We decided to kill the rooster.
It was not a decision we made lightly, but in the end, he was more trouble than he was worth, seeing as the mail order hatchery is cheap and easy. We may change our minds about breeding our own flock if the economy gets real bad, but we're not ready to commit to that yet.
We put this act off as long as we could, finally scheduling it for this past weekend. We realize that if we're going to raise meat animals on the farm, we're going to have to get comfortable with "processing" them. It's a bit of a requirement for a diversified farm. Also, we were out of other meat alternatives for dinners, and with Matt's layoff situation, it seemed a good time to give this a try.
The anticipation was horrible. For me, anyway, it was worse than the act itself. Since Matt was the one with the knife, I can't speak for him. All day long we had conversations like, "Really, so many people around the world kill their own dinners." "Every piece of meat we've ever eaten has been killed by someone." "We are not that far removed from this. Our grandparents can remember beheaded chickens strung up on clotheslines to bleed out." It took a lot of mental and emotional preparation just to go round the poor bird up.
Our friend the rooster at 4:30 p.m., February 15, 2009.
If you are squeamish about these things, skip down to the next picture. If not, here is how you prepare poultry for eating. I have pictures of each step, both on my camera and seared into my memory, but I am still debating whether to post pictures of the blood and gore here. I'll do my best to describe the process, however.
Poultry is usually placed in a contraption called a "killing cone" to have its neck slit. We made our own out of a cylidrical plastic biscotti container and our sawhorses. Our rooster was a bit old for this process at 16 weeks, and struggled quite a bit as Matt tried to stuff him, upside down, into the cone. Once we wrestled him in there, he seemed to calm down.
We had our kids watch this process, telling them they could look away at any time. Madzie took us up on this repeatedly. She teared up a little when we told her we were going to eat the rooster. He was so distinct from the hens that he had become the kids' favorite, since they could pick him out from the crowd and since he had recently started crowing. She was not able to watch. Simon, on the other hand, couldn't keep his hands away, and kept repeating "I wanna help. Let me do it. I wanna help." Matt and I had to keep asking him to keep his distance from the blood bucket and the scalder, and he was right there with us while we plucked our rooster, so at least we know he'll be a good helper when he grows up.
Matt slit the poor bird's throat with a knife. I imagine this part gets easier, that we will gain some detachment and sense of efficiency about the killing involved in eating. In fact, friends of ours who hunt have confirmed that the first kill is the most difficult, and that all thereafter are easier by degrees. Our first time, though, was emotional for all of us. Rooster convulsed, kicked the air helplessly,and let out a small, resigned squawk. All four of us stood still and reverent, watching the life leave our rooster's body.
The blood dripped into the bucket below and congealed quickly in the cold air. Before we pulled Rooster from the cone, we wiggled his legs a few times to make sure he was really dead. Then, we dunked him in the scalding water with a bit of soap, and began to pluck the feathers from his quickly stiffening body.
The feathers came out surprisingly easy, and we scorched the remaining hairs off with a hand-held propane torch to clean the skin completely. Then, I read the steps as they were listed in our reference book on killing poultry, and Matt proceeded to gut and clean the chicken. The steps are straightforward:
1. Cut off the legs. We missed this step and did it after we cut off the head, but no matter.
2. Cut out the oil gland over the tail.
3. Pull off the head to avoid bone shards. This was more difficult than it was made to seem, in fact, despite a valiant effort, we were unable to pull the head off at all. We cut it off, and didn't find bone shards in it.
4. Loosen the craw, the esophagus, and the windpipe. We had forgotten to withhold food from Rooster, so his craw was bulging out of his neck anyway. We accidentally punctured it and had to spend some time cleaning him up before we could go on.
5. Make a hole in the vent large enough to fit your hand inside. Run your fingers along the keelbone, loop your finger around the windpipe, and pull all the offal out at once. Guts made a shiny pile on the board next to the bird. They had an interesting smell. Once again, we stopped to clean him up and put the guts in the blood bucket with the feathers.
6. Use your finger to scoop out the lungs.
7. Soak the bird in cold water for 30 minutes to leach out any remaining blood.
8. Cook and eat, if you haven't lost your appetite completely. We decided to grill our rooster on the same coals we used to heat up the scald water.
Our friend the rooster at 7:30 p.m., February 15, 2009.
He had huge thighs and tiny little breasts. He tasted good grilled with olive oil and rosemary, but he was tough and stringy. He was too old to grill, but will make flavorful tacos and soup this week when we stew the leftover meat for a long time.
When the kids came to the table, Simon sat right down, but Madzie asked nervously, "Is that the rooster?" and tiptoed in a wide arc around it as she passed the plate on the table. It clearly grossed her out.
The implications are still unknown. We know we will be okay raising and processing more meat birds, but we are concerned about having to kill all these spent hens from our laying operation when they won't be great for eating. This is something we are going to have to investigate.