Hello, I’m the newest member of the ThINCpod, Crimson! An important part of sustainable living and food security is learning how to process your own food. One early morning in August we experienced this when we came to Jollity Farm to learn about processing chickens with their very own rooster, Richard. Although it may not be everyone’s favourite thing, animal husbandry is just as important to learn about as gardening and plants!
Our guides through this difficult experience were Jollity Farm owner, Elisabeth, and local farming extraordinaire, Liz Avery.
Although it was a difficult decision, Richard was chosen because he was an older rooster and had been putting his hens’ lives in danger by leading them out of the chicken coop where they could be eaten by mink or raccoons. There were already more than enough roosters to take care of the hens, and having him and his hens attacked by predators would have been much more upsetting.
When we arrived at Jollity, it was to an interesting scene. The rooster, Richard, hadn’t yet been brought out, but the area we would process him, was ready. In a small semi circle sat different stations for every part of the process: a large wooden block with a cone screwed to one side; a huge boiling pot of water sitting on a propane heater; a chicken plucker; and a large metal table with some bowls on it. Before we were introduced to the rooster, we all had a conversation about how we felt. Some of us were more comfortable than others, while a few of us were a little more nervous. As soon as everyone was ready, Richard was brought out. Elisabeth held him upside down by his legs and gently rocked him back and forth to relax him. While she did this, Liz explained the process and shared stories about how she used to process hundreds of chickens a day. I could relate because I also had experience processing chickens, but most of the team wasn’t as familiar.
Once Richard was completely relaxed and calm, Elisabeth set him on the wooden block. We said our goodbyes, with Elisabeth thanking him for his service. She then used an axe to swiftly cut his head off. She and Liz quickly put him into a funnel (the cone) to drain him out. That was probably the hardest moment for everyone during the process before it became easier. Out of respect, we continued to call the rooster Richard and referred to him as ‘he’, rather than ‘it’. Liz explained that when the body got cold, it would become stiff and hard to work with, so we had to continue quickly. Once the blood had been drained out, she brought him to the pot of boiling water. Dipping the rooster into the water both cleaned him and loosened his skin so that his feathers could come off more easily. She dipped in the feet too, explaining that the outer skin can be peeled off and that the feet are just as edible as the rest of the chicken.
Just as she was bringing Richard to the chicken plucker, a machine that defeathers them, we collectively decided it might be a better learning experience to pluck the feathers by hand. We all gathered around and took turns pulling off feathers. Because he had been dipped in hot water first, it was easy to pluck the feathers off, and only required a gentle pull. If we had used the chicken plucker, it would have done the work for us, but we wouldn’t have learned how to do it ourselves.
Once all the feathers had been removed, the next stop was the table. Liz showed us where to cut open the rooster, which was usually right below the cloaca (where they release waste). She then removed the intestines, cloaca, heart, kidneys, liver, and even a special gland on the tail. This gland is called the Uropygial gland, but most people call it the ‘oil’ or ‘preening gland’, as it contains the oil birds use to preen their feathers. Some of the unique organs that chickens, and other birds, have are the crop and the gizzard. The crop is a small pocket designed to hold food after it has been swallowed before moving onto the gizzard, which is like a second stomach full of rocks which help grind the food in the absence of teeth. Liz cleaned out Richard’s gizzard, as it is an edible part of the chicken - as is the heart, liver, and neck. Liz warned us about breaking open the gallbladder, which would make meat taste bitter. For the final step, she cut off and peeled the legs, and removed the claws.
It was a very educational and overall interesting experience in my eyes, as well as what I believe to be an important part of food security and healthy eating. Many people skip over, without ever making the connection that a drumstick was once, well... a chicken. The topic is usually avoided because it involves taking an animal’s life, but I believe it’s more important to learn about how you get your food and where it comes from. Isla, a WWOOFer on Jollity, mentioned that this sort of thing should be taught in school. And we agreed! Learning not only what your meat is, but also the process of making it is important and should be taught to all.