The Post Office called on a Thursday to report the chicks were here. We picked up our fluffy, white Cornish Cross chicks, brought them home and nestled them into the galvanized feed tub with an alfalfa bed, water, feed and a heat lamp. Each little guy had to be introduced to the water by dipping the beak into the reservoir, after which, their little eyes lighted up and they were now on their own—two days old and thinking that some large pinkish people and a couple big, black dogs were their parents.
The Cornish Cross variety is the classic meat bird: large breast, white feathers (about which, more later). Frankly, they can’t live normal lives, as they grow too fast and too big. When under 3 lbs, they’re your Cornish game hens. At 8 weeks they can be 4-5 lbs. (We no longer get this breed and prefer the Red Rangers.)
Once, we let them go to 13 weeks. They were gigantic–like little turkeys. And, frankly, they could no longer walk at that point. They just sat at the feeder and ate all day. So, this breed is really the Jabba the Hut of the chicken world. They have one purpose in life, and that is to end up on your dinner plate. We are happy to help them fulfill their destiny.
Two to three times a year, we “harvest” chickens for our freezer. (Isn’t “harvest” such a nice politically correct word?) Our goal is to get 26 chickens into the freezer to supply a chicken every two weeks. When we first began this quest several years ago, we processed 1 chicken at a time. We were rookies and it took some time to get up to speed. Now, we have this down to a humane and very matter-of-fact exercise, and usually we do a couple dozen or so in one afternoon. (I know, this is nothing compared to real pros.) Our most recent record was 42 in one day! (We are getting better.) The processing part is the subject of a future blog post.
Recognizing that the chicken is sacrificing its life for our table, we in turn appreciate that it is important to use every part of the bird that we can to honor its commitment: the “Heart and Soul “of this blog post. Below is an accounting of how ALL the parts of our chickens contribute to the betterment of our homestead:
- Feathers: composted for the garden or saved for chicken bedding.
- Blood: heated into pudding for the dogs.
- Hearts and gizzards: poached and given to the dogs (perfectly good for people, but not our favorites).
- Livers: used in pates, appetizers, pastas.
- Feet: saved for chicken stock (this is what will give it that rich, gelatinous texture).
- Necks: like the feet, saved for stock.
- Entrails: composted. The cool thing about this is that the maggots that break this down are then fed to the free range egg-producing chickens. We don’t give our chickens the remains of other chickens. But, yummmm, they do love maggots.
- Back and leftover bones from the meals: turned into chicken stock/broth with the neck and feet. The meat leftover from stock, along with carrots and garlic are given to the dogs.
In case you were wondering: the chickens we raise are able to experience a free range life, flap their wings, engage in chicken politics, scratch in dirt, chase bugs, and dine on wholesome food. They can see the sky, graze in the grass, nestle into alfalfa hay, or perch on pine limbs inside a secure chicken coop away from predators. They get daily rations of oyster shell pieces (for calcium) and cracked corn (for fun) in addition to their regular feed, garden cullings, and our household leftovers. They are watched over by our Blue Andalusian rooster, General Taylor. And they snuggle together under a heat lamp at night when the temp drops below 40 degrees F. When it comes the time for the end, the chicken has to travel about 20 feet in 45 seconds before it is all over in a peaceful non-traumatic way. This is not the experience of the chicken you will find in a styrofoam tray in your local grocery store. Oh, and I didn’t mention. . . our chickens taste like chicken, not just some white, meaty material.
So, here’s to the chickens—heart and sole
(think of that old piano classic you played as a kid):
They like the pasture
They like the rolling hills
They like left-overs
I like the daffodils
They like the heat lamp
When all the lights are low
Boom dee yadda
Boom dee yadda
Boom dee yadda chow!
(I know, it sounds a bit indelicate.)