“If you mean to cook your dinner, you must expect to soil your hands…”
― Père Goriot
It was August and the day of our first chicken harvest had arrived. We were excited and nervous —the kids had never done anything like this before, and I wasn’t sure how they would respond. Our friends, the Buries, happened to be staying overnight so they joined in on the fun. We all had our stations, with the boys doing the dirty work with the cones of death and then soaking the birds in the bucket of 150 degree water.
With the feathers loosened, next the chicken experienced the chicken plucker contraption that we borrowed from friends. In a previous life, the plucker was a gas grill. Now it plucked feathers with speed and power. In fact, if you didn’t have a good grip, the chicken would fly out of your hands and thud against the barn wall.
Then the naked chicken was brought into what we call the milk house where the ladies took over. The milk house has two floor levels—a lower level where we stood ready, and an upper one where an animal could be milked. This made a sort of table for us, and the cement floor and drain was convenient for hosing down later. We had it easier than the boys, as we were out of the hot sun and could be distracted by music as we worked.
It had been at least a month since Dave and I had first tried our hand at learning to gut a chicken, so I was a little rusty in explaining it to the others. But everyone just jumped right in and went at it, warm guts and all. I was proud of the girls for not being squeamish… or at least still plugging along, even if it wasn’t their favorite thing to do.
There isn’t a lot of waste with a chicken—we saved some organs such as the heart, liver, and gizzard. The little that was left went into a bucket. We even saved the feet, as Mrs. Burie had read that they are really good for making broth gelatinous. I had to grin when the girls would pull the tendons and make the toes dance. What kind of parents are we?!
Once the chickens were gutted, we rinsed them and put them into a tub of ice water to cool. Then into a 2 gallon freezer bag to be weighed, and off to the freezer. It was a hot day and we were exhausted and bespattered with blood by the time we were done and cleaned everything up. We harvested 25 chickens. We had ordered 75, figuring one a week making 50 for us, and 25 extra to sell. So we still had to do this 2 more times!
I was feeling discouraged until Dave put things into perspective: we just worked together for a day as a family, and we now had enough free-ranged chickens to feed us for half a year. That sounded pretty good! It was hard work, but I was proud of my family (and friends) for attacking a dirty job and getting it done. And I was really looking forward to a shower.