and it really looked good. I was so proud.
The stock was amazing, as you can see from the color.
And now for a post script.
I used the meat to make Georgian Walnut Stew, a dish so delectable it ranks as one of my favorites. The smell was unbelievable, and I think the flavor was the best yet. Unfortunately, I got to learn something here. While braising does help to make tough meat tender, it does not render 6 year old chicken edible. I couldn't even bite through the skin!!!
It was like the tastiest leather. Delicious chainmail. Nothing these teeth could handle.
A night in the slow cooker did the trick. Duly noted.
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