Not quite as gross as I expected it to be.
One of the things about living in farm country is that there are a lot of farmers around. I’m not just talking about the folks who grow corn or soybeans or even the cherry trees that originally brought me here in 2008. I’m also talking about people who raise cows and chickens for milk and eggs and meat.
I ran into an acquaintance at the local Coastal Farm and Ranch store about a month ago. I was looking for a chicken fencing; he was buying a ton of feed for meat chickens. We chatted about our chickens, ending up with an offer to buy some freshly slaughtered birds the next time they killed. I ran into him and his spouse again a week later and placed my order for two birds — which is about all I can fit in my RV’s tiny freezer. I asked if I could come watch them slaughter the chickens and was told I could. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, but I suspected it would be, at the least, very interesting to see.
I was invited to their next slaughter, but had to turn down the invitation because of a scheduling conflict. (I spent that day in Woodinville, wine tasting with a hard cider maker friend. I really need to blog about that excellent day.) But they slaughtered again on Saturday morning and I made it my business to attend.
First came a tour of the facilities. The birds live in a relatively spacious pen beneath a deck. All my non-farming friends talk about “free range” — this is about as free as these birds want to be. They basically do four things: eat, poop, sit, and sleep. They are not interested at all in wandering around, pecking at the ground and doing bird things.
This could be because of selected breeding. Meat chickens are bred to grow quickly. The birds in the pen were 6 to 8 weeks old and ready to slaughter. They were huge — far bigger than my 7 week old laying chickens — and downright lazy. They just sat around in the shade and seemed perfectly happy about it. Melanie, who’d invited me that day, said that if they don’t slaughter them now, they’d likely die of heart attacks within the next few days. She’d already lost two of them that week. These chickens are not bred for longevity.
We talked about “free range” and she confirmed what someone else had told me: if given access to a large open area, these chickens would do the same thing they were doing right then: nothing. It would be a waste of space. They’d tried it and had seen for themselves.
I can actually confirm a bit of this. My 7 laying chickens have a 9 x 25 enclosure and they spend most of their time either in their coop or in the shade of some straw bales stacked up outside their yard.
Melanie gave me a quick rundown of the process. Rather than just narrate, why not look at the photos I took and read the captions?
We started work at about 9:30 AM and, when I left at about noon, 25 birds had been slaughtered. Melanie was almost done packaging them. It was a lot of work.
I got to take home one fresh bird and one frozen one from the last slaughter. I cooked up the fresh one on my Traeger grill and it was good — although I have to admit that it wasn’t quite as good as I expected.
It tasted like chicken.
Would I do this again? I can’t see any reason to. And although I might buy chickens from Melanie and company in the future — mostly to support local farmers — I don’t think I’d stop buying store-bought chickens.