Well, we processed our fifth batch of chickens yesterday. These were our 'Red Broilers' - a breed that has genetic stock from prized French free-range chickens. They are slower growing than most meat chickens, and we have been raising these guys since the first brood in April. They were really beautiful with brown, red, and black plumage. Some were even speckled brown and white. Chris came home from the nighttime feeding and commented on how much he missed them. Although I will say I am looking forward to one less 'chicken tractor' that I have to pull this week!
Everyone asks me how it feels, on processing day, to kill our chickens which we have worked so hard to raise healthy and keep safe. And honestly, it just feels like work. The actual killing happens so quickly and then our team shifts into gear - assembly-line style - to get a finished product that is processed safe and sanitary and ready to eat. We process outside under a canopy of pine trees. Tom, a great guy and hard worker who found us and offered to work with us part-time, is in charge of getting chickens into the kill cones (they go in upside down), cutting their throats so they bleed out quickly, then putting them into the scalder and the plucker. Out of the plucker they almost look like a chicken you'd buy in the store except for the head and feet. From there they go into a cooler of ice and one by one they are cleaned & dressed with head and feet removed. We do the eviscerating inside a tent with the sides closed up but with screened windows for ventilation. This is our 'clean-zone' and we are very careful about who goes into the tent and keeping the bugs out. Jon, another great guy who works at Garden of Eve full-time but works with us on his day off, handles this part and he is very meticulous and focused. After he finishes, the chicken (which now looks exactly like one you'd buy in the store) goes into the chill tank where it stays until it reaches 40 degrees. Then it goes into a second bath of ice water for a final rinse. Then I take it out and drain it, bag it, weigh it and label it. I used to also do 'quality control' and pull out feathers still left behind but that rarely happens anymore as we all have gotten more experience under our belt.
We'll process 40-60 chickens in a day, working from 9:00 am until about 2:00 pm. But we really start at 7:00 am because the equipment needs to be sanitized and the scalder needs to heat up. Chris and Tom have to go and catch the chickens, and everyone else still needs to have their morning feed. After we finish, we compost all the offal and feathers. Most of the waste water is collected and drained out onto our pasture to fertilize it. Then we sanitize everything once more before we pack it up.
It sounds like a lot, right? The enjoyable part is the teamwork that goes into it. It takes all of us working together to get through a batch of chickens and there is a sense of accomplishment at the end of processing day. And I always sleep like a rock that night.
As for those 'Reds', we'll have a limited number for sale every Saturday at our stand at Westhampton Beach Farmer's market. They will be available for sale at the On-Farm and NYC CSAs in July. The pricing will be $7/pound. We will take advance reservations shortly by email. These chickens have a rich & delicious flavor, with smaller breasts. These chickens aren’t for everyone, but for those of you that want to enjoy the richness of flavor sought after by world-class chefs, this is for you!