Updated: Mar 31, 2020
"The shorter the chain between raw food and fork, the fresher it is and the more transparent the system is." - Joel Salatin
If you don't know who Joel Salatin is, watch the documentary Food Inc or pick up one of his many books and you will quickly get a good idea for what Joel stands for. Joel has been a HUGE influence in the small Ag community and has taken a holistic management stance which I have the upmost admiration for.
When people think holistic, they tend to think about holistic medicine, and using alternative medicines versus conventional medicine we practice in the USA today...that's where my mind goes anyways. A holistic approach actually means that you focus on the bigger picture. For instance, if you take an Advil every day because your leg hurts, you are "putting out the fire" as I eluded to in my previous blog post. However, if you take the time to evaluate WHY your leg hurts, maybe because you have a desk job and it requires you to sit on it for 8+ hours per day, you can fix the root of the issue and instead try taking a walk on your lunch break to get moving around.
The bigger picture concept is always harder to wrap your head around, because it's not just a touch-and-go action item for the day, it encompasses your day, it is more of a lifestyle.
Since mainstream media has beaten the word "sustainability" into the ground so hard, that it doesn't hold much weight anymore, the focus has shifted to "regenerative". Regenerative agriculture is the idea of using plants and animals together, to increase biodiversity and enhance soil health with carbon sequestration. I gave a heavy scientific breakdown of what this means, and how this cycle works in blog post Number Seven: The Road to Regeneration. Take 5 minutes to read it and then jump back into this blog :)
Now that you have read blog post #7, you are familiar with how this cycle works. My DREAM to live in a regenerative way is slowly becoming a reality. Austin and I have only been in our new farm now for about 3 months, and we are building a solid foundation for a regenerative future. As I am writing this blog post, I am looking out the back windows and watching the chickens and Bjorn (the newly named Rooster - if you follow us on Instagram you would have seen the naming contest) forage around the flower beds and yard. These are the egg-layers. Austin and I butchered our first meat birds on the farm two weekends ago.
An animal's life is precious...all life is precious. Being able to raise up a chicken from a chick and know that it had the best life you could provide it is a great feeling. The 2 chickens we butchered always had access to food and water, and had a large coop to run around in with all of the other chicks. The only disappointing thing is that they did not get to free-range. There was a large door I opened each day that allowed them to lay in the sun and feel the breeze, but we had no outside run built for the chicks yet, and with the large amount of predators we have near the farm, I was not comfortable letting the younger ones out, like I do with the adult chickens, that typically free-range from sun up to sun down.
This past weekend, however, we built an outdoor area for the meat birds and younger chicks so they can experience the beautiful outside weather, without having to be openly exposed to predators. I actually had the birds in their outside coop this morning, until I heard an owl roosting in a nearby tree. Since our outdoor coop has no fenced roof on it (yet), I had to herd the flock back into the comfort of the coop for their protection.
We give our animals the most comfortable and humane life, because we value what they provide for us, food. Being able to step out my front door and harvest meals from the land the farm sits on is such an incredible feeling, that the majority of people in today's world, unfortunately, will never get to experience. Whether I am taking vegetables from the garden, fruit from the trees, eggs from the coop, or butchering an animal for meat, I have the upmost respect for the life of that biological entity.
It is never easy taking the life away from an animal, and it was more difficult than Austin and I could imagine when we butchered our first 2 chickens here on the farm. We spent quite some time trying to figure out the most humane way possible to butcher. I am a huge fan of Alaska: The Last Frontier television show, and they actually gave me a great idea. They secured a funnel to a tree, and stuck the bird in upside down so their head stuck out the bottom of the funnel and they could remove the head (this is how you properly kill a chicken).
We took that idea and modified it a bit. Instead, we cut a circle-shaped hole into the bottom/side of a 5-gallon bucket, but applied the same concept. We also made sure that we had a very sharp ax so that the cut would be fast and clean. The last thing you want to do is have a dull blade that actually does more harm to the animal by smashing it instead of making a clean cut that is instant.
After the first bird was dead, Austin actually had to take a minute and step away from the table. He was pretty shaken by it. Austin is a hunter, and has harvested many birds and deer from the land, but he's never been on the other end of an ax swinging at a chicken's neck, and he was shaken by the fact that he took the animal's life. It's never easy doing this, but the realization is that knowing that your food is coming from your coop and you personally butchered it, really sets the mind at ease. After we talked about this concept, versus buying meat at the store, we felt better because we have so much respect and appreciation for these birds. Also, most poultry processing plants do not follow welfare regulations like large livestock plants do, so the poultry are often mistreated and killed in a much more inhumane way.
Once the bird was harvested, we let it soak for about 1 minute in a bucket of hot water. This causes the skin to soften so the feathers can be easily pulled out. This is a time-consuming process as we do not have a feather plucker, but it is one of the most important steps because you don't want feathers in your food!
After the feathers are removed, there are really 2 different ways to butcher the chicken. In the past, I have hollowed out the inside of the bird, removing all of the internal organs and guts, and then worked to harvest meat. Or, you can leave the body intact and harvest the meat from the outside of the bird. The first option is used more if you want to keep the bird whole. We decided to harvest the meat from the outside and leave the bird intact. This allowed a cleaner butchering area and an easier cleanup.
We were able to section the chicken into breasts, thighs, and wings. The breasts were the size of Austin's hands! Austin stands 6'3" tall and is over 200lbs, just to put into perspective that his hands are not small by any means. After each section of meat was harvested, we put the meat into a bowl of cold water to let the blood wash off and to allow the meat to firm up a little bit.
Once all of the meat was harvested, I brought it into the house to thoroughly wash it and to inspect the meat to make sure it looked healthy and safe to eat. This is probably the best looking chicken meat I have ever seen...and I am not biased because I raised them. Well, maybe a little ;)
Finally, I vacuum-sealed the meat and it went into the freezer. I have made stir fry and buffalo chicken/ranch dip with it so far, and it is DELICIOUS!
The entire journey from farm to fork is really such a beautiful process. It teaches you many things about life and farming. It also gives you a huge sense of pride because you put so much hard work into giving something a good life and being able to provide for yourself in a self-sustaining way.
I encourage everyone to buy local. Go check out a local poultry farm and try some of their meat. Create a healthier lifestyle for yourself as well as supporting local business and agriculture.
We will be raising birds for harvest to sell this fall, so if you want to get on our list, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.