This past weekend was really not a weekend at all; it was chicken processing time here at the farm. There is a science to when we butcher and it does not consider day of week, only exact age of chickens. So weekend butchering it was.
This processing weekend was different though. It was the first time that we needed to cull the older laying hens. I swore when we began raising hens that I could never “execute” them and that they would die of natural causes and then get a proper burial. Ummmmm, that was before I realized that organic feed runs about $35.00 a bag and these old broads belly up to the feeding bar like they own the place. And what do we get in return? A bunch of crabby old hens that shove the young adolescents out of the way come feeding and treat time. And since they are no longer laying eggs, they treat the nest boxes as personal cabanas and settle in for an entire day of rest and relaxation, making it difficult for the younger hens to drop their load.
So tasty stewing chickens they would become. Now the tricky part of this caper: how to separate out the chosen ones. We had two issues to consider: which are the oldest ones and how to secure them the day before so they wouldn’t eat prior to meeting their maker. Have you ever had to look at 45 hens and then be certain that you know which are the oldest ones? Some we knew for sure because of their breed, but some were just an older generation of the same breed. And how were we going to subdue them? Have you ever chased a chicken around a yard? It is a cardiovascular circus.
Steve read that the best way to gather chickens is to wait until after dark when they are on the roost sleeping and then sneak in and carry them off. The only problem with this? It was Saturday night people!, and that means margarita night for Steve. So at 8:30 after his two margaritas and my two glasses of wine, we headed out to the coop with flashlight in hand. Just climbing over the poultry netting around the coop made me start to laugh. Steve had to keep shushing me, but the whole idea of sneaking around the chicken coop, slightly tipsy to steal the old biddy hens was hysterical to me.
Once inside with our flashlight that really could have been stronger, we squinted at the sleeping brood to determine which were our targets. One by one we guesstimated and tip-toed out of the coop and over to the holding pen; me giggling and talking way too loud the entire time.
Sunday morning came and we reluctantly went out to finish processing the broilers and old laying hens. By golly, even with a slight buzz we actually did a good job of getting the correct chickens…..well except for one who was looking at me like “WTF Farmer Karen, why am I in here with all of these old hags?!”
A long day of processing began and I recognized the very moment that I became a real farmer and not some sentimental “pet owning” fool who wouldn’t sell old hens for stewing chickens. I handed Steve a particularly plump old gal and said, “this one here should fetch us a pretty penny.” Word.