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Chicken Butchering Day

By Meg Lund

I guess you know you've been homesteading a while when you look forward to butchering chickens because it's a simple, mindless chore. There is so much that we're trying to learn right now, that it felt good to "just" butcher chickens.

I sure hope that those of you who are just getting started settle somewhere around other folks that are doing this... it's SO much harder to try and learn from a book. Lately, we've been learning to do natural beekeeping, and learning to till and plant fields using horsepower. Yesterday, my daughter was reading about it and blurted out "We're DOOMED!" The book listed 3 things which will cause failure: inexperienced people, inexperienced horses and improperly adjusted equipment. :-)

I get such a kick out of nowadays people thinking that oldendays people were unintelligent. They had to know and be good at SO MUCH!! Every man knew how to build a house (general contractor/engineering), birth a calf (veterinarian), make paint (chemist), plant fields (agricultural engineer), etc. Every woman could help her neighbor birth (midwife), tend most of her family's illnesses and injuries (doctor/herbalist), grow, harvest, store and prepare all of the family's food (the entire agricultural/food manufacturing industry), make all of her family's clothing, linens, rugs, curtains, brushes, brooms (entire textile industry), etc.

Every day is a learning experience, and even plain 'ol butchering chickens was a lesson. Observing the innards of the birds tells a lot about the different breeds and individuals that you simply can't tell when they're running around the yard covered in feathers. For instance, last time we butchered I noticed that an elderly light brahma hen that got the axe for the offense of egg-eating was an amazingly healthy and productive hen. It was mid-winter when egg production was at its lowest, and yet she had a full stream of eggs in her, including one that was perfectly formed and ready to be laid (of COURSE we ate it, only a city slicker would ask such a question! ;-). It was fascinating to see all the little forming eggs, each a little smaller than the previous. This hen was also much meatier than any laying hen I've ever butchered before. She was about 6 yrs old, and I was deeply regretting the decision to end her life, but determined to do all I could to keep her lines in our flock. She was the last hen of that breed, but thankfully we hatched out a little rooster that must have been from her, and he is now (as of today's butchering) the only rooster in the yard.

Today's surprise was in an Ameracauna Hen. I never liked these girls... we had 2 of them and it seemed they were the most aggressive egg eaters, never seemed to lay much and would be a little sassy to people, as well. The way their necks puffed out with feathers reminded me of a cobra... mean, mean, mean. When I opened her up, I was a bit surprised to see how healthy and plump she was, for a hen that we suspected hadn't been laying for a while. It appeared that she was taking good care of herself, with WAY more fat than I've ever seen on any bird, including our meat birds which we had let go into the cool season before getting around to butchering. There was a good cup of chicken fat on this one hen. (Of COURSE I saved it, only a city-slicker would ask such a question! ;-).... now, to figure out what you're supposed to do with chicken fat. :-) Sure enough, there were no eggs coming any time soon from her, only the typical little mass of teeny ones that all hens have. So, I will avoid this breed for now, but I will make a mental note of this experience in case I'm ever wondering how to add more fat to my flock in the future.

I muse about how it will be 20 years from now, when we've tailored our chicken flock to the conditions of our area and our likes and dislikes... how satisfying to pass on to our children such a treasure!!