The Great Chicken Adventure

Last Saturday, Laura and I had a date at the butcher’s for the chickens. Because she was concerned about the possibility of nasty fog in the valley we left here at o’dark thirty. Our appointment was for 10 am, which with a little padding meant we needed to leave my place by 5:30. In case I haven’t mentioned it before, I am not a morning person! I got to bed at about midnight, and set the alarm for 4:30, since Laura had mentioned that her’s was going off at 3:30 (she lives about an hour away).

I had just enough time to get dressed and brew a pot of coffee before I heard her coming. She was also bringing a Muscovy drake that had proved rather mean to his ladies, and two pea-hens, and they were in a crate in the back of the Suburban. Turns out, that was taking up way too much room, so we removed them from the crate, and loaded the chickens. Both the pea-hens were tied into feed bags, with just their heads sticking out (the butcher had requested that we make sure they couldn’t escape), and we tied the drakes feet.  Unfortunately, we found another dead chicken when we went in the pen (number 7). Loading the remaining birds went very quickly, and we hit the road right on schedule.

About half way over the mountains, there was a slight ruckus going on in the back, and when I turned to see what the deal was I found that one of the pea-hens had escaped her bag. Oops! We pulled over and tied her feet together better, and found that the drake had killed another one of the chickens. He got stuffed into the bag vacated by the pea-hen and tied up so that his head was no longer loose.

The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful, especially when compared to our trip last year to get the turkeys processed. The anticipated heavy fog never materialized, and we actually arrived at our destination an hour ahead of schedule. Lucky for us, the person who was scheduled for that time slot hadn’t shown up on time, so  we were able to get started right away. The pea-hen tried to make a run for it, but she and the other two odd birds got taken in first, along with another chicken that had died since our earlier stop. They were able to bleed him out completely, so he wasn’t a loss, unlike the one that perished in the stampede to avoid all the folks reaching in to grab birds (the kid that grabbed him just tossed him on the ground and didn’t try to bleed him out).

We were totally done by 10:30. Well ahead of our anticipated time, we took a side trip to a local monastery, where Laura got a present for her dad, and we both picked some chestnuts. We also went in to the Craft Warehouse in Salem and treated ourselves to some goodies. All in all, it was a lovely day.

So the final count was 31 chickens that survived to the end (out of 40). After looking at their final weights (5 to 9 pounds at 8 1/2 weeks), I will process them at 7 weeks next time around. I hadn’t lost any until the last 10 days! We split the losses, so Laura got 11 and I got 20.

So what did I do with 20 chickens? The final tally is in:

  • 8 were bagged whole. 7 of them are in the freezer at Mom’s, and we celebrated a successful trip by roasting a small one Saturday night.
  • Also in the freezer are several bags of chicken parts (boneless, skinless breasts, skinless thighs, and wings)
  • 14 quarts of boneless chicken chunks were canned
  • 7 quarts and 8 pints of plain chicken broth were canned. There is another 3 quarts in the fridge for use this week, and I made a fantastic roasted garlic/chicken soup which I ate on Sunday, and took a quart each of the broth and soup to Mom.
  • 7 quarts and 12 pints of chicken soup. It’s pretty basic, but will be easy to spice up as the mood strikes me.
  • 5 half pints of schmaltz. I gave 1 to Mom, 1 is in my fridge, and the other 3 are in the freezer.
  • The last chicken was roasted here at home last night and shared with Kid the Elder & his wife. We only managed to eat half of it, but I’m looking forward to some great sandwiches this week.

It took me a few days to get everything processed, and my back was not happy with all the kitchen work. But I know that it will be worth it every time I go to the cupboard and pull another can of something tasty out to eat. I took a little time to clean out the linen closet in the spare bathroom, and was able to dedicate 2 full shelves to all the goodies I’ve canned this fall, and set up an inventory sheet so I can keep track of it all.

Very little went to waste. The broth and soup were made from the bones, the meat still on the bones went into the soups, and the fat and skin went into the schmaltz. Little pieces that were too small to go into the jars of chunks went into my freezer in 2 bags, for stir-fry later on.

This is the schmaltz, just starting to render. Schmaltz

Roast chickenTasty roast chicken and potatoes. Pan juices were added to the stock pot after dinner.

So, was it worth it? Only someone who was never had homegrown meat would really ask that. It’s like the difference between a homegrown tomato and a store-bought one. The 2 birds that I’ve roasted so far have both been incredibly tender and juicy, more flavorful than anything I could buy at the store. Mom and I discussed the differences while we ate dinner. I think we finally settled on the idea that it just had more substance than a commercially raised bird. Grocery store chicken tends to be very bland and, well, the word flaccid comes to mind. I am looking forward to some fantastic meals! The cost per bird would have been better if all 40 had made it to the end, but I’ll say yes, it was definitely worth it. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

3 Responses to “The Great Chicken Adventure”

  1. Laura Cunningham Says:

    And we had windshield wipers!! You’re right – flacid totally describes store-bought birds. I tell people that a home-grown bird has a depth of flavor that you can’t find anywhere else.

    Thanks for putting up with your “morning-person” friend! I should point out, however, that you made the appointment!! It was a fun trip, and we’ll do it again, I’m sure. Hopefully with a load of ducklings!

  2. Leigh Says:

    What a fantastic looking roast chicken! Such a good feeling to have all that homegrown meat and other goodies. Well done, Ladies.

  3. Barbara Fessler Says:

    I can’t agree more. Home grown anything is so much better then store bought. I remember how good it was when I was growing up. My sister even went so far as to send me small red potatoes freshly dug out of the black dirt of tbe Red River Valley of North Dakota. Yummmm!

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