We had the Red Rooster for dinner last night.

He was an ornery fellow, getting more and more aggressive as time progressed. First he was jumping at Kelly when he went outside, then he was jumping at the dogs. When the worker from Minor Hill Water District came over to work on the water pressure issues we were having, Red Rooster jumped at him, and then a few days ago, as I was loading my car, he jumped at me. He had no spikes on his legs, but those claws were plenty sharp enough that it really hurt. It was getting to the point where it was uncomfortable taking the dogs outside, because you always had to worry about where Red Rooster was and whether he was going to sneak up at you and attack.
did you know that the term cockeyed comes from how a rooster will look at you from the side, with one of his beady yellow eyes, without turning his head towards you? They wait until you're just past them, and then run up and launch forward, with both feet aimed directly at you, and can hit a target as high as three feet off the ground.
Since I didn't want people visiting the house to be attacked, and since I thought it would be good for both dogs to keep their eyesight for a while longer, I set my sights on eliminating Red Rooster. The black and white rooster isn't so antisocial and violent, by the way.

First step was to corral him. The chickens are pretty tame, but this guy was super skittish. He'd come to food, but I was never able to catch him like that. I thought that I'd try to keep him contained in Render's crate, but the problem was how I'd get him in there in the first place. As Kelly may have mentioned before, after the chickens go to roost at night, they're little poultry zombies. They seem like they're somewhere between asleep and awake: they flap around a little, they cluck, but they're totally docile and won't fly/run away. Since there was no way I was going to catch Red Rooster during the day, I hatched a plan (pardon the pun) to catch him at night.

When the chickens go in the house each night, they go all the way in the back of the enclosure and roost up on a wood-and-wire shelf that Kelly built in there. Hypothetically, I could have gone in and collected Red Rooster while he was sleeping, but the knowledge that so many daddy longlegs also enjoy that enclosure keeps me from going in there.

At about 6pm as it was getting dark, I patiently spent over half an hour guiding the chickens one by one into their house -- everyone except Red Rooster - and then latched the door. In the past, when the door had accidentally blown shut, the chickens roosted on TOP of their house, and I was counting on it happening that way again. I went out again after 10pm with an old plastic rope dog leash looped over itself, and threw the whole lasso over Red Rooster. It worked perfectly, snaring one of his feet in the loop, and I tugged and guided the little zombie to the edge of the enclosure where I could grab him by both feet. Then I put him in Render's crate and went back inside.

Then he's got to be kept off feed for 24 hours before slaughter, I put a big dish of water in the crate in the morning, but other than that, I mostly tried to ignore him. It was an immediate relief to know that I could go outside and not worry about whether the flurry of claws and feathers would be rushing towards me, as that had been a constant threat for at least a week. He still crowed from time to time, but he seemed to look a little more humble.

To Kill a Mockingbird Rooster We've got several books about farming and animal husbandry in general, but as I've never killed a chicken, I wanted to be sure to we did it right. I think if you got 6 books on the subject you'd probably find 6 (or more!) ways to dispatch the creature. I got the biggest, heaviest cleaver I owned and sharpened it carefully. Kelly did the actual killing while I held on to the rooster's feet.

This part only took about 5 minutes. It went more easily than I thought it might, and with a lot less gore than I expected. The bird flapped around quite a bit but I held on tight, and by and by he stopped moving. We hung him to bleed out for a few hours, then I went back outside later and started skinning him.

Skinning? Don't you pluck a chicken? well, you certainly can pluck a chicken, but if you simply skin it, all the feathers just sort of peel off with the skin, which isn't very messy at all. The process of plucking is tedious when done manually, and isn't a simple operation. You need to scald it, which means to dunk the chicken repeatedly in very hot water. This makes the feathers come out more easily without tearing the skin. These were no spring chickens -- as the saying goes -- so a long cooking process of braising (using moist heat) would be required, and keeping the skin doesn't add to the finished product.

Anyway, back to skinning. I started by myself, but Kelly came out after a little while and helped. The part where the legs go from reptile scales to feathers was the hardest part. I flat-out gave up trying to get the feathers off the wings, opting instead to remove the first two sections completely, leaving only the part that joins the body; what is known as the "drumette".

Of course, there's plenty of info online for how to process a chicken. http://butcherachicken.blogspot.com/ is a very complete site by Herrick Kimball, inventor of the Whizbang Chicken Plucker and I dare say one of Kelly's heroes. Herrick has been mentioned here before, and Kelly's been a huge fan of Herrick for a long time.

I cut up the rest of the bird the way you traditionally would, removing the legs and the breast sections whole and with the wing-bone attached (known as a "suprême" when it's on a menu). I left the rest of it alone, and didn't process the rest of the carcass. The back and the breastbone would have made a nice stock, but by this time it was getting dark, and I was a little anxious about getting the guts out. I won't pretend that this was easy. The body was still warm, even after several hours, but gratefully there was no more blood than you'd see in a grocery-store chicken.

After cutting up the sections I intended to keep, I washed everything very carefully outside, and then did a close inspection of the parts under good lighting indoors. I put everything in a big pot with a lot of cold water with spices for stock, and let it simmer for about an hour. Then I strained it out, diced up half of a breast and some leg meat, and set the rest aside. (The meat was tough, stringy and chewy, as I expected, so I tried to mitigate that by dicing it really fine.) I put all but 2 cups of the stock back in the stockpot, adding some finely diced celery and some sliced green onion. Then I made up a batch of späetzle batter (flour, egg, baking powder, salt & white pepper, mixed to consistency with some warm stock) and made a cone from waxed paper, and drizzled this into the simmering stock. When they were done, I took them out and tossed them with some butter, toasted breadcrumbs and sliced almonds. Finally I beat some roux into the remaining reserved stock, then stirred that back into the still-simmering stock, and let it cook out a little. I put the späetzle in a bowl, added some diced meat, and ladled some stock over the whole thing.

To say it was good would be an understatement. We both agreed that it was the richest chicken flavor in a soup that either of us had ever had. Kelly complimented my suggestion of späetzle, and I really liked it too. It would have seemed such a shame to put store-bought noodles into the soup.

So that was our first experience killing, butchering and eating a chicken that we raised from a day-old hatchling.

It felt a little weird, at first, when I ate the first few eggs from our own hens, but now it's perfectly natural to wash eggs in soapy water before making breakfast. This first chicken butchering process was a little awkward, but I think that by and by I’ll get more used to it and more confident.

I think this is where someone might say stuff like, "Don't you have grocery stores where you live?" but that's missing the point. I don't think the point is that we had to do this, but it's because we wanted to. We want to know where our food is coming from. We want to know what it ate and how it lived. That's one of many reasons why we left Los Angeles. Even though moving to TN was drastic, we're going into this lifestyle slowly so we can learn how to do things as we go along. Neither Kelly or I grew up in an agricultural/agrarian environment, so everything we're doing we have had to learn from Step One.

It'll be a while before I stop buying chicken that comes on yellow styrofoam and is wrapped in plastic, but I hope that not every animal we raise is required to literally kick my ass before we eat it!

Today I learned: I wasn't sure I could do it, but I did it.


Kevin said...

I am so damned proud of you guys I could bust!

Kimberly said...

awesome detail of the rooster suss ... congratulations!