The Satisfying Work of Getting Chickens From Farm to Table
Would the typical meme-Karen spend her evening plucking chickens for a friend? Probably not. She’d be in line at McDonald's and counting every one of her chicken nuggets. But the Internet’s Best Karen stepped up to learn a new skill and have fun along the way!
Did you know more and more suburban and even urban families are keeping chickens these days? In 2013, the USDA estimated that by 2019, 5% of Americans, 13 million people, would be raising chickens. Sales of chicks and feed have grown steadily since then. With the 2023 prices of eggs, I bet there are even more suburban families trying out hens for fresh eggs and raising chicks for the Sunday roast.
I don't keep any chickens, but I have several friends who keep hens for eggs. A few years ago, two of them split an order of "meat chicks" to raise. These chicks were bred to gain weight fast. For a good yield, the chicks must get special feed and have some protection from predators. They would be ready for the table in about 8–12 weeks.
Well, almost ready for the table. The fattened birds needed to be butchered, and it was a long and tiring job. My two friends asked for help - payment would be one chicken, after processing, of course.
I had some reservations at first. One of my uncles had butchered chickens as a young man, and would never eat it in any recipe. He never explained his aversion in any detail, and he always shuddered at the thought of even talking about why. Mindful of his life-long abstinence from any sort of poultry, I hesitated at first. I loved chicken and didn’t want to give up having chicken strips, fried chicken, chicken and rice, sweet and sour chicken, chicken noodle soup, etc. You get the idea - a lot was on the line! But my friends were enthusiastic and encouraging, and the endeavor was sure to be memorable, so I agreed.
First, the chickens had to be caught. Luckily, they ran into the corner of their pen, so we could grab them. I had to laugh at myself walking out of the chicken coop, a chicken in each hand.
For the chickens, the next step was a speedy and merciful end. This happened far away from our work area, accomplished by my friends' husbands - a doctor and a Marine, both retired and more than capable of this necessary task. After that, dunking in very hot water would scald the carcasses and loosen the feathers for plucking. The chicken feet were snipped off and collected. I didn't want to think about the recipe that used those as an ingredient.
I was on the two-woman poultry plucking team, working quickly to remove the feathers. There was definitely a learning curve. The softer downy feathers underneath could be wiped off easily. The others needed to be pulled off with steady hands. The most difficult was the thicker feathers on the wings called pin feathers. Dunking in the hot water made the plucking easier, but it was still tough work! Another two friends had a job not for the squeamish - removing the insides. I never even looked over to the other side of the table.
We figured in three hours, we processed thirty-six chickens. Seven workers totaled $163 at minimum wage. $4.50 per chicken (estimated at 5-6 pounds), and that didn't count the cost of the chicks and the feed. Did my chicken taste better than Perdue or Tyson poultry? I thought so, and the fun that night was priceless.
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